Hope Edelman (Creative Nonfiction) holds a master’s degree in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She is the author of six nonfiction books, including the bestsellers Motherless Daughters, Motherless Mothers, and the memoir The Possibility of Everything. Publisher’s Weekly, which gave The Possibility of Everything a starred review, called the book “a charming memoir full of self-deprecating humor.” Her books have been published in seventeen countries and twelve languages. She has written essays, articles and reviews for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Writer’s Digest, Glamour, Parade, Real Simple, Self, Huffingtonpost.com, The Iowa Review, and The Crab Orchard Review. Her work has been widely anthologized, in such books as Goodbye to All That (Seal Press), The Bitch in the House (William Morrow), Toddler (Seal Press), Blindsided by a Diaper (Three Rivers Press), Behind the Bedroom Door (Delacorte), and Racing in the Streets: A Bruce Springsteen Reader (Penguin). She is currently co-editing an anthology of essays from graduates of the Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program. In 2012 she was the featured author at the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference, and later that year was inducted into Northwestern University’s Medill Hall of Achievement. Awards include a Pushcart Prize for creative nonfiction and a New York Times notable book of the year designation.
Hope Edelman—Creative Nonfiction
As a nonfiction writing instructor, I focus mainly on helping students write authentic prose—stories and essays that honestly convey their ideas and experiences, and that achieve some degree of emotional truth. I’m less concerned with distinctions between fact and fiction, truth and imagination, than I am with matters of insight. I encourage students to uncover what they want to convey beyond the superficial story of their own experience. Vivian Gornick has said, “What happened to the writer is not what matters. What matters is the larger sense the writer tries to make out of what happened.” Exactly.
In my workshops and critiques, I try to be both straightforward and encouraging, clearly pointing out what I think the strengths and weaknesses of a piece are. My mentees receive written margin comments from me, as well as 1-2 single-spaced, typed responses per submission. I put a lot of time and thought into the work I do for students, so I expect them to put an equivalent amount of time and thought into each packet they send.
I was trained as a formalist, so I tend to dissect work and focus on small components, working with the micro as well as the macro. Some of my areas of interest are memoir, personal essays, and experimental form. I like to see students play with the boundaries of linear narrative, point of view, and voice in creative nonfiction, though I expect mentees to first have a thorough understanding of the rules they choose to break.
Having me as a mentor looks something like this: you send me15-20 pages each month (unless you’re writing your critical paper or your thesis, in which case I’ll accept 25-30 pages), via email. I send my written response back to you, along with your hard copy, within 14 days. I typically stagger the submission dates so no one has to wait to full two weeks to hear back from me. I’m very flexible if you need an extension one month, but I’m not keen on chronic tardiness.
With regard to on-line conferencing, I check the postings every two or three days and read them all, though I contribute only when I feel I can add something substantial or when a discussion has started to stall. I like that the conferences have an energy of their own, and I try not to disrupt that with “authoritative” postings.
Long critical papers aren’t my strong point, though I’m willing to take one or two per semester. I particularly like working with new students and students writing their theses. I have high standards for my mentees, which I hope encourages them to push themselves to do good work each month. At the same time, I remember all the hope and doubt and distraction and exhilaration and deflation and inner and outer conflicts that go hand-in-hand with being an MFA student, and I try to keep all that in mind when I work with students. I’ve been known to kick mentees’ butts, but gently, and always with respect.