Writing Habits: Lessons From Writer in Residence Lauren Grodstein

Last week, GSB hosted author Lauren Grodstein for a four-day writer-in-residence program. The author of the New York Times bestseller A Friend of the Family and the Washington Post Book of the Year The Explanation for Everything, Grodstein is also an accomplished classroom teacher, and she currently directs the MFA program at Rutgers University-Camden.
During her time at Gill, Grodstein worked extensively with creative writing students in the Upper School and with several classes in the Middle School. She also spoke with Upper School students and faculty during a special assembly and offered a Middle School writing workshop for grades 5-8. Grodstein rounded out the week with a half-day writing roundtable for faculty and staff.
English Department Chair Dr. Andy Lutz, who organized Grodstein’s visit, noted that much of what Grodstein drew attention to helped students break out of writing habits so they could see things in a new way. “Asking them to write something about themselves in the third person or having them change an important detail in their setting or plot—those exercises introduce a subtle shift in perspective that makes the writer more deliberate and aware,” he explains. “As Lauren told the students: ‘Work against your instincts, fight against your habits—only then will you grow as a writer.’”
Middle School English teacher and Dean of Academics Zoe Tuohy also appreciated the ways that Grodstein—who spends most of her days with graduate students—was able to adapt her teaching for different age groups. “With the seventh-grade, she did a third person writing prompt but she had the students think about who they would like to be in 25 years,” Tuohy said. “More important, she really wanted to get to know the students as people, to learn about what interested them and the things they would want their stories to be about. They loved the way she really listened to them, and then she reflected that back to the group, stressing the importance of honoring one another’s stories and being good listeners.”
This January marked Grodstein’s third visit to GSB. She had come in previous years for a single-day workshop and to help with a Spring Unit on creative writing. Her writer-in-residence visit was made possible by an allocation from the GSB Parents’ Association.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.