Aaron Hamburger

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.

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.

Jan 2007

In my opinion I found it difficult to connect with him. I thought I was alone in my general dislike of his demeanor and it is refreshing to see that many past students feel the same. I found Hamburger to be very focused on a certain type of writing. When more abstract or “subversive” stories were work shopped he usually did not like them.I got more from my peer crituques than him ( maybe is a generational thing) I think the most important thing I learned from him was to improve my grammar, other than that I don’t see myself taking anything away from this class.

Oct 2006

Please just don't take a class with him. I ignored the other reviews, figuring some of them were a bit dramatic or extreme. They weren't. Read them. Believe them. He is not a role model, a mentor, or a teacher. He is not equipped to guide you in any way. Don't waste your time with him. It will leave you bitter.

Apr 2006

The teachers in the writing department range from fantastic to terrible, and Aaron is the worst of all of them. Like all the other reviews say, he is insecure and arrogant. He was entirely disinterested in the students' work, and instead spent most of the time validating his own career and reminding us that he has published one book of short stories and a novel, and trying to cover up the fact that he hadn't read our work closely (if at all). Note: all of the teachers in the writing department are professional writers... One of our homework assignments was to come up with a question to ask him about his career as a writer. He graciously provided index cards for the exercise. What a joke. I didn't learn anything in this class, except that people who are that into themselves should not teach. There are plenty of excellent teachers in the writing department -- STEER CLEAR OF THIS GUY.

Oct 2005

I would highly recommend avoiding Hamburger while making your way through the writing department. He's the most mediocre teacher I have encountered so far at Columbia. I think this little anecdote sums him up best: To try to "liven up" the class a little bit, he taped up a piece of paper on the wall-- titled the "Word Hall of Fame." Aaron would arbitrarily pick a word- such as PERFECT or MYRIAD, say something like-- "what is truly perfect, anyway?" write it into the Retirement Home, and declare that we were not allowed to use that word in our writing. Besides that, Aaron seemed to have barely skimmed over everyone's work before reviewing it (which was evident in the fact that he constantly misquoted people's work, was extremely egocentric, would take up class time talking about his many successful readings, reviews, etc and generally just didn't want to be there.

Sep 2005

In my opinion, the biggest problem isn't his arrogance or his insecurities, but instead, the way he validates himself by attacking other students' writing, and putting himself on a pedestal. News flash, Aaron: we *know* you're an accomplished writer -- the class isn't about you! What I disliked the most was the way he would go about critiques without saying anything nice about a student's work. Of course in an intro creative writing class we're not (typically) going to have works of genius, but I found his disregard for the term "constructive criticism" to be very self-serving. Even if he liked a piece, the most you could get out of him was a, "this metaphor was good" -- or something like, "this reminds me of my own excellent use of dialogue" -- because come now, this class isn't actually about the students, it's Aaron's own support group, manipulated to make him feel good about himself.

Mar 2005

I couldn’t tell what other people in the class thought of this guy but he was probably my least favorite person ever. From other reviews, I can see I am not alone. He is pretentious, pompous, and arrogant. If he can’t relate to your material (subject matter), it’s crap. Once we were doing sentence writing exercises. He told everyone to pick their favorite and read it out loud. When it came to his turn, he said “Oh, they’re all so good,” (giggle), “I’m going to invoke my right as a teacher to read two, because I can’t decide.” (note, this is not verbatim, but it is the general jist... and the giggle was certainly there). Ahh, the modesty. If this is what writers are like, I fear becoming one. Furthermore, He wants you to write a certain way and if you don’t, he gets upset and passive aggressively gets back at you during your critique. For In the poetry section, you had to be crystal clear – and explain everything… no obscure poems. Blake, Pound, and Yeats would probably not have succeeded in this class – but I guess they are not good writers. All the writing he used as examples is artful and pretentious, which is writing I don’t like – so it was hard to stomach it. He comes across as a wimpy, whiny, full of himself kind of guy – he’s ENORMOUSLY passive aggressive, and will suffocate your writing. Like the other reviewers, I have to give credit to the other students in the class – a few sucked up to him, which drove me crazy, because I really couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in him, but other than that, the other students were very helpful and accepting of each other’s writing.

Jan 2005

Do not take this course. I completely agree with the previous reviewers about Aaron's inability to inspire his students and his unfortunate preoccupation with none other than himself (and his own writing and literary tastes). You would think the cliche of 'the writing teacher who doesn't like your writing and just doesn't give you a good grade' would be obliterated in a Columbia creative writing class... that is very far from the case with Aaron. There were no criteria for grading and assessment, and the class became a bizzare free-for-all, in which Aaron served as a somewhat random dictator of 'word choice' and literary taste. Also, you will never know what grade you are getting in this class, and he will spring it on you in the end. He will say things such as, "The grades really don't matter... what matters is you as a writer" and "It is not a judgment of you but of what is in your portfolio." As you and I both know, such statements are sickeningly contrived, and only leave students guessing at what the teacher does and does not like. The only saving grace in the class was the students. The students were often very insightful, and the majority of the student comments on drafts completely disagreed with Aaron's somewhat sparse remarks. Overall, I'd say this class is more apt to make you dislike the writing program than continue with it. Steer clear.

Jan 2005

Eh. Unfortunately, no other word better summarizes my experience in this class with Aaron. He's ok--he sometimes gives interesting insights into the writing process but never inspired me. He's one of those teachers that's more interested in having you do what he thinks you need to do rather than what you want to do with your work. This class would have been much better and useful if he had been more flexible. He also doesn't make much of an effort to talk to you beyond his office hour, so if that time doesn't work well for you tough luck, even e-mailing him doesn't help much. It wasn't the most awful class in the world but it wasn't the greatest either, you can do better with Structure and Style.

Dec 2004

Despite Aaron's impressive background--at least, impressive to him--of graduating from Columbia's own graduate writing program, publishing two books to date, and teaching for eight years, he failed to connect with me as an instructor or as a person. My beef was not with the absurd number of little demands Aaron placed on students, but with his general demeanor, which struck me as condescending, insecure, and utterly pretentious. In the end, he was like a lukewarm shower: so mediocre I would have just preferred a personality who was too hot or too cold. If it weren't for the other students, who I found more brilliant and humble than Aaron himself, I would say it might be better to stay dirty than jump in this shower.