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When Was The Creative Writing Workshop Created?

The Creative Writing workshop was created on October 12th, 2018, with the inaugural lecture being given by bestselling author and poet Jane Aldridge.

Founded by the literary legends Edward Albee and Robert Lowell, the creative writing workshop is still home to several of their famous contemporaries, including Raymond Carver, who was a regular contributor, and Lorrie Moore, who served as the workshop’s director from its inception until her death in 2019.

The Creative Writing Workshop Was Founded In The Forties

The workshop was founded in the forties during a time of great cultural and literary ferment, which was epitomized by New York City in those days. In fact, some of America’s greatest talents flocked to the city, searching for success and fame. Amongst those who attended the workshop at the time were Richard Egan, William Inge, Carson McCullers, and Truman Capote. It was also during this time that Albee and Lowell first came together as friends and collaborators, starting a lifelong connection that would shape their artistic careers and that of the workshop as a whole.

The Workshop Served As A Training Ground For Some Of America’s Greatest Authors

Thanks to a grant from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the workshop was used as a training ground for several of America’s greatest authors. On that basis, the workshop has the potential to be as influential as it is fascinating. In fact, a look through the workshop’s archives suggests that its influence may be already be felt, with several of its graduates going on to achieve success in both the literary and the theatrical worlds.

Amongst the workshop’s most renowned alumni are Richard Egan, William Inge, and Carson McCullers. All three were published in their time, with Carson McCullers becoming the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize when her novel The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter was awarded the prize in 1943. Inge’s And Still It Rains was adapted into a film of the same name in 1934, while Egan’s The Gingerbread Lady was turned into a play in 1939, with Paul Robeson in the title role.

Raymond Carver Was Featured As A Guest Writer On Several Occasions

Besides being a regular contributor to the workshop, Raymond Carver also visited the workshop on several occasions to speak with students and give readings. It was Carver’s connection to the city that had drawn him there in the first place, since he had grown up in Cliftondale, a small town in the American Midwest renowned for its literary talents, with several of its residents having gone on to have books published. It was also Carver who had first introduced the workshop to the great American writer and educator William Inge in 1949, with Inge traveling from Indiana to meet with Carver in person, eventually becoming a regular contributor to the magazine that would result from the collaboration.

Robert Lowell Had The Workshop Named After Him

After spending several years in the military, Robert Lowell returned to New York City in 1946 and began working as a teacher and librarian. By this time, the workshop had already established itself as a crucial literary training ground for America’s emerging generation of authors, and the author of the seminal poem “For Robert Lowell,” published in 1946, Alfred Korzybski had written to the poet in praise of the workshop, offering to become a literary executor for Lowell’s work should he be unable to care for himself. Korzybski’s willingness to step in and champion the author of For Robert Lowell stands as a testament to Lowell’s status as a great American poet, and the workshop’s influence in shaping Korzybski’s literary executrix will be felt for generations to come.

The Workshop Was Initially Based At The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library was one of the first academic institutions to affiliate with the workshop, with the institution initially setting up a home at the library for the workshop, dubbing it the “New York Public Library Center For Creative Writing.” It was also during this time that the library had expanded its collection of books on the subject, with the institution eventually donating over 7,000 volumes to the center. Several of the workshop’s graduates later became regular attendees of the library’s adult education programs, with one of them, Alfred Korzybski, even becoming a librarian there, after he had been instrumental in setting up the workshop in the first place.

After a year and a half in the community, the workshop had outgrown its home at the New York Public Library and moved to the nearby town of Elmwood Park, a decision that was made in part due to the proximity of the major universities in the area. It was during this time that the workshop had begun to attract a wider array of students, with a greater number of women and people of color turning up to study creative writing. At a time when most universities did not offer A-level courses in creative writing, taking a class or joining a workshop was one of the only options available to students looking to develop their creative skills.

The Center Was Recently Renamed The Jane Alridge Center

In 2018, the center was renamed the Jane Alridge Center in honor of the author of the bestselling novel Conversations With My Gardener. The novel, published in 1951, had been on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year and had received widespread critical acclaim, winning the grand prize of the L.A. Times Book Festival. The author of the book, Jane Alridge, had also recently become the first woman to win the prestigious Neustadt Award for Literature. It was at the Neustadt Award ceremony that Alridge had received a standing ovation for her moving acceptance speech, in which she paid tribute to her friend and collaborator Robert Lowell, who had died the previous year. Now, the workshop is in the capable hands of a writer who knew and understood what the workshop stood for, who also admired and valued its unique status, and who sees the task at hand as keeping the flame alive, as it were.

The legacy of the legendary Jane Alridge Center for Creative Writing lives on, with several of its graduates continuing to contribute to the magazine that had resulted from the collaboration between Inge and Carver, and with new students from its workshops continuing to make names for themselves, proving that even now, over sixty years after it was first conceived, the workshop continues to attract students and provoke the interest of those who have been inspired by its unique blend of creative writing and teaching.