Current Students

Fatima Alharthi was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. She mainly writes fiction and essays. Her writing explores themes in Sufism, body image, cultural belonging, social anxieties, self-empowerment and parenthood. She is the editor-in-chief for Sard Adabi; the first Arabic literary journal that publishes works by well-established and beginner writers in the Arab World. She believes in the value of storytelling to reconsider cultural misconceptions. She lives in Tallahassee with her husband and children where she reprogrammed her brain to tell weight in pounds instead of kilos yet she is still struggling with inches. She finds the 90s Fahrenheit degrees of Florida too intimidating to replace the 30s Celsius.

Stan Allen came to New York to study architecture in 1977—the New York City of garbage strikes, the blackout, Son of Sam, and “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” He and his wife, the artist Polly Apfelbaum, still live in the same lower Manhattan loft they moved into in 1978, although the pandemic meant spending more time in the Hudson Valley, where they both have studios. He is a working architect, professor of architecture, and a writer. He writes about buildings, landscapes, cities and ecology (and sometimes about painting, sculpture and photography). Among his recent books, Landform Building is a book about architecture, geology and landscape; Situated Objects is a book of essays and built projects. A latecomer to fiction writing, he hopes to use his time at the Writers’ Institute to cut down an over-long manuscript.

Evan Gubernick, while scheduling his physical at Langley, caught some fine print in his CIA paperwork making explicit their obligation to vet any of his future writing of any kind for all eternity, a detail leading to the aborting of his application, leading, logically, to his immersion in the downtown NYC theater scene. Following numerous productions of his plays, he stumbled into a career as a creative director in the magazine industry. After holding up his end to feed / clothe / house his children, he returned to writing, first with the publication of a series of hockey-themed travel guidebooks (WW Norton / Countryman Press), and then, after jumping irresponsibly into the writing of a novel and answering an ad in the New York Review of Books, he received an email alerting him that, uh oh, he’d been accepted into the Writers’ Institute. Most midnights he can be found playing ice hockey at various rinks throughout the city. He splits his time between Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley.

Mary Hoffman is from Brooklyn. She has a degree in the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing from Teachers College and has worked with children with autism, learning disabilities and hearing loss during her teaching career. The New Rivers Press published a collection of her stories called At Home Anywhere some years back. The title expresses her hopelessly optimistic notion that anyone can achieve an enlightened state if only they read enough good books.

Sam Kahn's most recent writing, updated weekly, can be found on Longer-form writing includes the novels Kaleidoscope and The Stress and Finesse of Chess, the short story collections Dirty Stories, Altered States, and Kiss and Tell, the plays Chatter and Ultraviolence, and essays in The Los Angeles Review of Books, AGNI, The Awl, etc. As a documentary producer, he has had work on Netflix, Showtime, A&E, etc. He is a New York native and thrilled to be part of the Institute. 

Parker Loftus is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She now lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband whom she met through a personal ad in the pages of The New York Review of Books. She loves her day job, which involves writing for organizations that serve our most vulnerable communities. She is currently at work on her first novel. 

Kevin Igoe-Miller was raised in Maryland and received a BA in Psychology from University of Michigan. So naturally he chose to enter the world of entertainment, where he took on a series of creative positions at Comedy Central, A&E Networks, Discovery and Disney, until he landed at his current role as Head of Production at Malka Media. During his 18 years in media, he has written, produced and directed countless commercials, brand films and documentaries.  He’s currently working on a collection of short stories and several graphic novels. Kevin lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter. 

John Ronquillo is a writer and professor of public affairs whose paternal primogenitors became Americans in 1854 following the finalization of the Gadsden Purchase. That is to say, they didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them. John earned a degree in journalism from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. While most of his writing is found in academic Social Science journals on topics such as racial representation, social equity, and leadership, he is also at work on a memoir and novel. He often de-stresses by listening to 80s new wave synth-pop, and he once won a chili cook-off while running for office. He lives in the Denver area with his family.

