Literary Lion: 5 Questions with Short Story Writer and Poet Alan Ziegler

March 30, 2015
Alan Ziegler, Columbia University

Professor Alan Ziegler’s most recent books are Short: An International Anthology of 500 Years of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms (editor), Love at First Sight: An Alan Ziegler Reader and The Writing Workshop Note Book. He is the recipient of numerous awards, grants and fellowships, including ones from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Q. How does the intersection of teaching and writing affect you?

Here, in broad strokes (reminiscent of The Twelve Days of Christmas) are the phases of my career:
-I started to write.
-While continuing to write, I started to teach writing (including Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Bronx Community College, Poets in the Schools).
-While continuing to write and teach writing, I started to write about teaching writing (including The Writing Workshop Volume I and Volume II, plus essays in various publications).
-While continuing to write, teach writing and write about teaching writing, I started to teach the teaching of writing (various teacher training one-offs and The Writer as Teacher seminar at Columbia).
-While continuing to write, teach writing, write about teaching writing and teach the teaching of writing, I wrote a book on writing (The Writing Workshop Note Book).
-Short answer: Teaching and writing bleed into each other to comprise a major portion of my life blood.

Q. How important to the craft of writing is reading?

Crucial. Our course offering includes literature seminars and lectures (standard for any writing program). These courses emphasize “reading as a writer.” The workshop—which is at the center of writing pedagogy—requires close reading of others’ work (as well as one’s own). Do you focus on one particular kind of writing or can you easily switch genres? My official Writing Program nametag for events lists me as “Cross-Genre.” I’ve published poetry with line breaks, prose poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

Q. Do you focus on one particular kind of writing or can you easily switch genres?

My official Writing Program nametag for events lists me as “Cross-Genre.” I’ve published poetry with line breaks, prose poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

Q. How does living and working in New York influence your writing?

Living in New York was essential in the early part of my career; I thrived on the readings, parties, events and organizations all over town. Now, they are much less central to my life (except the ones that emanate from the Columbia community). In today’s Internet / social media world, it doesn’t matter so much where you live. Cacophony can be found in the click of a keyboard.

Q. What are you working on now?

I recently published an anthology of short stories, essays and prose poems and am continuing to write about these cross-genre forms. I am also working on a memoir(ish) book of short pieces with the working title Based on a True Life. I blog weekly at The Best American Poetry site.

— Interviewed by Eve Glasberg