How did attending the School of the Arts impact your work and career as an artist?
Though I’d taken creative writing courses as an undergrad, I was not introduced to the workshop method until I got to the School of the Arts. What I learned there would be invaluable when I started teaching writing myself. Also, up till then I’d worked only on very short pieces, fragments, not even complete stories. It was all I could do. By the time I finished the program I’d gained enough confidence to undertake longer work and had found the form most of my work has taken since, which is the novel. I also ended up using my experiences at Columbia as material for my fifth novel, The Last of Her Kind.
What were the most pressing social/political issues on the minds of the students when you were here?
We were still much affected by such recent upheavals as Watergate and the Vietnam War and the many changes brought by the various human rights movements and the rise of the counterculture. The city was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and seething with racial tension, the crime rate was shockingly high, and danger was just part of everyday life. New York was a strange and scary place back then, but it was also vibrant with creative energy and surprisingly livable. Housing was affordable even for struggling young artists, jobs to pay the rent were easy to get, the cultural life was fantastically rich and diverse, and every artist I knew was desperate not to escape but to find a way to make it here.
About Sigrid Nunez
Sigrid Nunez has published six novels, including A Feather on the Breath of God, The Last of Her Kind, and, most recently, Salvation City. She is also the author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. Among the journals to which she has contributed are The New York Times, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, Threepenny Review and The Believer. Her honors and awards include four Pushcart Prizes, a Whiting Writer’s Award, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, and two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters: the Rosenthal Foundation Award and the Rome Prize in Literature. She teaches at Princeton and in the MFA programs at Columbia and Boston University.