The Sackett Street Writers Workshop was born from a Craigslist ad.
After graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Julia Fierro was working as an adjunct and looking for a sense of community in New York City’s literary scene. This being 2002, she went to Craigslist to seek participants in a fiction workshop at her home.
“That first class was this motley crew, all different levels, many different genres,” Fierro says. “It became sort of like a haven for me, where I could practice my craft through reading and discussing people’s work in a critical but also supportive environment.”
Word about the small, salon-esque classes soon spread. Fierro came up with a proper name for the program (taken from the Brooklyn street she lived on at the time) and added classes and, eventually, other teachers.
“I quit my adjunct position and realized I had started a school,” Fierro says. “I didn’t intend to start a business, but more create a community.”
Today, the program has had more than 4,000 students serious about writing for classes in fiction, creative nonfiction, novel intensives and more. Sackett Street has also branched out to online classes, and is launching in Los Angeles — where Fierro is temporarily based — in the fall.
In addition to running the business, Fierro has managed to publish two books — 2014’s “Cutting Teeth” and “The Gypsy Moth Summer,” out Tuesday.
amNewYork spoke with Fierro about Sackett Street and what makes it continue to thrive 15 years after that fateful post.
SENSE OF COMMUNITY
There are a few options for writing classes in NYC, from colleges to nonprofits like the Center for Fiction to startups like Catapult. What draws students to Sackett Street is its intimacy, Fierro says. She reads every application, for instance. And classes are sometimes held in the instructors’ own homes. “It’s kind of amazing to see how much the students enjoy that, that salon-like environment,” Fierro says.
A benefit of reading all the applications is that Fierro can create classes based on what students are looking for. “I try to create classes where people are working at the same level of experience, or toward the same goals,” she says. “We really work hard to create classes so that there’s a great dynamic in every class.”
There was a time where Fierro taught every single class, but she now focuses primarily on the administrative end running the program. As for teachers, she doesn’t necessarily demand MFA or publishing experience. “I really try to hire instructors who want to teach very badly; that I think translates to generosity in the workshop,” she says. “You want teachers who are real givers.”
Last summer, Fierro made the leap to online classes. “I had avoided it for a long time,” she says. “I think I was scared — how will we keep the quality? But it’s working out really well, and it’s amazing to see people from all over the world taking classes.” Students from Dubai, Paris and New Zealand are among the online students. To help recreate the workshop experience, some classes have weekly video chats. “I think now with what’s capable with the various platforms, [is] that online classes will just get better and better and more interactive and have more of the feeling of an in-person class,” Fierro says.
IF YOU GO
Julia Fierro is participating in the Sackett Street Writers Workshop Literary Series on June 7 at 7 p.m. at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe | 126 Crosby St., 212-334-3324, housingworks.org | FREE