Q: What is the responsibility of the writer?

Julia Fierro: To tell his or her truth, to reveal his or her unique interpretations of life, while simultaneously reminding the reader of the universality of the human experience—the thread that connects saints and sinners, virgins and whores, and makes every life as redeemable as the next, no matter how grotesque or unlikable they and their actions may seem.

If there is one “maxim” I believe in when it comes to writing, it is this: the writer has a responsibility not just to the reader, but even more so to his or her characters. If a writer feels compassion for his or her characters, those characters’ needs and fears will seem authentic. The reader will find it is impossible to dismiss the characters, even the most “unlikable,” whose actions and motivations the reader wants to find unacceptable. Their redemption in that practice of acceptance has the potential to reach outside the time it takes to read the book. When a reader spots even the tiniest glimmer of his or herself (a shared desire or vulnerability, a habit or preoccupation) in a character they want to hate, it feels to me as if a life is saved, even if it is a fictional life. Humanity as a whole is strengthened. There shouldn’t be “collateral damage” in real life—I believe the same goes for literature.


In this PEN interviewJulia Fierro makes a fine addition to the collected wisdom of acclaimed authors.

Pair with E. B. White on the responsibility of the writer.

I remember someone in class, one of my friends, a guy, saying, “You know, you’re writing stories about women for women,” and it had never dawned on me. It was so insulting—and now I’m like, You know what? Maybe I am writing for women. Not just for women, but I am a woman! And the fact that that’s something that literary women writers don’t talk about…I find that a little confusing, and I wonder if that makes younger literary women writers feel like there’s something less valuable to that.

Save the date!
Tumblr books & wordbookstores present LAST NIGHT’S READING
Tuesday, October 27 at 7pm / FREE

Kate Gavino hosts the launch of her illustrated book based on her popular blog, with special guests Jazmine Hughes, Julia Fierro, Alexander Chee, Mira Jacob, and Lev Grossman. With books for sale courtesy of our friends at WORD Bookstore and drinks & snacks, until they run out, courtesy of Tumblr.

“Frank stood on the springboard a few feet off the ground with Watson and worked the two-man saw into a back cut. They bounced with each stroke, listening for the widow-makers that could crash down when the tree started its fall, death smelling like Christmas.”

From “Come Down in the World” by Noreen McAuliffe, recommended by Julia Fierro.

Read it for free tomorrow at Electric Literature’s weekly fiction magazine, Recommended Reading.

BookStalked: Julia Fierro of Sackett Street Writers' Workshop

I heard about the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop shortly after moving to New York. I thought the concept–workshops run out of the homes of lauded authors like Emma Straub, Karen Thompson Walker and Catherine Chung–sounded like an amazing idea. What I didn’t know then (and only just discovered) is that there’s literally one woman behind the operation: founder Julia Fierro. Julia reads all the applications, fills the classes, hires and trains new teachers, teaches her own classes, and consults with students, along with scheduling, curating and hosting the related reading series. Whew! Somehow, in the midst of this (and raising two totally adorable kids), Julia found time to write a book–Cutting Teeth, forthcoming from St. Martins Press in spring 2014.

Without further ado, I want to get to Julia’s remarkable stories about Sackett Street–why and how she founded it, her most memorable experiences, and some exciting upcoming events.

Keep reading

Julia Fierro

Cutting Teeth, Julia Fierro, St. Martin’s Press

Cutting Teeth takes place one late-summer weekend as a group of thirty-something couples gather at a shabby beach house on Long Island, their young children in tow.

Throughout the weekend, conflicts intensify and painful truths surface. Friendships and alliances crack, forcing the house party to confront a new order. Cutting Teeth is about the complex dilemmas of early midlife–the vicissitudes of friendship, of romantic and familial love, and of sex. It’s about class tension, status hunger, and the unease of being in possession of life’s greatest bounty while still wondering, is this as good as it gets? Julia Fierro’s warm and unpretentious debut explores the all-consuming love we feel for those we need most, and the sacrifice and compromise that underpins that love.

