Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Aaron Hamburger

Aaron HamburgerAaron Hamburger was awarded the Rome Prize by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his short story collection THE VIEW FROM STALIN'S HEAD (Random House), also nominated for a Violet Quill Award. His next book, a novel titled FAITH FOR BEGINNERS (Random House), was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers, Tin House, Subtropics, Details, Michigan Quarterly Review, Boulevard, and The Village Voice. He has received fellowships from the Edward F. Albee Foundation and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy, as well as residencies from Yaddo and Djerassi. He has also taught writing at Columbia University, NYU, the Stonecoast MFA Program, and the George Washington University.

Selected Publications:
Faith for Beginners, Random House, New York, October 2005.
The View from Stalin’s Head,  Random House, New York, March 2004.
“The End of Anti-Semitism,” a short story, Promised Lands: New Jewish American Fiction on Longing and Belonging (Brandeis University Press, forthcoming 2010)
“David and Jonathan,” an essay, 50 Gay & Lesbian Books Everyone Must Read(Alyson, 2009)
“The Eroticism of Football,” an essay, I Like it Like That (Arsenal Pulp, 2009)
“Lyudmila in the New World,” a short story, Between Men 2 (Alyson, 2009)
“Lucas’s Story,” a short story, Big Trips (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008)
“The Disappearance of Hansa Happy,” a short story, Travelers’ Tales: Prague and the Czech Republic, (Travelers Tales, 2006)
“Whatever Happened to…” an essay, Boys to Men (Carroll & Graf, 2006)
“Exile,” an essay, Mentsch (Alyson, 2004)
“What’s Love Got to Do With it?” an essay, I Do, I Don’t (Suspect Thoughts, 2004).
 “Feature on Babar at the Morgan Library,” Rapportage, Fall 2009
“The Blessing of Anger,” Obit Magazine, July 2009
“Comfort Food:  Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar,” book review, The Moscow Times, August 2008.
“Lost and Found:  The Captain’s Fire by J. S. Marcus” essay, Tin House, Summer issue 2008.
“The Pitfalls of Historical Fiction,” essay, Poets and Writers, January 2008
“A Touch of Evil:  Holocaust Fiction,” essay, Tin House, Spring 2007
“Lost and Found:  Three Cities by Sholem Asch” essay, Tin House, Winter Issue 2006
“European Jewry, two views,” book review, The Forward,
 “Interview with Novelist Emily Barton,” small spiral notebook, September 2006.
“What is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last Twenty-five Years?” essay, KGBLit, Summer 2006.
“Valencia, Spain,” travel feature, Out Traveler, Summer 2006.
“Why Truth Matters in Memoirs,” essay, Poets and Writers, Summer 2006.
“Longing for America:  Absurdistan by Gary Shetyngart,” book review, The Moscow Times, May 2006.
“Interview with Etgar Keret,” KGBLit, April 2006.
“The Art of Reading Saul Bellow:  An Unfinished Symphony,” essay, Poets and Writers, November/December 2005.
“The Art of Reading Janet Frame:  When She Was Wild With Me,” essay, Poets and Writers, May/June 2004
“On J. M. Coetzee,” Details, September 2004
“How I Stopped Worrying and Wrote a Novel about Israel,” essay, Zeek, 2004.
“A Man of the Country,” short story, Salt Hill, Spring 2004.
“Experiment,” short story, Nerve, summer 2000.
“Lukas’s Story,” essay, The Village Voice, February 2000
“The Trouble with New Queer Cinema,” SOMA, May 1996.
Several features and book reviews, Out, The Forward, Publishers Weekly, The Village Voice, Time Out New York, Book, Nextbook, Rapportage, Lambda Book Report.
Random House, New York, October 2005.

How I Teach:
One of the first reactions I get when I tell people that I teach creative writing is, “How can you teach someone how to write?”

But I don’t teach anyone to write.  My goal is to teach people what it means to write. 

I was once a graduate student in a writing program myself, and one of the things I’ve learned in the years between then and now is that a writing career is about a lifelong process and not a single short-term product. Each piece that we as writers work on has as its goal not the perfection of the piece itself but rather lessons about the craft of writing that the process of working on any single piece can teach.  If we produce a publishable book or story as a result of that process, great.  If we learn something new from the process, whatever its result, even better.

When I read student writing, I’m not only looking at how to improve the work at hand, but also I’m trying to figure out which tendencies of word choice, characterization, detail, etc. need encouragement and which ones need sharpening.  I also line-edit carefully, not just for the poetry of the prose but also its grammar and syntax, which I see as necessary vehicles to understand how the poetry happens.  If you work with me, you should expect to learn how to get rid of things like “misplaced modifiers” and how to include things like the “comma of address,” as well as how to make characters so vivid that it feels as if they could step off the page and we would know them in life.

One of my favorite writing teachers once said to me about this line of work, “Always tell the truth, but tell it in a way the student can hear it.”  This is why an important part of the student-mentor relationship for me is student input.  I ask students before we work together how they’d like to be critiqued and if there are special issues they’d like me to pay attention to.  After an interaction or two, I check in with students to see if there’s anything we need to change about our interaction to make it more fruitful.  I’m also happy to discuss responses with students via email or phone so that we can bounce ideas back and forth.  In terms of reading lists, I talk with students about the kind of work they’re doing, and in light of that we compose a list of books that would be useful for them to read, which could include authors ranging from Jonathan Swift to Jonathan Franzen. 

I don’t have hard and fast rules about exercises or the format of annotations (which I line-edit as I would any other work of prose).  For me, the question I keep coming back to is how can my work serve the best interests of the person I’m working with.