Alexandra Shelley has taught writing workshops at Columbia, Yale, and The New School for 29 years. She currently teaches fiction workshops at The New School as well leading an independent group.
With fiction honed in her workshops, many of her students have acquired agents, published in literary magazines, won short story awards, or gone on to graduate writing programs, including the Iowa Writers Workshop, Columbia, N.Y.U., Hunter, The New School, Rutgers, Sarah Lawrence. Several have published novels or story collections. One workshop member's story will soon be a major feature film.
References from Workshop Members
I was lucky to belong to Alexandra Shelley's workshop and would never have written The Town Crazy without her feedback and guidance, and the support of the great writers in the workshop she hosted in her living room. The tone she set was relaxed, serious, and fun. If you get a chance to work with Alexandra, take it.
-Suzzy Roche, author of The Town Crazy and Wayward Saints, and musician
It wasn't until I studied with Alexandra Shelley that I began to understand the craft of writing. With her dead-on criticism and her knack for finding the gold in even the roughest drafts, she is a writer's best friend. She is that rare instructor who neither coddles the ego nor condemns the work, but rather always finds the heart.
I am especially grateful to Alexandra because I had decided that, after several unsatisfactory writing instructors, her New School class would be my last attempt at trying to find my voice. Writing, I was beginning to think, just wasn't where my talents lived. That was about seven years ago and I'm happy to stay that I am now writing full time.
Alexandra has continued to mentor me, and her encouragement has been indispensable to my growth and that of many other writers I know (the truth is that she has something of a fan club). Every piece I've published has been improved by her keen eye. She also has a talent for introducing writers and encouraging vital writer/reader relationships. In the best sense, she is a literary citizen who facilitates community.
… She sees what's lovely in something you've created, even when you're blind to it yourself. That may sound simple, but in the arts nothing is, in fact, more rare, more need and more appreciated. For me, it has been a gift.
Sixteen years ago, it was my good fortune to take Alexandra Shelley's class, The Great American Short Story, at the New School. The class was a portal to the world of writing and literature, and Ms. Shelley has been my guide and mentor ever since.
Ms. Shelley's meticulous preparation, integrating carefully chosen reading, elements of craft, and student work, enhanced the lively and spontaneous atmosphere in class. Her love of literature and respect for the creative process was contagious. She took obvious pleasure in her student's accomplishments. She facilitated a nurturing atmosphere in which the creative spirit could thrive alongside the critical eye.
Ms. Shelley encouraged her students to form a writing community. She facilitated interaction in class, arranged public readings for her students, and organized an after-class dinner. Indeed, enduring friendships and on-going independent writing workshops were formed. My class was as diverse in age, gender, background, and experience writing as a New School class can be. However, under Ms. Shelley's guidance, writing became the great equalizer, and we discovered just how much we all shared. We learned that a thriving writing community was essential for our continuing development.
While challenging students to become more thoughtful readers and teaching them how to be constructive critics of their own work, Ms. Shelley imbued her students with the confidence to identify themselves as writers, as well as teaching them the brass tacks of getting published. She introduced us to the world of professional writing by keeping us informed of lectures and readings taking place around the city. Many, including myself, have gone on to publish in literary magazines and complete collections of short stories. Others have gone on to MFA studies and have written novels.
Ms. Shelley has the rare gift of transforming people's lives by recognizing and reflecting back to them the potential waiting to be found. She is an outstanding teacher who takes her students beyond a course of study to that place where creativity can flourish.
I met Alexandra Shelley in the summer of 2007 as a student in her Advanced Short Story Workshop. A colleague of mine at Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers had highly recommended her to me. I came to her class looking for the deadlines that would get me to my desk to write. I found an intellectual and literary opportunity that reintroduced me to my writing—not only the habit of committing words to the page, but also the agility of imagination, insight, and language that makes writing empowering to both reader and writer.
Although the primary focus of the workshop was simply to write stories, I was repeatedly impressed with the breadth of resources she brought to supplement that work. From Henry James to Nathan Englander, she presented published works of fiction as a casual reader, encouraging us to share what we loved; as a scholar, unfolding the layers of meaning with us; and as a writer, asking us what we could take away for our own work. She took the word "workshop" to heart: she taught in a way that opened whatever was before us, be it another student's piece or a short story from The New Yorker, as a resource for new ideas and inspiration. In this way, we began to teach each other and ourselves.
