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Brian Gresko on Writing as a Parent

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Brian Gresko is a writer and editor based in New York City. He is teaching Parenthood on the Page: Creative Nonfiction for Caregivers, beginning October 15th. Click here to enroll in the six-session writing workshop!

Why did you want to design a workshop specifically for caregivers?

It’s challenging for most New Yorkers to find space in their lives for creativity, but when you add kids to the mix it can feel almost impossible. As a parent, there is no end to the demands on your attention, patience, and compassion. Most workshops focus only on developing the writer as an artist and fail to acknowledge or honor the other roles that the author plays in their life, particularly that of a parent, which is anathema to the traditional view of the artist as a loner, unattached and uninhibited by the burdens of caregiving. A part of this workshop will be discussing and supporting one another in the endeavor to be both a writer and a parent because juggling the two can be an exhausting and difficult feat.

In terms of the work itself, there are also considerations to be made when you’re writing about your children. We’ll look at essays in which authors write about their experiences as parents with sensitivity and honesty, and talk about the special kind of bravery that entails. Because just as becoming a parent brings you closer to your past – to your childhood and the generations that came before you – writing about parenting requires digging deep, to the bone, and exposing your innermost thoughts and fears and hopes and dreams. It’s an intersectional space, where our thoughts about gender, race, sexuality, and identity are enacted. And so writing about ourselves as parents require being vulnerable, and self-aware, and careful. We’ll spend time discussing how to walk that tightrope, and trying to learn how to do it in our work ourselves.

You edited an anthology on fatherhood, published in 2014. What did you enjoy most about editing the collection? Are there are any essays from the book that you can link to?

Over the course of about six months, I received twenty-two essays in my inbox from some of the most accomplished storytellers publishing today, and each one was a gift. This essay by Lev Grossman appeared in the collection and also on Slate—it’s an apt one since he writes about how fatherhood made him a better writer, in part because he felt he didn’t have any time to waste when he sat down to work.

What are the most common fears people have when writing about their kids and how will you address them in the class?

That their child is going to hate them, either because they admit to messing something up as a parent, or making a mistake, or because they’ve forever frozen their child on the page at an embarrassing age. I think the important thing when writing about our children is to understand why we’re doing it, and not to write out of defensiveness, or to justify some error in judgment or loss of patience, but instead to write to clarify and illuminate and express in carefully chosen words what’s on our hearts and minds. We’ll also spend time discussing a readership because that idea – who you are writing for and why – can be essential when it comes to finding the right tone and approach to take in an essay or story.

How do you plan to structure the workshop so that all levels feel comfortable in the class?

I have a lot of experience working with writers of all levels, even writers who are brand new and have never written an essay before. Safety is fundamental to how I run my classes – we need to feel secure if we’re going to take a creative leap. When we talk about work, it will be from a constructive point-of-view. The goal is for everyone to walk away not just knowing more about writing as a craft, and themselves as a writer, but feeling inspired and excited to get back to the page.

What kind of work can students expect to generate?

I’m open to working with students on whatever their goals might be—essays, personal narrative, the start of a book-length memoir. Even fiction, if that’s the way the author feels like they can best express their truth. I’m comfortable and familiar with teaching and writing in all of these forms.

In your opinion, what elements make for a strong essay with a focus on family/parenthood?

This is a hard one to answer, since there is such a variety of essays and work out there to read—we’re living in a golden age of creative nonfiction! But I think that whenever I’m reading an essay about parenting, I’m hoping to get that spark which comes when you encounter another mind baring themselves to you on the page without holding back, and in language that is as carefully chosen and beautiful as it is unguarded emotionally. You know when you feel that spark because you get goosebumps; it’s something felt in the marrow as much as it is recognized by the mind.

Besides generating new work, what do you hope students will take home from this class?

I’m hoping that every student will walk away enthusiastic about their work, and committed to making time for themselves, even if it’s just a short amount of time each week, for writing and being creative. I also hope they’ll feel more confident about themselves as a writer, and maybe even find an accountability buddy or someone to share work with, which is an important person to have when you’re an emerging writer with kids.