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Brooklyn Based Authors and the Year of the Debut

Electric literature has called 2014 the year of the debut. They might be right. Here are nine debut books by Brooklyn based authors. 

The Invention of Exile, by Vanessa Mano

Manko worked as Salmon Rushdie’s assistant for years helping him with research for books. He was on hand to help her launch the novel at Powerhouse Arena this summer. 

Shovel Ready, by Adam Sternbergh

Sternbergh takes a dark view of the future of New York City–ruined by a dirty bomb. But his garbageman-tuened-hitman has been a hit, and Sternbergh is the process of writing a sequel.  

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helen Bertino

Set in a Philadelphia jazz club, the Cat’s Pajamas, Bertino’s debut novel is an attempt to capture the chaos of a night out in the city, and how it feels so dramatic at the time, yet afterward, nothing has actually changed. 

Althea & Oliver, By Cristina Moracho

Moracho’s young adult novel tackles Kleine-Levine Syndrome, a disorder that leads to excessive sleepiness. Two teenagers struggle to make their love work despite physical distance and long stretches of sleep. 

The Land of Steady Habits, by Ted Thompson

Thompson began the novel as a novella, but as the story grew, he eventually had to concede it was growing into a full-blown novel. He’s been compared to Cheever and Updike for capturing the depression of the suburban experience. 

Cutting Teeth, by Julia Fierro

This novel is years in the making. After arriving in New York and finding her novel rejected by publishers and agents, Fierro stopped writing. She founded the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, a community focused series of workshops hosted by writers to teach craft and technique. Cutting Teeth follows a group of Park Slope parents echoing Amy Sohn. 

That’s When the Knives Come Down, by Dolan Morgan

Morgan is an editor at The Atlas Review, a newish but notable literary concern based in Brooklyn. His debut story collection mixes his odd sense of humor along with absurdities. 

Marine Park, by Mark Chiusano 

There are many popular neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but Marine Park is often overlooked by trendsetters. Chiusano is a native though, and he set out to capture the people he grew up alongside, telling multiple generations’ stories both in Brooklyn and when they leave. 

Friendship, by Emily Gould

Though Friendship is Gould’s second book, its her debut novel. Her first book, a collection of essays, failed to sell enough copies to make back her advance, something she wrote about in MFA vs NYC. Friendship tells the story of two female friends based loosely on her own life.

This Week's Readings

MONDAY: “The Salon” will bring together some major players in the NYC lit world–Julia Fierro, David Gutowski, Penina Roth, Jason Diamond, and Michele Filgate– to discuss their experiences curating lit events. [BOOKCOURT]

TUESDAY: Celebrate the 50th anniversary of The New York Review of Books with a host of contributors, including Michael Chabon, Joan Didion, and Mary Beard. $20/10 students. [TOWN  HALL]

WEDNESDAY: Rosie Schaap, who writes The New York Times Magazine “Drink” column, will read from her new memoir, Drinking with Men. [SOUTH]

THURSDAY: BUST Magazine is throwing a free dance party to celebrate their new Love & Sex issue. [MATCHLESS]

FRIDAY: Granta contributors Phil Klay and Karen Russell (Swamplandia, Vampires in the Lemon Grove) will read stories about war vets. [LILLIAN VERNON WRITERS HOUSE]

Mommy and Daddy need to chill out

Cutting Teeth: A Novel by Julia Fierro (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99)

This tale of parenting anxiety and claustrophobia is set during a Labor Day getaway with a toddler’s play group and their competitive, over-protective, ambitious New York parents. Despite being a bit insular—it will no doubt be much funnier to the childless friends of this generation of helicopter parents—it is nonetheless a working satire of just how far we’ve come from the “go play outside” parenting style of two generations ago.