Her enthusiasm for her teaching and her subject came through in her commitment to treating her students as peers, evaluating each of us with the same sharp insight, critical eye, and imagination that she turned to the exemplary published works we unpacked in class. Being valued on the level of professional writers alone is inspiring. She also looked at our stories with a grounded understanding of "the business." While she had to tell us how hard it is to get published, she did it in such a way as to still inspire hope and commitment in her students.
In in-class writing, writing short stories, and reading with Alexandra, I have improved as a writer and as a thinker. She continues to offer help even though I have left her classroom: examples, criticisms, insights, and exercises. I know she does the same for other former students—as the years go by, her "class" just keeps expanding, people keep coming back to her.
I am a retired high school teacher and chairperson in the NYC school system who has also taught English for many years in the City University system (and at Hofstra University). I feel qualified to enthusiastically endorse Ms. Alexandra Shelley.
I was a student in The Great American Short Story workshop. Ms. Shelley is a gifted teacher; each of our classes had an organic theme, woven together with interesting readings…. She provided us with challenging, creative ways of thinking about how to make our writing come alive.
Her scholarly, insightful comments were coupled with her wonderful ability to draw out students and have us interact in the learning process.
Everyone looked forward to class meetings: by fostering an atmosphere in which students felt relaxed and connected to one another and to her, what resulted was a sharing of clear, analytic thought and constructive, supportive suggestions. As we entered the rewrite phase, editing our stories was a time that we looked forward to as we attempted to incorporate ideas offered by our peers and Ms. Shelley.
I, and other members of our class, found her masterful, yet congenial, approach to thinking, writing and molding the written word, so intriguing that many of us took advanced classes in short story writing with her to continue our development as writers. The oral presentation of sections of ''works in progress'' by their authors at the term's end was a most enjoyable moment for all of us.
Ms. Alexandra Shelley is a gem of an instructor; she loves what she is doing as a master teacher and she imparts that joy and her love of ideas to all students fortunate to have been in her classroom!
-Robert Allen Levy
If I had been an eighteen year old having college paid for by my parents, I might not have cared so much about the quality of teaching at The New School. But when I had Alexandra Shelley for a short story workshop, I was a returning student with a full-time job, a baby on the way, and I was paying for school myself and I needed each class to go a long way. The workshop I took with Alexandra was the best value and the most important experience of my time at the New School.
Alexandra lived up to the great reputation that she has in the Writing Program. She was prepared, funny, available, enthusiastic and creative with her criticism. She provided a wide range of writers for us to consider and we all found something to inspire us.
Because of her choice of readings and the challenging assignments that asked us to react to the readings, I came away with the beginning of more great stories from her class than from any other workshop. The class dynamic she created was inspiring, she was as encouraging and demanding to the worst of us as she was to the class stars. She insisted on everybody's participation and it resulted in inspired criticism, original new directions and a great amount of confidence not only in my ability to write but in my ability to be critical.
Alexandra was the best teacher I had at the New School and, considering the overall quality of the teachers, that's saying a lot.
Alexandra Shelley is a teacher who has had a profound impact on my relationship to writing and the trajectory of my career. She embodies precisely what any writer wishes for in a workshop leader: a generous spirit with a keen eye and incisive editorial skills.
She is also warm and witty and a pro at fostering a constructive environment in which each writer can individually flourish.
Since the beginning of my undergraduate career at Stanford University, I had been writing fiction and participating in writing workshops. At Stanford I had the opportunity to work with an impressive caliber of writers… but the workshop in which I learned the most about my craft was Alexandra's. Her own prodigious skills as a writer, combined with her professional experience as a literary editor, offered unique insights into how to distill what is working in one's prose and eliminate what is not.
Setting the proper tone in a workshop takes dedication, talent and patience, all of which Alexandra possesses in abundance. Not only does she structure critique in a way that is generous and constructive, but her own criticisms are always thorough and illuminating. (My filing cabinet contains seven-year-old copies of my stories that Alexandra once marked up, because her observations are too keen to ever be relegated to the recycling bin.)
