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National Book Award Winner Glass to Teach Fiction Writing at Emerson

Award-winning novelist Julia Glass will join Emerson’s Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing this fall to teach fiction writing workshops to graduate students.

Glass, whose debut novel, Three Junes, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2002, is the author of five novels, including The Whole World Over (2006) and her latest, And the Dark Sacred Night (2014), both of which feature characters from Three Junes. She will be distinguished writer-in-residence at Emerson.

This will not be Glass’s first teaching gig—she’s taught intensive, weeklong fiction workshops, and spent one semester as an adjunct professor in Brooklyn College’s creative writing program—but she told Emerson College Today that she’s wanted a full-time university job for a while.

“I really do like teaching,” she said. “Really ambitious, hard-working students can really sharpen my critical skills, and that’s a good thing.”

Glass said she was also really looking forward to having colleagues again. A number of years ago, she moved from New York City, where she had access to a community of writers, to Marblehead, Massachusetts, which she said she loves, but lacks the fellowship of other authors.

“Although our work is, by necessity, solitary work, when we emerge from the cave, there’s nothing we like better than to mix it up with other writers,” she said.

She fell in love with language and writing as a child and had “amazing English teachers” throughout high school, but when she got to Yale University, she found the literature classes there “dominated by deconstructionism.”

“[It felt like] the way you were supposed to read a novel was akin to the way of dissecting a frog,” she recalled. “I think I took my writing and verbal skills for granted.”

Glass ended up majoring in studio art, moving to New York, and painting, but it was her skill with words that paid her rent. She worked as a copy editor for Cosmopolitan under the legendary Helen Gurley Brown, wrote a pet column for Glamour, and “read all the books I would have read if I had been an English major in college.”

She continued to paint but felt a pull to tell stories.

“I just started to write fiction, and I felt as if I was cheating in my painter’s life. I felt as if I was having an affair,” Glass said. “Basically, I had to do a lot of soul searching. What was it I most wanted to do?”

It took seven years of submitting short stories before one was published, she said, then another seven years to get Three Junes published. She was 46.

She described herself as an “inspiration” to older writers, and “kind of a nightmare” to students in their early 20s, who read about 25-year-olds having big auctions for their first novels.

Writing requires stamina.

“The truth is, many people with my skills—which I hope were improving all those years I was not being published—fold up their wings before they see any success,” she said.

In the classroom, Glass said she talks a lot about her own habits and what works for her. But she tries to blow up many of the “mythologies” that surround writing—directives to “write every day,” for instance, or formulas for fiction.

Students in her workshop can expect to work hard and revise, revise, revise, she said, but she also wants them to relax and have fun.

“If you screw up, you make a mistake, you’re not going to kill anybody. That’s why you don’t have to be board-certified [to write],” she said. “What I want to impart to my students is both the necessary rigor of this craft but also the freedom that it gives you as a craftsperson.”

Jabari Asim, director of Emerson’s Graduate Creative Writing Program, was on the search committee that selected Glass. He said he was a fan of her work, particularly Three Junes.

“Her successful weaving together of the narrative strands at the end was especially masterful,” Asim said in a statement.

“She’s delightfully unpretentious, so much so that it’s easy to forget she’s a National Book Award winner,” he said. “I think our students will find her accessible, wise, and plainspoken. I’m confident she is going to be a real asset to our department.”

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