Eva Seidner was born on a train in northern Italy and has loved travelling ever since. Her latest adventure took her to Bohemia, where she practiced her Czech in remote villages and traced the footsteps of an early twentieth-century artist using his sketches and woodblock prints as her guides. For the past twelve years, she has published essays about art and collecting and is especially interested in provenance, the “life histories” of art objects, including forged or looted ones. In her previous life she earned a PhD in English Literature,  taught university courses ranging from Chaucer to Gothic Romance to the modern novel, and wrote the book and lyrics of a musical about the early days of Spiritualism in America. She and her family live in Toronto and Salt Spring Island, British Columbia-- which are five days apart by train.  

Deborah (Deb) Spera’s book Call Your Daughter Home was published by Harper Collins in June of 2019. O’ magazine tapped it as a best read for the summer and it is currently under option at Netflix for her to adapt. Her work has been published in Garden and Gun, The Huffington Post and Six-fold, among others. She co-authored a children’s play, “On the Road to Kitty Hawk,” that was produced at The Actor’s Theater of Louisville and has co-written two books of monologues published by Samuel French, “Actor’s Write for Actors” and “Encore.” For the last 32 years she’s been a television producer and has developed and executive produced many hours of television for broadcast, cable, and streaming networks. She is currently at work on her second book, “Teeth in a Jar.” Born and raised in Kentucky, she's the mama of three grownups, and currently resides in Los Angeles with a husband who still makesher laugh after 38 years.

Jim Trombetta is an alumnus of Middlebury College, Yale Graduate School (English) and the Army Reserve Infantry Officers course. After that, he became a music and entertainment journalist and worked as a market research analyst for CBS. From there he segued into writing TV shows himself, for Universal and all the other studios, including Miami Vice, Equalizer, The Flash, and Star Trek. Many of these have continued to circulate and/or become franchises. "The Horror! The Horror!" (Abrams, 2010) is his art-historical study addressing the banned horror comics of the Korean War era. He is now in the midst of a novel that he hopes this program will help him complete.

Wendy R. Williams is a Texan who moved to New York City as soon as she could. Unfortunately, she needed to earn money to survive in the world's greatest city, so Wendy worked in finance until she could take what she hoped was an early retirement.

While in finance, Wendy wrote and directed two plays: "Hopscotch: The New York Sex Comedy" and "Texas Toast," both produced Off-Off-Broadway and in various theater festivals. After signing on to work for a particularly strait-laced (read hypocritical) bank, Wendy wrote a series of children's novels, "The Big Apple Posse Trilogy." Following her retirement, she was finally free to tell the stories she wanted to tell and now writes short racy novels to entertain beach bunnies and airplane jockeys.

Amy Axler was a red diaper baby, born and raised in California. She emigrated to New York in her twenties, the first in her family to reverse the westward trend since Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor of all Russia. A writer, with an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from The New School. A food service professional, invalided out. She is a kitchen doula, wife, mother, friend, unreliable narrator, and much-beloved dispenser of Yenta-ish wisdom. Her Writers’ Institute project is a prescriptive work of non-fiction that takes the rough gristly bits of betrayal and failure, political and physical, and cooks them into a salmagundi or a stew depending on the weather. Amy lives on the Upper West Side with her husband, a CPA.  Her adult son lives in his own apartment on the opposite side of the same apartment building. It’s a bit like a kibbutz only with better wine and no dietary restrictions.

Sara Louisa Bahet is an Amazigh-American writer, researcher, and philanthropy professional. She was educated in the San Francisco Bay Area, London, and New York and holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from NYU, where she penned her thesis on existential risk. Sara Louisa is working on a memoir and anticipates exploring a host of nonfiction genres in her second year at the Writers' Institute. She enjoys gardening, nature illustration, and poetry, especially that of Fernando Pessoa. Sara Louisa lives in Murray Hill with woman's best friend, Karsten the cat.

Wendy Hammond's plays have been produced off-Broadway and in regional U.S. theaters as well as internationally in London, Rome, Melbourne, and Singapore. She has received a Drama League Award, a McKnight Fellowship, and an NEA Grant. The film of her screenplay, Julie Johnson, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won awards including Best Feature in the Barcelona Film Festival and an Audience Award in Berlin. Wendy has taught playwriting and screenwriting at NYU, University of Michigan, Brooklyn College, and other universities. Recently, she received an MFA in Creative Writing-Memoir from Hunter College. Three of her personal essays were just published in online literary journals. She loves to bowl, doesn’t do it often enough, and likes to imagine she’s talented at it.

