Beginning Fiction Writing

Mar 2014

The course had so much promise (brilliant syllabus). But Hannaham was utterly deficient in the classroom. One might quote him giving us free reign with our drills because "this is art"--and yet he was a stickler for archaic rules. Though I understand the impulse in a beginners' workshop to set guidelines, he did so in a disturbingly black and white way. It was hard to take him seriously after his wide-sweeping generalizations and restrictions in regard to grammar, style, and even content (no "be" verbs, no science fiction), especially in the context of creative writing, which, hopefully, lends for some subjectivity. Disturbing, on the same note, is anyone who can grade creative writing on a 5-point scale, based on what he personally deems to be "effort"--seems arbitrary to me, but maybe that's normal procedure. Most of all, he fostered a particularly negative workshop environment (all criticism, few suggestions). That air was icy! Though productive at times, it certainly wasn't supportive, and I know others felt the same. Just because a workshop doesn't throw around rainbows and compliments, doesn't mean it has to be cold. All this said, on paper Mr. Hannaham was insightful and meticulous--good editor, despite his being the worst teacher I've had at Columbia. But I suppose that's to be expected from a sundowning 45-year-old adjunct who got his MFA in the 80s.

May 2012

Run away as fast as you can if you want to save your GPA! Emily hides exercises in order to lower your grade in case she doesn't like you. Don't worry, you don't need to make much of an effort to rub her the wrong way: it can happen right off the bat, in the first class. For no apparent reason. Here's what she did to me: she lied, lowering my grade saying I didn't turn in 4 of the exercises. I turned in all the exercises except one, meaning: she could only take points off of one exercise, not of four. She lied to the head of the Creative Writing department when I complained about it. Emily doesn't teach you, nor does she explain you anything you have doubts about. You can stay after class, or email her - nothing works. She won't explain it to you, but let you know you fell short of her mysterious criteria only on finals week, when you can't possibly do anything about it. It doesn't matter that you spent the WHOLE semester asking her. She WON'T answer you if she doesn't like you, or your face doesn't please her. She emailed the class the guidelines for the final portfolio only on finals week - only 4 days before the portfolios were due. The guideline for your final portfolio is something other professors hand out to you AT LEAST 2 weeks prior to the due date, and especially not on finals week. The whole class complained about her disorganization. More than one person didn't bring their workshop pieces on time because there wasn't a spreadsheet or a list with the names of the workshoppers and when they were workshopping. Students complained they got confused, too, and that it would have been much easier if she had distributed a list, or if she was a little more organized. Her critiques to your work are superficial, and don't add much to the quality of the revision. I had to revise using a peer's critiques as my guideline for revision because Emily's critiques were empty. She arrived late for class in the final 3 weeks of classes, but she would take away points from you if YOU arrived late. Obviously she operates using double-standards. She WILL lower your GPA based on her liking or disliking of you. She is the worst teacher I've had at Columbia so far. I had never in my life had a teacher that would go to the lengths of lying about a student's exercises only because she didn't like the student. HORRIBLE TEACHER.

Mar 2009

I strongly agree with the enthusiastic remarks made above. I'd also like to add that Karen included Francine Prose's "Reading Like a Writer" into the syllabus, from which we read a short chapter every or two, and which really helped me keep focused in my own writing, as Prose gives many examples of how published writers accomplish certain things in their writing. Also, Karen took time in class to talk about the daunting subject of 'where to go from here'; she does not shy away from talking to students about submitting their work to literary magazines, or other ways to get started in the field. She is funny, insightful, kind- yet to-the-point and honest in her critique, and truly encouraging.