Instructor Spotlight: Daniel Gewertz
1) How long have you been teaching classes with BA&CE?
2) What are the different classes that you teach or have taught for BA&CE?
In the first few years, I taught a number of different writing classes, including Writer’s Toy Box and Short Stories. In recent years I have focused solely on my memoir writing class, “Short Memoir: A Writing Workshop.”
3) What do you do for work and/or enjoyment when you’re not teaching?
I was a full-time freelance journalist writing about the arts for many Boston newspapers from 1983 to 2011. Recently, I’ve returned to journalism, writing occasional feature stories for the Boston Globe. and longer essays for The Arts Fuse. I’ve also published personal essays and short memoirs. I continue to enjoy literature, music, and film even when not writing about them. Photography is a hobby. I’ve also co-produced four albums for my wife, Thea Hopkins, a singer-songwriter who recently won the grand prize in the Great American Song Contest.
4) What do you like about teaching at BA&CE?
I like the intimacy of the classes at BA&CE. And it’s an opportunity to know people I would not have otherwise met.
5) How do you connect with the students?
The weekly prompts and assignments are popular. They provide ideas and help the students break out of temporary writing blocks. Most of class-time is taken up with reading and commenting upon student writing. But I also connect with my memoir students, if there is extra time, by telling the occasional, concise, eccentric tale from my own life. I also, when appropriate, mention lessons I’ve learned over the decades about the craft and practice of creative writing. I don’t lecture much. While discussing a single student’s story, I find I can delve into aspects of writing in ways that allow the other students to benefit as well. That’s the main way I teach the craft.
6) Do you have a favorite memory from one of your classes?
In one class, a few years ago, a student wrote an anecdotal story that included a friend of hers as a character. Then, quite a while later, the friend herself joined the class. I especially love it when a student makes a giant leap in their writing ability. In one case, I merely had to emphasize the virtues of telling a story and letting the reader understand its importance. The young student transformed her writing in a matter of weeks. Another student, in her 70s, began to reveal the dark tale of her father being hounded by the FBI for being a Communist during the 1950s McCarthy era. One family tale led to the next. Over many classes together, she linked her many diverse life tales in a cohesive manner that surprised even the writer herself. I also fondly recall a student who wrote a series of witty, pithy pieces about her years as a fanatic Christian adolescent, and her road to a secular, and much more happy, adulthood.
8) Have you taught any online classes? If so, any takeaways or tips for those considering an online class?
The recent spring 2021 term is my 4th on Zoom. The main change I made when switching to Zoom was to ask each student to email their weekly stories in advance of each class, giving us enough time to read the stories. I chose to make some notes on each piece to facilitate my in-class comments. Of course, Zoom robs a class of the live, in-person experience. But by altering the class in the manner just described, the extra time reading and pondering the stories allows for a more in-depth analysis during Zoom time. I know my own comments are more detailed. The students have chosen to continue the live-class practice of reading each piece aloud. On rare occasions, when we are running short on time, there might be a piece that is discussed but not read aloud. Zoom has worked well. The two-hours zoom by on Zoom. (pardon the non-pun.) I feel that the occasional brief lecture portions of the classes work less well on Zoom, so I cut them even shorter.
9) What are the deeper aspects of your class’ experience?
My memoir class has, naturally, striven to teach the skills of effective writing. But beyond matters of craft and clarity, the life stories that flow from the student writers in a safe classroom setting are examples of remarkable communion. Revealing, meaningful, funny, tragic, light, diverting or emotionally exploratory: these stories are often the tales that students have long yearned to write about. I try to gear the class toward the writing craft. and away from moments that resemble group therapy, But with memoir, there are not infrequent times when the life events need to be discussed in order to make the writing more cogent and effective. I appreciate the openness and vulnerability shown by some. But I also appreciate the students who write about lighter material and play it closer to the vest in class. My job is to make the writing more artful and clear and entertaining. With some, the class has become an essential part of their week, especially in the Covid-era. Each term, a few students return. Sometimes, several.