Carolyn Turgeon wasborn in Michigan and grew up in Illinois, Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania.After graduating from Penn State, she earned a Master's in ComparativeLiterature from UCLA, and spent several years in New York working as a writerand editor. She's the author of five novels: Rain Village (Unbridled Books,2006), Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story (Crown, 2009), Mermaid (Crown,2011), the middle-grade The Next Full Moon (Downtown Bookworks, 2012), and TheFairest of Them All (Simon & Schuster, 2013). She lives in Pennsylvania and New York.
My formal teaching background is as a teaching assistant at UCLA, where I earned an MA in Comparative Literature in 1998. For three years I led discussion sections for a general Humanities world literature course offered by my department as an alternative to English comp. I led twice-weekly discussions on the selected reading and was solely responsible for teaching the course's essay writing component, which to my surprise I enjoyed far more than talking about Kafka or Gogol. Writing had always come naturally to me, I realized, and this gave me an enormous advantage in the world—being able to communicate what I think and feel and need and see in clear terms to someone else—but for many of these students it was a terrible struggle. I felt they could get through life fine without Kafka but that they needed to be able to express themselves. It's such a basic human need: to be heard, and understood. To see someone with something to say but without the proper means to say it and say it well—this stirred a real passion in me. And though I left my PhD program in order to write novels, I knew I wanted to return to teaching one day, but to teach writing, not literature the way I had thought.
I have also spent a huge amount of time as an active participant in writing workshops. I participated in a few in high school and college. After I left UCLA, I moved to New York and, while working at a day job, spent a few years in an informal monthly workshop with my friends Jeanine Cummins and Anton Strout (all of us working on very different projects that would eventually become our first published books), spent five years in a weekly workshop led by novelist Jennifer Belle, and took an intensive six-week workshop with publisher Karen Braziller. I also began building a wide network of trusted writer friends with whom I regularly exchanged and still exchange pages. This for me is one of the big joys of writing, and I can't imagine writing without this constant back and forth with other writers. I rely on this feedback enormously to gauge and better my own writing and I'm also constantly reading my friends' work; I love this process, helping another writer to realize his or her vision, watching something beautiful take form. I love the way it forces me to think, always, about writing, in a way I don't when only focused on my own work. I don't know what better way to learn and improve than that. And when I was struggling and facing what seemed like endless rejection (Rain Village was rejected by 15 publishers over four years before it was finally accepted for publication in 2005, and this after I had struggled on and off for ten years to write it), the support of my workshop was crucial in getting me to forge ahead with that next book, to keep believing it was worth it.
I haven't really thought about defining a teaching philosophy before, but I think that all of this—my years of writing and being in constant conversation with other writers, my years of struggling to finish books, to publish books, to believe that it's important, all that time alone in front of a computer when no one cared and there was a new Law and Order on tv—adds up to one. I'm someone who feels passionately about language and expression in all forms. I'm someone who feels passionately about stories, who thinks that writing fiction is a way to express something hidden and mysterious inside of us. I think that all those nuts and bolts, everything that makes up the craft of writing, are tools for getting that vision, that feeling, that voice, whatever that thing is, onto the page, in the most effective, best way possible, so that someone else can share it. That's what we help each other with, I think, as writers in conversation with other writers, how to bring those hidden mysteries into relief. Whether we're teaching a class or sitting across from each other at a bar or a café or a picnic table, I think that's what we do for each other.