Beginning Fiction

Dec 2010

I have no idea what the other people here are talking about. Sounds like bitter people who got a B to me. Having glimpsed several of the student evaluations at the end of the semester, I know I speak for all when I say Aaron was a great professor (straight 5's from most of us). Every workshop started off with us going around and saying what we liked about the piece before we moved on to what we thought the author could work on. Aaron also put in the effort to come up with writing exercises geared towards increasing the amount of time we write every week and getting past writer's block. Each class also had an informal title of Setting, Character, Plot, etc., which really made sure we covered multiple aspects of the writing process by the end of the semester. He was always open to read additional drafts, to offer advice and to share his personal experiences. He is also an AMAZING baker and brings a bunch of treats to class. Having taken other writing classes at Columbia, this was by far the fairest and most enjoyable experience thus far. He really challenges you to look at your characters and your work from a new perspective, but then he understands if you don't take his advice.

Dec 2009

Alright, so I went into this class expecting a terrible professor and got a mediocre one. Seems like he's taken into account that he was a little too pretentious and closed-minded, but the problems are still there, though bearable. He still asks students to submit questions about being a writer and then gives some general responses. He comes off as ignorant to modern literature, seeing as he shoots down most stories that have more abstract or modern approaches. He wants everything to be simple "tell me a story about a person that is totally clear." He wants people to write for the simplest audience that is imaginable--having taken a seminar class at the same time as this, I think he would probably have hated 75% of the modern work we were reading because he'd find it too "vague." I don't feel any doubt in saying that if any student took all of his advice at face value, they'd stifle everything that might make them successful in the future. While he has some valid things to say about making stories about characters and making narrative more active, those comments are very general, and then when he gives specific advice, it's often to the detriment of the author's purpose. He just doesn't get authorial intent. The class is valuable for the peer critiques, as people in class are more often going to understand what you set out to do far better than he does. There are large swaths of modern culture and society that he's so ignorant to that he can't connect to your story at all if it doesn't have a strong character. However, first drafts often are going to be weak in character, and this is the most common and meaningful critique he gave most of the time, so what he often ends up doing is burning down the authorial intent of the story (making the students insecure about their entire premise) and wanting it watered down to being all about character. Basically, while his advice is technically correct a lot of the time, the trouble he has connecting to and understanding the work of the students makes it so that this advice is not as useful as he thinks, since he's often basically telling the students that their entire idea isn't worth writing about. I say this based off of the comments he gives in class, not just those I received. Often a couple students would disagree with what he was saying and feel like they understood the purpose of the work. If he were to improve, I'd like to see him more removed from the discussion and just keep more of his ideas to himself or to the paper. He sticks his hands in the critiques far too often with comments that can come off as deriding to the author's intent because he's unable to connect to their work, and if he wants to be liked by the students then he should just guide the discussion and keep his opinions out of it--I don't see him ever being able to connect with different types of literature than those he's interested in. He basically wants every story to be able to cater to his own way of reading, and so if it doesn't work for him, it doesn't work.

Sep 2009

Occasionally I’ve come across professors who make me think, ‘How did you get a job here?’ Hamburger’s not as awful as previous reviews suggest (I’m 99 percent sure that’s because he read them and changed his act), but I still wouldn’t take a class with him. We got along with him well enough, but I didn’t learn much, and he still needs to work on that ego. The strangest thing he said was that stories shouldn’t have deeper meanings, they should just tell a good story.

Apr 2009

If you are at all interested in writing (creative or other) stay away from this man. His "lectures" and/or "exercises" do little to help your writing and, when workshops begin, he becomes disorganized and his comments (if they are legible) are basic kinds of things that any close reader would pick out. Furthermore, when you have your private conferences with him about your piece, he tells you where he "sees this piece going" and tries to suggest that you write it a certain way - his way. If you don't, your grade will suffer. Perhaps the most disturbing thing was his widely mentioned homework assignment where he called for us to ask him questions about his writing career. When one card asked him "why [he] teach[es]" his first response was, "writing doesn't pay all that well and I need a way to make money" and, then, "I feel I'm a prophet and have something valuable to share." Bear in mind this review is not coming from a student who received a poor grade and was disgruntled with the class. I received a strong grade, though not an A. Please, stay way from this man and, maybe, he'll eventually leave Columbia.

Feb 2008

My experience with him was good. Prof. Hamburger seems a little shy and serious, but his critiques are thoughtful and he is very good moderator. The students gain so much from each other in the class because he facilitates the workshops so effectively.