A Scrappy School for Writers

GrubStreet brings its rigorous classes for beginners and pros alike to School One

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GrubStreet, the Boston-based creative writing school which, according to its website, teaches “writers of all genres and ambitions,” is coming to Providence, and three Rhody-based GrubStreet instructors will, at least through November, have a shorter commute. Partnering with School One, which has granted use of its space to the instructors, the program’s series of 12 evening creative writing classes started on September 11 and continues through November.

Ethan Gilsdorf, a GrubStreet board member and one of the three instructors who will be teaching classes at School One this fall, says that the GrubStreet name refers to a nineteenth-century London neighborhood that was a hub for writers, publishers and booksellers. It helpfully evokes a certain writerly scrappiness, but “the downside is that people sometimes confuse us with a cooking school.”

Ethan will be joined by fellow East Sider Annie Hartnett, author of the recently published Rabbit Cake, and Cranston-based Mark Fogarty, co-founder of the Rhode Island Film Collaborative. Ethan has taught with GrubStreet for 13 years. As a freelance journalist as well as published author and teacher, Ethan’s classes include tutorials on the tasks specific to freelancing, including writing pitch emails, marketing, blogging and writing book proposals.

The organization, he says, has grown exponentially over the last decade – which he attributes in part to the recession. “A lot of people were out of work” and could “think about what to do with their spare time,” he explains. “There are many aspiring writers out there.” And, he points out, “the cultural legitimacy of storytelling has grown as well. There’s lots of podcasts and lots of storytelling workshops,” along with live storytelling events like The Moth, all based on the “idea that anybody can tell a story.”

GrubStreet prides itself on both its accessibility and rigor. Its classes are open to anyone regardless of experience – “We want to make sure that writing doesn’t seem like this rarified art that only a few people or only people from certain backgrounds should have access to,” Ethan says – while still “stressing the literary value of good writing.”

“Our goal is not to sit in a circle and sing ‘Kumbaya’ and lay on the praise,” Ethan explains. “We think people can improve and get better, so we want to push people to produce their best work.” Yes, “people have been writing for centuries without taking creative writing classes. But we feel strongly that writing is a craft. There are certain things you can teach, models you can follow, learnable skills.”

Ethan himself continues to take classes at GrubStreet even as an instructor. “There’s nothing like the threat of shame or fear to light a fire under your butt and get you to hand in [a writing assignment] on time,” he says. “So I encourage it. Even for teachers.” A list of the GrubStreet classes held at School One this fall can be found here.