I credit much of my growth as a writer to Alexandra's workshop. We have remained in touch since that time, and she has continued to offer her brilliant insights, which have helped me to publish in numerous journals, including Other Voices and Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, as well as to win the 2005 Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers. I recently completed my first novel, which is currently on submission by my agent.
[Alexandra's] literary knowledge, her sharp editor's eye, and her writer's psyche made for a powerful impact on me and generally on all of Alexandra's students. Since taking that first New School class, I have come to know many of ''Alexandra's writers'' through a community she nourishes intellectually and socially through readings, meetings and the sharing of celebrations as stories then collections then novels are accepted for publication. Her combination of a highly intellectual approach to writing, when combined with her strong practical bent, perhaps account for her success; she often requires students to draft submission letters as part of her class and to partner with a fellow student to identify potential agents for approach.
But it is her passion for writing that sets her apart from other teaching writers. She has that rare ability to imbue her students with her own confidence and enthusiasm; so much so, that it is difficult to be serious about writing, attend one of Alexandra's classes and be unchanged as a result as a writer. She insists, in her firm and gentle way, and always only by implication, that her students commit themselves to a writerly life; not one of penury and struggle but rather simply of thoughtful, consistent writing. And she is successful: her students have gone on to the MFA programs at Iowa, Columbia, NYU and of course, (including in my case) the New School and routinely, to publication.
Author, The Woolgrower's Companion
Alexandra Shelley is the finest teacher I know. I would gladly erect a bronze statue in her honor, but where she really shines is in the classroom, with students…. I met Alexandra eight years ago, when I attended her ''Great Short Story'' class at the New School. It was the first such class I had taken in a long while, as I'd been occupied with raising children and making a living….
I was a rube in that class, terrified of the notorious workshop format and unfamiliar with such terms as ''scene'' and ''plot." But Alexandra's teaching blends challenge and erudition with enthusiasm, support and accessibility, and at the end of the term I am proud to say I had written a couple of quite decent stories and begun to think of myself as a writer.
In reflecting on the Great Short Story class today, I am struck not only by Alexandra's grace and skill in working with me, but in how she handled a very diverse group ranging perhaps 50 years in age and at least that much in life experience. Of this group she crafted a true workshop, where each of us dared to expose our work to scrutiny and learned how to evaluate writing in positive, constructive and (to borrow a word from another universe) actionable ways.
Since then, I've had the privilege of working with Alexandra privately and in workshop settings. She is, without a doubt, the single greatest influence on my development as a writer and the standard by which I measure other teachers.
In the span of eight years, she has offered me more than the equivalent of a graduate program in writing, with increasingly challenging assignments, extraordinary curricula, and a network of first-rate writers I can now consider colleagues--for with Alexandra's guidance and support, I have published four stories, written more than three dozen and begun the process of finding an agent.
Author, In Between
I have taken many writing courses, but Alexandra's stands out as the one that best honed my story telling, provided a community and prepared me for an MFA program.
When my class with Alexandra ended, she continued to review my writing and provided support and encouragement for my MFA applications. When I needed letters of recommendations, she obliged me two years in a row. With her support and vote of confidence, I entered the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark this past fall.
One reason I selected Rutgers' program was because Alice Elliott Dark, whose writing I first encountered in Alexandra's class, teaches here. In Professor Dark's class two weeks ago, we had a lecture on landscapes and character. I went home, pulled out Alexandra's handout from Annie Proulx and distributed it to classmates.
Alexandra's interaction does not end in the class room. She creates a
writer's community. As a Midwesterner transplant, a writing community is something I have always wanted in New York but didn't know how to find. Alexandra held after-class dinners, invited us to readings that she hosted and made us aware of literary events.
Alexandra is a working writer in New York whose insights come from
experience, and who is devoted to maintaining a community once class has ended and the lonely, heavy lifting of writing begins.
Ms. Shelley was my instructor at the New School when I took an Advanced Short Story workshop during the summer of 2005. Her approach was marvelous. Having taught a creative writing workshop myself now here at the University of Virginia, I truly understand the difficulty in balancing my own opinions with those of the students, between leading a class and letting the class lead me, and as a result, I respect Ms. Shelley's teaching abilities all the more.