Syreeta Jackson, affectionately known by those close to her as “Ree,” has been a writer all her life. Bronx-born and raised, Syreeta has always found writing to be an outlet for releasing raw emotions tied to the harsh realities of this thing called “Life.” Syreeta is a Lehman College graduate in Media Communications with a minor in Psychology. She’s had finance articles published in Defining Trends magazine. She is looking to update and expound upon her diverse writing abilities, while also learning new techniques and forms of creativity. Some of Syreeta’s hobbies are writing, music, crafting, hair styling, exercising, and always learning. Walking in her truth and becoming the best version of herself are her personal values. Syreeta is planning to release an anthology of Non-fiction memoir writings detailing various experiences stemming from trauma to triumph (possibly to include other writers), with lessons and gems learned along the journey of life. Syreeta hopes to inspire many with her resiliency and her love for wordplay.

Deborah Miller is writing of a horrific childhood in a small Pennsylvania city. An escape from an extended family with a bewildering undertone of incest, emotional abuse, and an addiction to drugs. She recounts a convoluted journey of breaking free, yet battling its residual scars, and striving for the antithesis of the family she left behind. Her career as an entrepreneur in the fashion and textile industries enabled her to travel worldwide, particularly to the Far East, often at politically unstable times. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton Graduate School of Business.  New York City is her home, along with her husband, a lawyer, and their Havanese dog. Their three sons and seven grandchildren expand the richness of their lives. Covid provided her with the ability to garden which has now become a passion. The past enriching year at the WI, brought to light a concrete path to writing this work. Many in the cohort have become friends.

Maria-Cristina Necula has been playing with words and sentences since she could talk and wrote her first poem at eight in her native Bucharest, Romania. After her father’s movie-like escape from Romania to New York, she and her mother found solace from the regime’s repercussions at the Bucharest Opera until the family reunited in the New World. Those magical operatic evenings ignited an instant passion in the ten-year old kid, which later drove her to study classical singing in New York, Vienna, and Bucharest, and perform at various venues, culminating with Carnegie Hall. In parallel, Maria-Cristina’s love of writing and languages led to her studying French at Purchase College and the Sorbonne, and her rhymed translation of Molière’s The School For Wives was performed in Canterbury, England. Eventually, writing prevailed and embraced opera in her first book Life in Opera. After getting her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center, Maria-Cristina’s dissertation-based book, The Don Carlos Enigma, was published in 2020, followed by her poetry collection Evanescent. She is a regular contributor to the New York culture & society website Woman Around Town, and her work has been featured in Classical Singer, Studies in European Cinema, Opera America, Das Opernglas, and Opera News. She has just received a 2022 New York Press Club Award for her review of a Metropolitan Opera premiere. At the Writers’ Institute she plans to weave together the threads of her unpredictable operatic-literary immigrant life into a memoir that might help her tell the difference between opera and real life. Or not.

James (Jim) O’Higgins grew up in a host of countries where he witnessed multiple revolutions and coups d’etat: Venezuela, Cuba, Indonesia, Nigeria, Libya. When Jan 6th happened, he thought, “Oh no! Now that my family moved to the US we’ve caused an overthrow here as well.” Philosophy has been an abiding passion. From undergrad and masters degrees in Europe, to doctoral work at Columbia, and 25 years as adjunct professor at NYU he tried to continually broaden his philosophical horizons. By a quirk of fate,  he wound up taking a job on Wall Street 30 years ago and is still trying unsuccessfully to balance the very different types of speculation the two domains engage in. For a reasonably clever guy with a wealth of interesting experience, Jim has produced very little quality writing. He hopes to remedy that to some extent with the help of the very qualified faculty and the impressive roster of students.

