Melissa Fraterrigo is the founder and executive director of the Lafayette Writers’ Studio in Lafayette, Indiana. She is the author of a collection of short fiction, The Longest Pregnancy, and a novel, Glory Days (Nebraska, 2017). For more information about the author, visit melissafraterrigo.com.
It was my first day of teaching a fiction-writing workshop to a group of 4-7th graders on Zoom and I was pretty proud of myself when I found the annotation tool. While I have 25+ years of teaching experience, my palms were slick with that just-out-of-college feeling.
A roomful of preteens stared at me as I jotted down their story impressions on the shared digital whiteboard. As I hovered over the screen, tiny gold stars appeared followed by a looping pink moon. I grabbed at the eraser and tried to delete the images, but more appeared. I looked at my students. A brown-haired girl tipped her head to the side and grinned. She kept on decorating our whiteboard as if it were her locker. I asked her to stop.
Consider it yet another zoom discovery.
I’ve been teaching writing for more than 20 years to children, teens and adults at both the secondary and college level. In 2014, I founded the Lafayette Writers’ Studio in Lafayette, Indiana, to provide a place where writers could learn about the art and craft of writing in a vigorous yet encouraging environment. I never imagined the way these classes would support the creative endeavors of those in my community. Since the studio opened, several students have been accepted to MFA programs, one student published a poetry book with Finishing Line Press, and two other students published memoirs and novels, respectively.
Some of the classes that I teach last 2.5 hours and provide a quick insight into a specific topic such as editing or how to take a chapter from a novel or memoir and craft it into a stand-alone piece. Other classes are more intense and take place over several weeks. Writers who sign up for the latter tend to be at work on memoir and novels. They seek accountability and a road map as they wade through their projects.
I understand how vital both can be. I finished my second book, the novel Glory Days (Nebraska, 2017) while actively teaching classes for the studio, and I’m certain those pages would have never accrued without the way my students motivate me.
I truly love teaching. I know without a doubt I have the best gig in the world. There is nothing better than being in the classroom, talking about literature and really listening to students and how their lives inform their readings and their writing.
Yet after COVID-19, I had to re-access not only how I was teaching, but how the pandemic would likely continue to affect the classroom and small businesses in general. I’ve been offering face-to-face writing workshops to adults and children in the Lafayette area for more than six years. Time and again the feedback I hear from students is that they love the sense of community, affection, and shared knowledge that evolves through these meetings.
But the pivot to an online studio is a positive chance for all my students. Now all classes are online and available in any zip code. Will I still be able to replicate that encouraging environment that has connected writers and helped them publish their books and poems? I’m certainly going to try.
There is an ongoing debate about teaching and its influence on a writer’s productivity. In my situation, teaching fuels me. No matter how much I am struggling with my own work, the questions my students bring to me compel me to think harder, to read deeper, and remain open to a piece and whatever direction it may take. Many of my current students come to writing from a range of circumstances and experiences. Some of them are retired; others are in high school, while still others are working on low-residency MFA degrees—yet each shares an interest in exploring the craft of writing. I owe my students everything for trusting me with their work.
Writers need other writers. The Lafayette Writers’ Studio provides the dedicated support and rigor essential to building a “literary family”—folks who are also driven to create worlds from their imaginations. Now I’m delighted to offer that same opportunity to writers—no matter where they live. To learn more please visit lafayettewritersstudio.com.