I never felt that the students were running the class, as I have felt in other workshops; but neither did I ever feel that Ms. Shelley was shutting out student reactions, either. Rather, she was able to impart to us her great knowledge and talents as a writer while also coaxing the most helpful responses from my classmates and me.
I feel especially indebted to Ms. Shelley because of her encouragement and interest in us even outside of class. She asked for volunteers to read at the monthly reading series she hosted, ''Flights of Fiction'' at the Grounded Cafe. I had never read anything of mine to anyone before (not even so much as a good friend!), but with Ms. Shelley's encouragement I had the courage to read my work alongside some more experienced writers. I am so grateful for the opportunity she gave me to share my work in public for the first time.
I believe that Alexandra Shelley's extraordinary teaching ability rests on her professional accomplishments, her knowledge of craft, and her excellent ability to communicate.
Her students are very aware that she is a practitioner of her craft. Her immersion in the publishing community and success within it lend weight, status, and credibility to her teaching. When I took Alexandra's Advanced Fiction Writing at New School, I did not miss a single class because every meeting was chock full of lively critiques of manuscripts, presentations on craft, and updates of events in publishing. I felt that I sat in the presence of a teacher of the first rank who inspired her students to add their ''inch to the house."
I found Alexandra's criticism of our individual manuscripts outstanding. Although her comments were to the point and directional--she made excellent suggestions about how to improve individual passages and also the work as a whole--she imparted her comments with such generosity of spirit that one felt challenged to progress up the learning curve of writing fiction. She accepts work on the individual student's terms and the result is that she helps make a story a better within the student's vision.
I felt Alexandra's presentation of the elements of craft and her selection of reading matter were well-chosen and her excellent ability to communicate the material and her evident regard for its importance fostered among the group an atmosphere of mutual endeavor and collegiality.
Many of Alexandra's students remain in contact with Alexandra and with each other. In my own case, Alexandra continues to support my work and ambitions. Her advice helped me recently achieve my first success in publishing when Harvard Review accepted a story for their upcoming spring issue.
Both Alexandra's zeal for writing and her editorial expertise make her an incredible asset to any faculty. Through her workshops she challenges students of all levels, using in-class exercises that provide much fodder for creativity, evaluations of student writing that lead to substantial revision, and studies of writing masters that aid in exploring variations in tone, plot, characterization, style. Alexandra's acceptance of a diverse arena of writers is evident, and she always inspires rather than squelches individual aspirations.
Alexandra provides many opportunities for writers in her workshops to learn from one another. She kindly encourages her students to read aloud their own work and establish their own voices, and she provides her workshop writers with the rare opportunity to perform at a live reading. Any student who takes her workshops and is willing to do the work will leave her class with a substantial body of new, fresh work, which is a delight for a writer of any level.
Author, In Between
Alexandra's enthusiasm is infectious. She was able to see the merit in different writing styles and genres, and encouraged her students to write in ways that were different than what they were accustomed to. This led to happy discoveries, and better writing. Alexandra's open-mindedness helped the class recognize quality in whatever form it took.
Her encouragement inspired students to write their best, without feeling pigeonholed in one specific school of writing. It also allowed students to test their own boundaries, encouraging them to think beyond their normal means, and to experiment.
The readings Alexandra chose, and the writing exercises she assigned also helped to expand the student's way of thinking about writing. The classes themselves were always a pleasure, and camaraderie was formed among the class that wouldn't have existed without Alexandra's encouragement and support.
I have had stories published that were initiated in the workshop. Without Alexandra's feedback and guidance, I doubt this would be the case.
- Timothy Samson
I am a student in the MFA Creative Writing program at The New School. Before I was accepted, I took Alexandra's "Advanced Short Story Workshop" to get my writing sample as polished as possible.
Alexandra Shelley's course blew me away. The course was intelligently structured, including both readings and workshopping of student work. Alexandra is an expert with craft, particularly in the rare art of teaching it. She fostered a friendly community in the classroom, with a group dinner after one class, and a public student reading she helped organized – for many of us, it was the first time we'd read at a podium in public.
Her comments on my work were top-notch – in fact I have no doubt her critique and my revisions helped me to get into the MFA program at The New School.
