We often ask ourselves, what keeps the Brooklyn lit community growing? What feeds our borough’s acclaimed yet rapacious literary scene? Writers, of course! But while some writers may be born, most need to be made, and one of the best Brooklyn resources for developing writers has long been the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. Recently cited by our sister publication The L Magazine as the “Best Substitute for an MFA,” the workshop has helped aspiring writers for over 10 years, boasts some of Brooklyn’s brightest lit luminaries as teachers past and present, and has a sterling reputation as a place where a writer’s work will be read and critiqued with the same diligence as it would at any top graduate program.
But how did Sackett Street become such a local lit stalwart? It all comes down to one woman—Julia Fierro. A graduate of the highly esteemed fiction program at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Fierro began Sackett Street in that most humble of ways. After feeling discouraged about not immediately selling her first novel, she put an ad on Craigslist and soon started hosting the first Sackett Street students in her apartment. While Craigslist posts quickly became unnecessary, the approach of teaching classes inside of a writer’s home stuck, leading to workshops that feel like their own literary salons, albeit ones dedicated to discussions about craft. “I think the classes started having a reputation as being a place to go if you really want to work hard,” Fierro tells us. “Word spread slowly about that, and the student-writers that started to come became more and more advanced. I was kind of skeptical that people would actually want to take classes in other writers’ homes. But they do! They love it. They really wanted to experience a Brooklyn writer’s life. And the teachers love it because they don’t have to leave their homes.”
Beyond being the driving force behind Sackett Street, Fierro is a huge part of Brooklyn’s lit community and serves as an advocate for work (including from Sackett teachers and students) that she believes in. And she will soon have her own work to promote, with her first novel, Cutting Teeth, forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press in 2014. Fierro laughs and says, “I’m a writer! I’m actually really good at it!” But she has no desire to stop teaching. “There’s no experience when I’m more in the moment. There’s nothing I feel more confident about than talking about craft and the reader. Talking about the reader is as close to religion as I get.”
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Photo by Austin McAllister