On a blustery November night, a crowd of friends, agents, and editors packed the elegant reading room at the Center for Fiction to hear fourteen writers from the Writers’ Institute read from their works. Several of the authors – with professional careers as journalists, academics, and television producers – had never before read their writing aloud to an invited audience.
“It’s exhilarating to hear the way a story unfolds in spoken voice,” said Maggie Hill, who came to support her fellow Institute colleagues, “especially a story you’ve heard evolve through class workshops.”
The Writers’ Institute fiction program is the only one of its kind, taught not by authors, in traditional MFA fashion, but by New York’s top publishers and magazine editors. Last year’s class, the fiction program’s inaugural, included in its faculty New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman and John Freeman, editor of Granta, which will publish a story by former Institute fellow Judith Chicurel in its February 2012 issue.
“The access is incredible,” said Dan Hernandez, a journalist reading his fiction before an audience for the first time. “We sit around a conference table and discuss writing with Jonathan Galassi, the president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and with Chris Cox, the fiction editor at Harper’s. It’s what writers dream about. No middleman, just direct access to the people who decide what’s worthy of being published today and what isn’t.”
The readings clipped along at a brisk pace of seven minutes each, much like speed dating, with time out for jazz and schmoozing, served up alongside a spread of good wine, runny cheeses, and fat Mediterranean olives.
“I heard about the reading from a friend and what an amazing surprise!” said Olga Zilberbourg, an editor visiting from San Francisco. “All the authors reading together showed the diversity of interests and talents that the Writers’ Institute attracts. I look forward to seeing submissions to our journal, Narrative Magazine.”
Organized by fiction program alumnus Greg D’Alessandro, the reading was the first in a series this year that continues in February and May.
Applications for the 2012-2013 class of Writers’ Institute fellows are being accepted through March 15, 2012. The Writers’ Institute is directed by André Aciman, the essayist, novelist, and executive officer of the CUNY Graduate Center’s doctoral program in Comparative Literature. See here for more information.
– Laura Martineau (photo by Sara O’Loughlin)