These parents are helicopter, submarine, NSA-wired into their children’s lives, and it’s made them a little bit crazy. If living through one’s offspring is the pandemic of well-off, well-educated parents, these people get gold stars. One of them has been embezzling to pay for in vitro fertilization–her first child has “global delays,” the current lingo for “slow,” and the stress of having a son who’s going to amble along in the bottom quartile is wearing fracturing her marriage. Then there’s the fulfilled, stay-at-home dad who wants another baby; the hyper-paranoid prepper mom who knows that she’s going off the grid of mental health; the social climber who’s a whiz at mommy-shaming; and the lesbian couple, one of whom is not so pleased with the growth of their family.

With rotating narrators, we get a good look inside each of the main characters and a well-developed picture of the group as a whole.

It's The Big Chill of competitive parenting, and whether this is healthy or not remains to be seen, but the voice of reason in Julia Fierro’s novel belongs to a Tibetan refugee nanny. Since we can’t all afford Zen childcare providers, it might be a good idea to read Cutting Teeth and settle down; the kids are all right. 

Now, Nicole’s fingers dragged over each object as if, by touch alone, they imbued her with a kind of protection. A force-field, Wyatt might say. Her sweet boy, she thought sadly, who loved superheroes and who needed to organize the world into two ranks, good guys and bad guys, and who was always asking her if so-and-so (the gruff UPS guy, the angry taxi driver) was a good guy or a bad guy.
Photos from Franklin Park Reading Series June 9, 2014

Ed Kearns reads a story about parenting. 

Julia Fierro reads from Cutting Teeth, her debut novel.

Amy Sohn reads from her novel Motherland. Her latest novel, The Actress, will be released on July 1, 2014.

Juliet Escoria reads from her story collection Black Cloud

Porochista Khakpour reads from her novel The Last Illusion

Photos from the Sackett Street Writers Workshop Series at BookCourt, Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sackett Street Writers Workshop Julia Fierro hosts the reading. Her novel, Cutting Teeth, was released last spring. 

Casey Walker read from his debut novel Last Days in Shanghai, about a Congressional aid in the Chinese city. 

Vica Miller read from Inga’s Zigzags, a novel about a Russian-born woman who returns to the country to start a business. 

Shelly Oria, who also runs the Sweet! reading series, read from her story collection New York 1, Tel Aviv 0

Kate Racculia read from her novel Bellweather Rhapsody

Rebecca Scherm read from her debut novel, Unbecoming, about a young girl discovering her love of crime. 

Two Readings

I have two upcoming readings, and I sure hope you’ll join us:

This Monday, February 24th, at 7pm, I’ll be reading at Bookcourt in Cobble Hill for the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop reading series, hosted by Julia Fierro. With Ivy Pochoda, Jason Porter, and Howard Feinstein.

And then on Tuesday, March 11, I’ll be reading at Freddy’s back room in Park Slope for the Having a Whiskey Coke With You reading series, hosted by Gwynn Galitzer and Jesse Katz. Also reading will be my dear friend and superb poet Sarah V. Schweig.

Joyland events this spring!

Joyland is going back on the road after a baby-induced break from touring. 

With co-publisher Emily Schultz on tour for her new novel, The Blondes, Joyland has teamed up for readings across North America with contributors and editors. 


May 5, 6:30PM

City Lit Books, 2523 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago, IL

Reading, with Emily Schultz and Megan Stielstra, author of Once I Was Cool.


May 6, 7PM

Literati Bookstore, 124 E. Washington Street, Ann Arbor, MI

Reading with Emily Schultz, Robert James Russell and Joseph Horton. Hosted by Anna Prushinskaya.


May 12, 7:30PM

Skylight Books, 1818 N Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA

Reading by Emily Schultz and author interview with host Tamar Halpern.


May 13

City Lights, 261 Columbus Ave. San Francisco, CA

Reading and talk with Emily Schultz, Ruth Galm and Rachel Khong. Hosted by Kara Levy.


May 14, 7:30PM

Powell’s, 1005 W Burnside St.

Reading by Emily Schultz and conversation with Charles McLeod.

And in New York, Emily is launching her book at Book Court, with Julia Fierro, author of Cutting Teeth. 


April 22, 7PM

Bookcourt, 163 Court St, Brooklyn, NY