Advanced Fiction

May 2020

Marie offloads everything onto the students -- she takes an approach of "decentering" the professor, which means that she doesn't have to participate and the students are randomly assigned to lead workshop. This results in a stressful environment, because you aren't informed beforehand if you are going to lead. I was always on edge. She barely speaks in class, she said nothing during my critiques. I also think she judges you heavily for not participating, which seems very hypocritical and perhaps some sort of projection. Her written critiques are short and messy. She has said to us that she reads work for grading purposes not for feedback. I am taking a workshop for feedback! When she does speak in class, it is often insightful and helpful -- so it really would have been nice to hear her voice! I take creative writing workshops for guidance from a professional -- the decentering approach seems ridiculous to me because if I just wanted to hear from my peers I would have made an informal workshop with my friends. I understand if she has social anxiety etc., but I want to learn!

Jan 2012

If you are a writer, do not take Aaron Hamburger's workshop if you can avoid it. I'm a writing major, so I've taken classes with most of the professors in the writing department, and I just don't understand why he is teaching at Columbia. Especially since the other professors in the department are all so amazing. Aaron uses rubrics to evaluate your stories. That means you get a 1-5 score in Plot, Character, etc. Maybe some people find this useful, perhaps if you are new to writing and need some structure, but it really is not useful in an Advanced Workshop. It is important to talk about the elements of fiction and how to use them, but a generic rubric is honestly just disheartening. As for Aaron's critiques of our stories, they were often very general, outlining how your story doesn't fit his idea of a story, but without specific examples or suggestions. In class, Aaron is energetic and fairly pleasant, I suppose. He brings in lots of inspirational quotes and random writing exercises, which sound like a good thing, but they never really went anywhere. Also, be prepared to defend yourself when you're up for workshop -- he ignores that whole code of silence thing other workshops use. And although he acts sort of "nice" I could never really tell when he was being honest. And isn't honest feedback why we take workshops? Finally, he never, during the whole semester, seemed excited about writing. To me, fiction is a labor of love, so it was weird to be the student of someone as uninspired as Aaron.

Aug 2011

The previous review lists many valid problems: His grading system is unclear- being by far the worst. He claims to only grade on the basis of attendance ecetera because "you can't grade writing." However, to an outside observer an grade in creative writing does not translate to a grade in punctuality. However, his actual comments are very sensitive. In personal discussion he has a keen eye for craft and is ready to share. His edits are close are clearly done with care. He also makes an effort to be avaialble outside of class time and to be supportive. So I would argue that if grades are not an issue for you this is a class to take.

May 2011

Professor Anastas is charming and witty and a very serious reader of student work, which is a somewhat rare commodity in the creative writing department. His one major drawback, however, is his absolute dedication to the literal. If your writing is even the least bit ambitious or imaginative, I'm not sure he's the best professor to offer advice or constructive suggestions. He also scheduled a workshop during finals week, which was inconvenient, but it meant we didn't have to workshop three people each week, so that was a definite plus, since we spent a good amount of time on each piece. He's thorough, but I feel like he's another professor (like many of the recent additions) who's very stuck in a certain literal mentality, who appreciates sparse, obvious work usually about nothing. They say workshop is for experimenting and making mistakes, but his grading system (which practically everyone in my class despised him for, since he was VERY unclear about his standards at the beginning of the year) is arbitrary and not based on the merit of the work or the risks taken. The fact that he thinks being self-deprecating is enough to compensate for being detached all semester is really ridiculous to me; he tries too hard to work in both directions -- to be your workshop 'buddy' and also be the guiding, knowledgeable professor. He'll do better once he settles on just one angle. In short: Just be boring and obvious as hell and you'll do fine.

Dec 2007

Petite, a smart dresser and soft-voiced, Rebecca will not strike students as a powerhouse or a spectacle. But that's kind of the point--she isn't there to showboat or impress students with tales of the writing life, she's there to run an orderly and efficient class. After several semesters of watching the workshop schedule derail itself six or seven weeks into the semester, I was surprised and impressed by how much everyone stayed right on point for the entire time. Sure, a workshop will always be governed by the quality of the student work that comes into play, but Rebecca did a good job of making sure there at least WAS work to read and review each week. She has high demands for feedback (not so much for output--it was very much self-paced creative writing), but it pays off when your peers hand back carefully wrought critiques rather than scribbled on MSs. And, her own feedback is plentiful and discuss-able. She'll meet with you lots, will call when she's running late (and she will be) and responds to e-mails with notable speed. Two small(ish) gripes: she attempted to integrate some additional work like exercises into the class, but with the heavy-enough workload, most of us struggled to complete these and didn't get much out of them; also, she can steer discussion of student work a bit too much toward the positive. If you're interested in getting the nitty gritty about what you can fix in your stories, you might have to ask an honest friend. I would definitely recommend her though, she was a delight.