NYU Novel Writing

Spring 2018

 

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Who is Meredith Sue Willis?

Meredith Sue Willis is a writer and teacher and enthusiastic reader. Born and raised in West Virginia, she is a proud member of the Appalachian Renaissance with deep roots in West Virginia and the western mountain counties of Virginia.

Her books have been published by Charles Scribner's Sons, HarperCollins, Ohio University Press, Mercury House, West Virginia University Press, Monteymayor Press, Teachers & Writers Press, Hamilton Stone Editions, and others.

She teaches at New York University's School of Professional Studies and also does occasional writer-in-the-school residencies and workshops for writers.

She lives in an inner ring suburb near New York City with her husband Andrew B. Weinberger. She does organic gardening in her back yard and is active in her local Ethical Culture Society and in the integration organization, South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race.

 

Biography of Meredith Sue Willis

 

Meredith Sue Willis, born and raised in West Virginia, is a novelist and teacher. She teaches novel writing at New York University's School of Professional Studies.

Her mother's family has lived in North Central West Virginia for several generations, and her father's family, from Appalachian Lee County, Virginia, followed jobs with Consolidation Coal Company through Virginia, Kentucky, and finally West Virginia.

Meredith Sue was educated in the public schools of Shinnston, West Virginia,where her father was her science teacher. Her mother was also trained as a teacher, and all four of her aunts and uncles on both sides of the family were teachers. Her Willis grandparents operated a country store in Wise County, Virginia, and her Meredith grandfather witnessed the Great Monongah, West Virginia, mine explosion of 1907, in which hundreds of miners were killed. Her Meredith grandmother was a mining camp midwife.

After attending Bucknell University for two years, MSW spent a year as a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) in Norfolk, Virginia. She fictionalized this experience in the second book of her Blair Morgan trilogy, Only Great Changes (Scribner's 1985; Hamilton Stone Editions, 1997).

After the year in VISTA, she transferred to Barnard College in New York City where she was involved in work against the Vietnam War as a member of the Students for a Democratic Society. She participated in the 1968 Columbia University anti-war sit-ins, fictionalized in Trespassers (Hamilton Stone Editions, 1997). (For more on photo below, click here.)

 

 

 

She graduated from Barnard College Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude, and went to work as a so-called recreation therapist for a year at Bellevue Hospital. This job included calling a lot of bingo games and a newsletter for the long term patients in the vast, un-air-conditioned rehab wards of the old Bellevue.

She then took a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University, studying with Anthony Burgess, Lore Segal and others. The most important connection she made during her time at the Columbia School of the Arts was a program formed by Phillip Lopate at P.S. 75 that included Karen Hubert, Terry Mack, and others. This program, through Teachers & Writers Collaborative (see below for names of people in photo at left), was one of the earliest of the arts-in-education organizations.

At the end of the nineteen-seventies, MSW had her first novel accepted for publication: A Space Apart  (Scribner's, 1979) . It was followed by Higher Ground (Scribner's, 1981; Hamilton Stone Editions 1996) and Only Great Changes (Scribner's, 1985; Hamilton Stone Editions1997). The final book of the trilogy, Trespassers, was published by Hamilton Stone Editions in 1997.

MSW has continued to work as a writer-in-the-schools through various arts organizations, including Teachers & Writers and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She has given workshops and keynote addresses to teachers and students from Massachusetts to New York, New Jersey,Texas, and California. Teachers & Writers publishes two of her books about writing and the teaching of writing: Personal Fiction Writing (1984; 2000) and Deep Revision (1993). Her other books about writing are Blazing Pencils (Teachers & Writers, 1990; Montemayor Press, 2013) and Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel (Montemayor Press, 2012).

She has also written novels for children, including Billie of Fish House Lane, The Secret Super Powers of Marco (first edition from HarperCollins) and Marco's Monster (first edition from HarperCollins), and, her most recent book, a young adult novel called Meli's Way.

Other books include Oradell at Sea (West Virginia University Press, 2002), a collection of short stories, Dwight's House and Other Stories (Hamilton Stone Editions, 2004), and a science fiction novel, The City Built of Starships (Montemayor Press, 2004).

Her recent Appalachian short stories are in Out of the Mountains (Ohio University Press 2010). Other recent books include Re-Visions: Stories from Stories (Hamilton Stone Editions, 2011); and Love Palace, an e-book from Foreverland Press and hard copy from Irene Weinberger Books.

MSW married Andrew B. Weinberger in 1982--only twelve years after they began living together, and their son Joel Howard Willis Weinberger was born in 1985, twenty years to the day after their first date. Andy continues to practice medicine as a specialist in rheumatology, and Joel (a graduate of Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey) is a Ph.d software engineer. He is married to Sarah Zakowski Weinberger, a specialist in the delivery of health care. They have just relocated to Los Angeles with their daughter Shira, so MSW & Andy Weinberger are now grandparents!

MSW has given many workshops and performances of her writing and won many prizes including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She has participated in the Circuit Writers program of the West Virginia Humanities Council.

Her writing about the Appalachian Region was the subject of the Fourteenth Annual Emory & Henry Literary Festival in Emory, Virginia, in 1995, and the proceedings of that festival were published in a special issue of The Iron Mountain Review. She was also the featured writer in the Fall, 2006 issue of Appalachian Heritage.

She received the Literary Award of the West Virginia Library Association and was the 1990 West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival Non-Italian Woman of the Year. In May 2004, she received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from West Virginia University.

Currently living in Orange, New Jersey near New York City, teaching at New York University's School of Professional Studies and working on her own writing, MSW is also the chair of the Social Action Committee of the Ethical Culture Society of Essex County and does anti-racism work as a trustee of the South Orange-Maplewood Community Coaltion on Race and co-chair of the Coalition's Schools Committee.

In her spare time, she tries to support the Garden State by keeping a four season organic garden in her backyard:

 


 

 

 


Sarah, Andy, Shira, MSW, and Joel     Los Angeles 2018
 
Photos above, from the top, show Shinnston and Shinnston High School (photo by Charlie Cowger ); a shot of sit-ins at Columbia University in 1968--Mark Rudd being interviewed in the foreground, and I'm pretty sure I'm the girl in a light shirt sitting on the ledge in the middle; the gang at Teachers & Writers Collaborative in 1977 (back row: Bob Sievert, Phillip Lopate, Mark Solomon, Wesley Brown, Richard Perry, Steve Schrader, Sylvia Sandoval, Adalberto Ortiz; middle: Terry Mack, Glenda Adams, Laura Gilpin; and front: Barbara Siegel, Nancy Larson Shapiro, Miguel Ortiz, MSW, and Karen Hubert); MSW at Andy Weinberger's graduation from NYU Medical School in 1970; MSW & Maggie Anderson in "Close Harmonies," a program of Appalachian readings, music, and dancing, at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1983; MSW with her first friend, David C. Hardesty who was then President of West Virginia University in 2004; back yard organic vegetables; introducing Shira Tova Weinberger, born in San Francisco on June 16, 2016! Finally, a photo during a March 2018 visit to Tree People in Los Angeles: Sarah, Andy, Shira, MSW, and Joel.

 

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The best way to get in touch with Meredith Sue Willis is by email: Meredithsuewillis (symbol for "at") gmail ("dot") com

 
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