Alumnus James Rahn Publishes Rittenhouse Writers: Reflections on a Fiction Workshop

Bookmark and Share
13-Jan-17
For almost 30 years, writing program alumnus James Rahn ’88 has led the Rittenhouse Writers’ Group, a Philadelphia-based writing class that, in the words of the Paul Dry Books, the publisher of Rahn’s new memoir, is one of the “longest-running independent fiction workshops” in the country. Now, in Rittenhouse Writers, Rahn, who founded the workshop, looks back on his decades of leading the class and hundreds of students he’s worked with.

As you might expect from a book about a writing workshop, there’s some juicy stuff here. According to Paul Dry, the book recounts “every imaginable writing-group scenario, from awkward flirtations to suicide scares, catty critiques, near fistfights, and of course the satisfaction of watching someone's writing soar.” It also touches on Rahn’s “struggle to perfect his role as instructor” and “his effort to balance that role with the friendships he forms in the group, and to keep up with his own writing while still giving the group the attention it needs.”

In the book, Rahn, who also taught fiction at the University of Pennsylvania for 15 years, includes 10 stories by current and former students of the Rittenhouse workshop.

Included, too, are moments from Rahn’s personal life: “his days as a high school dropout in Atlantic City, dead-end jobs and hopeless moves, the difficulty of his mother's decline and death, and his own unexpected plunge into parenthood—when, at age 51, he and his wife took on the responsibility of raising her two young nieces.”

Central to the book, though, are the joys and challenges of writing—a skill notoriously difficult to teach. In the words of Sam Lipsyte, a Columbia Writing Program faculty member, the book is “about what happens when you create something vibrant and necessary and stick around for the long haul, whether it's teaching, writing, friendships, or love.” He adds, “This book is a powerful reminder of the importance of community and mentorship in the making of literature.”

© 2017 Columbia University School of the Arts | 305 Dodge Hall, Mail Code 1808 | 2960 Broadway | New York, NY 10027 | (212) 854-2875 | EMAIL
Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.