Capturing the summer-school experience on film. PHOTOS BY RACHAEL KEALY
By Geoffrey Cobb
As a somewhat successful writer, I get asked this difficult question all the time: What should I do to become a writer? Until last year I did not have an easy answer, but when someone asked me it recently I shot back my answer immediately and without hesitation: get yourself to the University of Limerick/Frank McCourt Creative Writing Summer School at New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House from June 22-25.
I was a student in the inaugural summer school last year and it proved to be the best three days I have ever invested in writing. I am not a full-time writer; I am a high-school history teacher, but I, like many of the course’s students, had always wanted to take the next step towards becoming a writer.
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Novelist and teacher Donal Ryan.
When I looked at the line up of instructors the course offered I was impressed. There was Booker Prize long-listed Donal Ryan, author of “The Spinning Heart,” (recently voted “Irish Novel of the Decade”) as well as Joseph O’Connor whose masterful novel “Star of the Sea” sold more than a million copies. However, I was still a little skeptical. I knew these men could write, but not quite sure that they could teach. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they could both teach and write. As a teacher with more than two decades of classroom experience, I knew that the secret to learning is activity and both these men, as well as everyone else who taught at the summer school, had a number of great techniques to get the students actively engaged in writing. The teacher in me left highly impressed at their classroom techniques.
The summer school surprised me in a number of other ways as well. First, I was not sure what to expect from my classmates, but they turned out to be a wonderfully diverse group of writing enthusiasts. There were of different ages, ethnic backgrounds and levels of talent, but everyone was jovial and supportive. It went by all too quickly and ended in an enjoyable and memorable madcap open-mic session at McSorley’s Ale House where we all read snippets of our writing. I am still in touch with some of my classmates and bonding with fellow writers was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the school.
Novelist and teacher Joseph O’Connor.
The biggest surprise for me in the three-day program, though, was the help they offered in the emotional side of writing. Belief and perseverance are two of the most difficult mental attributes of successful writers. Charming young-adult author Sarah Moore Fitzgerald gave a particularly valuable talk not only on the nuts and bolts of time management in writing, but she also spoke convincingly about the emotional side of writing, speaking about her personal experiences with writer’s block, negative feedback and rejection. Perhaps my greatest insight from the school was learning over pints after class that even great writers like O’Connor and Ryan have failed in some of their attempts to set their ideas to paper and that all writers, even great ones, have to come to terms with frustration and failure.
A celebration at McSorley’s.
I would return this year, but sadly the course takes place this year before the end of my school year. I would tell anyone without hesitation, if you are serious about taking that important next step on the road to writing, then enroll in the Frank McCourt Summer School at NYU. You will be grateful that you did.
Geoffrey Cobb is the author of “The King of Greenpoint,” a biography of Brooklyn politician Peter J. McGuinness.
Washington Mews, NYU.