Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wednesday Instructor: Barbara Esstman

I’d always written, but it wasn’t until my corporate husband moved me to Atlanta against my will that my real career began. I liked Georgia even less than Sherman had and vented by sending my friends accounts of my life with three small kids in a city where the locals didn’t seem to speak English and every street was named Peach-something. The friends advised me to write for badges; the company transferred my family to Virginia before I could start an insurrection among the other wives; and I found an ad for workshops at some place called The Writer’s Center.

In addition to the joy of spending Saturday mornings with adults who did not want to discuss Sesame Street, I relished the plain existence of a true center where writers at every level of expertise hung out as peers. I’m sure I didn’t say much during the first couple of sessions until I figured out how a workshop worked. I didn’t put my name on the two short stories I submitted, though I can’t tell you what combination of ignorance, an out to not claim them if they sucked, or a vague idea of using “Anonymous” as a nom de plume prompted this. I was just happy to be in the company of other writers helping each other learn how to write.

But after my first critique another student took me aside during the break and told me that I was a “real” writer – go for it. Others cheered me on in like ways, and after the last class our instructor, Warren Miller, came running after me in the parking lot. “You have two stories ready to send out,” he said. “So, send them, and don’t let the bastards get you down.”

That’s still one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever gotten, and the encouragement from the class that had become like family pushed me to keep going in ways I never would’ve on my own. Ten years, a MFA, a bunch of short stories and a published novel later, I was coming off a contract at AU when one of my students there, Julee Newberger, suggested I teach at TWC where she worked. It was like coming home. I've been here ever since.

It’s the best place to teach. A community centered on writing, a literary oasis in the midst of political Washington, no grades. From the staff, to the instructors, to the students both new and returning -- a gathering of people both like-minded in their love of the written word and wildly diverse in terms of their backgrounds, experiences and approaches to recording their stories. User-friendly. Practical. Sane. Unique.

Our world and welcome to it. I’m just glad to be here.
Barbara Esstman

About Barbara Esstman: Barbara Esstman, MFA, is a National Endowment for the Arts, VCCA and Virginia Commission for the Arts fellow and a Redbook fiction award winner, among other distinctions. Her two novels, The Other Anna and Night Ride Home, were published by Harcourt Brace and HarperCollins and are in numerous foreign editions. Both books were adapted for television by Hallmark Productions. She co-edited an anthology, A More Perfect Union, published by St. Martin's Press, and has taught extensively in universities.

Her next workshop at The Writer's Center: Advanced Novel and Memoir.

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