When Helen Schulman, novelist and professor of writing at The New School, was invited as a visiting writer to an English classroom for underserved New York City schoolchildren, she had an epiphany. Schulman, who chairs the Fiction concentration for the MFA in Creative Writing Program, had been looking for ways to support her graduate students through fellowships and teaching opportunities. Suddenly two of her passions converged: her eagerness to train her MFA students for work post-graduation while helping them offset some of the costs of attending the program and her desire to bring the joys of literature and creative self-expression to local kids. To formalize this work, Schulman established an initiative called WriteOn NYC, designed as one fellowship with two missions.
WriteOn NYC began as a pilot program in January 2016. Professor Helen Schulman selected two MFA students from The New School to develop and deliver a creative writing curriculum for George Jackson Academy, the only independent, nonsectarian, need-blind middle school for boys from low-income families in New York City. At the end of that first semester, the Creative Writing Program hosted a reading for the middle-grade students at The New School’s Greenwich Village campus, providing many of the George Jackson Academy students and their families with their first college visit.
WriteOn NYC has now expanded its mission by developing its own pedagogy and training program for selected MFA students, designed to help them create their own curricula for creative writing and literature courses. MFA student fellows also supply readings of published authors and literary field trips to students of George Jackson Academy, as well as the High School of Economics and Finance, a public school in the Financial District of Manhattan.
Thanks to a grant from The New School Collaboratory, WriteOn NYC was able to design and create its own database of syllabi, a teaching handbook, reading lists, and additional opportunities for use by fellows. To date, 24 MFA students at The New School have received paid fellowships and hundreds of New York City schoolchildren have been served. With the help of a highly engaged advisory board of New School alumni and support from The New School’s University Development team, WriteOn NYC is actively cultivating partnerships with other schools and programs to support its desire and capacity to grow.
WriteOn NYC is made possible through the generosity of founding donors Vicky and David Gottlieb and the tireless efforts of its many MFA student fellows and alumni. Professor Helen Schulman continues to serve as the faculty director; MFA Creative Writing ’16 alumnus Phineas Lambert, publisher and director of Guernica, serves as the program director. To learn more about the program, visit WriteOnNYC.com.
Illustration courtesy of Amy Kurzweil, MFA Creative Writing ’13.