In part because of Alexandra Shelley's encouragement (and her letter of recommendation) I am currently an MFA student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks…. In the summer of 2006, I enrolled in the New School's Advanced Short Story workshop with Alexandra. Having been out of school for three years, I was nervous about how my stories would be received. But Alexandra was always direct and thorough; she was able to see my stories not as they were, but as they were trying to be.
But perhaps Professor Shelley's greatest strength is her ability to get her students thinking beyond the classroom. What were we going to do with these stories? She provided literary journals, writing spaces throughout the city, authors we should be reading (always specific to what she intuited we were attempting to do in our own writing).
In this way, Alexandra gave us the most important encouragement a writing professor can give: she made us look at ourselves as writers.
From my first days in her Great American Short Story Workshop, I was impressed by how well-structured Alexandra's classes are. She manages to fit an enormous amount into each class. She provides doses of theory, outside reading (with a focus on "reading like a writer"), and traditional workshop feedback. This combination provides writers of all levels with a solid foundation, while also sparking discussion and inspiring future work. Students emerge from the semester with a firmer, deeper understanding of writing.
Along with Alexandra's excellent credentials, it is her dual-role as both writer and editor that makes her such a good teacher. Clearly she knows her subject. She has seen it from all sides, and she can give good, unbiased advice as a result…. Alexandra can provide what each individual student needs at that particular moment.
Although I am not taking a class with Alexandra at the moment, she remains a touchstone for me in the New York writing community. She has created a welcoming environment for the aspiring writers among her past students, and she provides us with the support and encouragement that we need in this challenging business.
It is rare when a teacher leaves an indelible imprint on you. Alexandra Shelley is that teacher.
As a student in her Great American Short Story class, Ms. Shelley encouraged bravery in my voice, and a new reach in my style. She motivated each of us to find a story in everything we see.
Ms. Shelley has a gift for recognizing each individual's passion, and a greater sense of drawing it out of you. Through her inspiring exercises and insightful discussions, she instilled a diverse foundation of style and substance in my writing which I continue to draw on today, both professionally and personally.
Ms. Shelley illuminated, for me, a new love of the craft. A gifted writer herself, Ms. Shelley was a thoughtful editor, extending her interest in my writing beyond class. Her enthusiasm for our work, individually and collectively, was energizing, and because of her, I have become a better writer, and an even greater reader.
Partner, Sputnik Entertainment, Inc.
I was fortunate enough to have Alexandra Shelley as a teacher in the "Great American Short Story" and "Advanced Short Story" workshops. Her keen ability to give critiques, her success in eliciting cooperation from a diverse group of people, and her practical knowledge of the publishing world make her the best writing teacher I have ever had.
Alexandra's critiques of my work were always incisive, helpful, and targeted. She always made her comments in a diplomatic and gentle manner, careful not to harm any fragile egos. More importantly, in the long term, I learned from her how to critique my own work and the work of others.
Alexandra always made sure that the group participants made their comments in a constructive manner…. She took all of the members of the group seriously as writers, discussing with us our goals and giving us practical advice. As an editor, her knowledge of publishing strategies and venues is quite extensive.
Not only did she include creativity-inducing exercises and the reading of classic short stories, Alexandra also supplemented the workshop with a wide variety of materials. She presented poetry to discuss the use of language, drama to illustrate good dialogue, and classic anthropological writings to improve the students' ability to observe…..
Her ability to teach writing and critical analysis, combined with her ability to facilitate cooperation among people of different backgrounds, and her expertise at assigning supplementary materials and exercises make her an invaluable contribution to The New School.
I studied with Professor Shelley for two semesters and the scope of what I learned under her tutelage has had a huge impact on my craft. Literally, a week doesn't go by that I am not reminded of and able to apply some of the techniques I learned while studying with her.
She is one of those rare individuals who possesses an infectious enthusiasm for her subject and has a skill set to match her passion.... In class she introduced us to writers I had never heard of, illustrated how and why their different styles were effective, and had us do exercises incorporated those styles. These exercises proved invaluable to me.
Her feedback on written assignments was always on point…. She made a lot of nonprofessional writers who didn't have all that much at stake really care about the craft and to take pride in our work. The impact she has had on her students is huge.
-John Howard Swain