Welcome new Writers’ Program instructor Kerry Cohen! Kerry is teaching a section of Memoir I (reg# 392498) this Summer. Kerry is teaching in our Remote online format on Wednesdays starting July 5. She sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and her upcoming course.

What sparks your creativity?
The biggest spark for me comes almost solely from books, from reading, because good writing is an exploration of ideas. Good writing makes us think about what it is to be human, and this question about being human is at the core of all writers’ work. That’s one answer. Another is that writers are creative people. It’s not like any of us would have become writers had we not already had imaginative and thoughtful minds. Creativity is never a problem, but inspiration sometimes is, not because there isn’t always something to write about, but because sometimes having a creative mind can be too much. Sometimes our brains crave rest.

What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation and/or inspiration to write?
I have a queue of books I plan to write before I die. As I get older, it’s not so much that I’m afraid of dying; I’m afraid of not getting all the books written. So that’s the fire that keeps me going. Like I suggested in the previous answer, I think it’s important to allow some time to rest. I remember being a young writer, before I had published books, and those times without energy or motivation struck terror in me. Over time, you learn that when you’re a writer, you’re going to write. It’s not like you have a choice! David Duchovny played a character who was a writer in a series he did, and he said, “Being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life.” I understand what he meant, but it’s not like Calculus homework or studying for the SATs. It’s the best kind of homework! We get to research and pursue what we’re interested in. It makes life worth living. Then again, I’m one of those freaks who loved school and would get four more degrees if there were enough time and money. I’m the one in the front row with my hand raised all the time, the one the rest of the class couldn’t stand.

What’s your favorite book and/or movie?
I hate this question because I get it a lot and I’m never prepared for it. The truth is: at my age, is it possible to have one favorite book or movie? At some point I came up with a canned answer to the question because so many interviews and Q&As include it. Here it is: My favorite book is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. My favorite movie is American Honey. Those answers are true in that I love that book and that movie, and I’d read and watch them both many more times. But the answers are not true in that they are only two of my favorites. I have too many favorites to answer this question! I hope that’s an acceptable answer.

What’s your favorite quote about writing?
Really? A favorite quote now too? These are terribly hard questions! I love so many quotes about writing! My answer is: the entire book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. That’s the book you pick up again and again when you need to remind yourself not to get in your own way when it comes to writing. The book is just one affirmation after another for allowing yourself to think of writing as a gift to yourself during your short time here on earth.

Who do you wish you could write like (or: Whose writing discipline do you wish you had)?
I don’t think there’s anyone I would like to write like, but there are some writers I feel awe for. One example of this would be Elif Batuman. I wish I had the writing discipline of pretty much any writer who isn’t me. I am terrible when it comes to making myself write as often as I should. But, like I said earlier, I don’t think it makes sense to berate oneself about one’s process. It accomplishes nothing, and only makes you feel bad. We’re all stuck being ourselves and when it comes to habits, you’re unlikely to develop new habits that arise from ‘shoulds.’ I might mention here that I also don’t exercise, so people probably shouldn’t look to me for advice.

What excites you most about teaching for the Writers’ Program?
I love teaching memoir, and I’m looking forward to having these hours every week that are devoted to thinking about and talking about memoir.

What do you hope your students get from your course(s)?
I hope students will develop a deeper understanding of memoir, and that they’ll feel confident about working on their own. Memoir classes – more than fiction or other genres – inspire lots of emotion in students. In another program where I teach, my fellow faculty tease me for often making students cry. That’s not my intention! I’m not mean, I promise you. Memoir is hard work. We have to look fearlessly at parts of ourselves to tell the truth, and telling the truth is the thing one has to do to write memoir. It can be incredibly uncomfortable. So, I also hope my students will become comfortable with the discomfort of this process. I want them to believe they’re worth it, that their writing is worth it, enough so that they won’t hesitate to keep walking into the fire of their truths and getting those truths on the page.

Thank you to Kerry for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!

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