Creative Writing at The New School

Beginning August 26, the School of Writing launches its Fall workshops and seminars for its Continuing Education and undergraduate programs. These classes, ranging from 5 to 15 weeks, include workshops in Fiction, Journalism, Nonfiction, Playwriting, Poetry, and Writing for Children, as well as grammar, punctuation, and composition seminars.

This week, we feature School of Writing faculty from three genres: Nonfiction, Fiction, and Poetry. First up: Nonfiction with Lisa Freedman.

Lisa Freedman, "The Writing Comes First"

Lisa FreedmanHow did you devise your Intro to Creative Nonfiction classes?

I want students to practice these three writing habits in my classes:

1. Choose what they will write about. My assignments tell students how to shape the piece they’re working on (examples include "use the 2nd person POV" or "emphasize the distance between the 'I now' who’s looking back and the 'I then' who had a particular experience"), but students decide on the material they want to use. The “what to leave in? what to take out?” muscle thus gets developed.  And the whole class, including me, gets fed by the wide range of topics that emerge.

2. Workshop one another’s work. I follow Marie Ponsot’s model from her book about teaching writing, Beat Not the Poor Desk. Her technique involves simply observing what is there on the page, not evaluating it. Building the muscles of observation on a fellow writer’s text carries over to one’s own writing. We learn to see what our paragraphs are up to, and we get less wound up in wondering if they’re good enough. As a recent student wrote in his end-of-term reflections, doing the observations “encouraged me to look at my pieces critically and to decide how I want them to be read.”

3. Revise and rewrite. Most writers, even the very experienced, resist changing or deleting a sentence they've labored over. New writers can feel especially attached to a first draft. But the terror and exhilaration of writing reside in rewriting, so my courses always include time to revise, which means to see again; reconsider choices made in terms of verb tense, POV, structure; and rewrite. It’s an honor to witness the “click” when students realize they can play with language.

 How did you select the course texts from such a diverse genre?

After years of experimentation, I discovered that using these two books together works well for this class: Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, edited by Phillip Lopate, and The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick. From Lopate, we get the full text of a universe of essays to observe and imitate; from Gornick, we get a close look at the writer’s job of constructing an “I” that serves the message of the piece; from both of them, we get two perspectives on many masters – Woolf, Orwell, Hoagland, Ginzburg, Baldwin, Didion – and on questions, such as, what’s the difference between a memoir and a collection of personal essays?

For “not-so-personal” creative nonfiction, we turn to Ryszard Kapuściński, Bhanu Kapil, and selections from anthologies with editors such as Carolyn Forché & Philip Gerard and Ira Glass. To expand the boundaries a bit, we read and imitate pieces from Jena Osman and Julianna Spahr’s Chain: #7 Memoir/Anti-Memoir.

 What has been your experience teaching Continuing Education at The New School? How is it different from other programs and institutions?

Because students are consciously prioritizing their writing over other parts of their lives that could use their time and money, they show up in class willing to work, willing to make mistakes, and ready to learn. There’s an openness in New School classes that’s hard to find in other institutions. In some settings, students need to know if they are writing a “personal essay” or a piece of “new journalism” or “exploratory criticism” before they can dive in. In New School classes, the labels are secondary, there to help us talk about the texts. The writing comes first.

Introduction to Creative Nonfiction
with Lisa Freedman
Mondays, 6-7:50 p.m.
15 weeks, beginning August 26
Express Reg: NWRW2401 Section A

Introduction to Creative Nonfiction
with Lisa Freedman
15 weeks, beginning August 26
Express Reg: NWRW2401 Section B


Lisa Freedman’s prose and poetry have appeared in the New York TimesArt & Understanding, and And Then among others. She has received fellowships and awards from The Sloan Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, Soul Mountain, and the Puffin Foundation.  Since earning her MFA in Creative Writing at The New School, she has divided her time between teaching and writing. As a School of Writing instructor she has taught Intro to Creative Nonfiction and Preparatory Writing. She has also designed and led two new workshops: Mapping the Disturbed Country – Writing Illness; and What’s Creative about the Academic Essay? Lisa’s teaching experience includes the City University of New York, the Writer’s Voice, and the International Women’s Writing Guild. In addition, she coaches individuals on their creative projects and consults with businesses to help employees improve their writing skills.  Learn more at


About The Author


Justin Sherwood's poems and essays have appeared in H_NGM_N, ILK Journal, The Poetry Project Newsletter, New Criticals, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of the MFA creative writing program at The New School, where he was selected for the 2012 Paul Violi Prize in Poetry. Find him on Twitter at @JustinSherwood