Hope Reeves grew up in Cambridge, MA, the child of Weathermen (the anarchist, not the meteorologist, variety). She had a colorful childhood but remained wholly committed to staying out of jail and fading into society’s clean-cut, law-abiding background, with somewhat limited success. Hope attended Bates College and spent her junior year in Spain, where she developed a deep and abiding love of travel and challenge--which is probably (now that she thinks about it) what led her to pick up and move to St. Croix. Thanks to a complicated web of hurricanes, lousy jobs, desperation and a slight exaggeration of experience, she became the political reporter for the island’s daily newspaper and, later, the deputy editor and Associated Press stringer for the region. With a free pass into every story, every injustice, every mystery, every untold and deeply interesting reality, Hope quickly got hooked on writing. She eventually moved to New York, where she held a variety of far less interesting reporting and editing jobs before turning to freelance work. Hope specializes in nothing but has written about everything from retaking the SATs as an adult to how to survive a mid-air hijacking. Her reporting and personal essays have been extensively published in the New York Times Magazine, Metro, Travel, Real Estate, Education and Parenting sections, as well as in New York Magazine, Real Simple, and Time, among others. Hope sits on the boards of a number of nonprofit organizations and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and three sons, who are hopefully now self-sufficient enough to allow her to embark on this next chapter of work, though she promises they will always come first.

Steve Turtell has been a butcher’s delivery boy, slave laborer in a Catholic boarding school (expelled), street messenger, library clerk, schlepper (Yiddish for janitor), sexton (Presbyterian for janitor), hospital tutor, short-order cook, macrobiotic baker (later adding croissants and puff pastry to his repertoire), theatrical lighting designer, typist, journalist, actor, adjunct professor, art dealer’s assistant, Biblical caption writer, fundraiser, director of public programs at three NYC history museums, and more. He’s writing about all of it in his memoir. He holds a CUNY-BA in Comparative Religion and an MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College, where he studied with Allen Ginsberg and edited Brooklyn Review 14  He hasd published poems, essays, and reviews on literature and the arts. Critic Marjorie Perloff praised the  “subtle and charming poems” in his collection Heroes and Householders. He’s lived in the same rent-stabilized apartment in NoHo (formerly the Bowery) for 47 years, where he cooks and bakes for friends and neighbors. 

Eamonn Wall is a native of Ireland who lives nowadays in St. Louis, Missouri. He is working on a project on borders—physical, legal, symbolic, metaphorical, and literary—that strives to combine both the personal and the scholarly voices. Eamonn Wall’s essays, articles, reviews, and poems have been published in books, journals, and newspapers. He is returning to the CUNY-Graduate Center after an absence of a few decades: he received his Ph.D. in English in 1992. Eamonn Wall looks forward to being part of this community of writers and editors and hopes that he is better prepared today than he was when he first arrived at the Graduate Center as a young immigrant too full of ideas but lacking in knowledge.

Kaarin Von is an entrepreneur in NYC‘s hospitality industry. In 1996, she opened the eponymous Von Bar, and it has been a staple of the downtown nightlife scene ever since. Kaarin has collaborated on several restaurant and bar projects over the past many years, and currently serves as a mentor with the NYC SBS Women Entrepreneurs Program (WE.NYC), helping women entrepreneurs build narratives for their business ideas. In between projects, Kaarin earned an MFA at City College of New York. Her short stories and essays have appeared in publications large and small, from Time Out NY to Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, and she has completed a few novels, including one about the revelers and ghosts that haunt a dive bar on the Bowery. A recent foray into the literary world includes the 2019 launch of Bowery Gothic, a ghost story reading series, and its companion literary journal: She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, two black cats and a Sicilian rescue dog. 

Joan Weiner retired in 2018 from her position as Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University and moved to New York City. In NYC she finished her most recent book, Taking Frege at his Word, while pursuing her other life as an avocational opera singer. When the pandemic hit, she was in rehearsals for Ariadne auf Naxos with the New York Opera Forum. She is now pursuing a long-time interest in public health by collaborating with a rheumatologist on a study of peer coaching in rheumatology. She is also working on a memoir—a project that began when, during an academic leave in Venice, she received word that a childhood friend was gravely ill. She emailed her friend, including a lighthearted account of some of her adventures in Venice. Her worry about sending such a frivolous story to someone who was dying was allayed by an immediate response from her friend’s husband: please send more stories! She did. Her WI project is to turn her Venice stories into a book.