A Conversation with Stephanie Cooper and Howard Weinberg
President of the Sarah Lawrence Alumnae/i Association from 2005-09, Stephanie Cooper earned her BA (Literature) in 1965 and her MFA (Chamber Music) in 1976, and is currently a member of the Board of Trustees. Her husband, Howard Weinberg, is a teacher, independent documentary filmmaker, and television journalist. He co-founded The Documentary Project at the Columbia Journalism School, where he also runs a documentary screening series and mentors students who make half-hour documentaries. The couple took a break from their busy schedules to talk about their experiences at The Writing Institute and discuss what it's like taking a class with their significant other. Interview by Joe Pfister
What made you decide to take classes through The Writing Institute?
Stephanie Cooper: My husband noticed a brochure for the Institute—Marek Fuchs' "Writing and Photography" course, in particular—at one of the Trustees' meetings that he attended with me. He urged me to take the course with the photography component against my doubts. He was right.
How long have you been taking classes through The Writing Institute?
Howard Weinberg: After a stimulating summer course with our professor, Marek Fuchs, we decided we had to continue "Writing and Photography" in the fall.
What has your experience been like?
SC: The courses have opened a window for me into creative realms that I have not been able to explore through my 25 years of law practice, though, as a litigator, I write for a living. It's been revolutionizing for my imagination.
HW: Rich, provocative, and pleasing: the chance to visit the College on Friday mornings, to hear Marek read an excerpt from writing that evokes images or was inspired by images, to read our assignments for the week and discuss them with classmates and get Marek's feedback has been terrific. The challenge to dig into ourselves and go outside of ourselves in search of stories has been a welcome challenge.
What has encouraged you to return and continue taking courses?
SC: Marek Fuchs is a stellar teacher, and the experience has come at a time when I am ripe for a new way of thinking and functioning. My growing body of work has great value, and I want to continue to build it.
HW: Marek's considerate and perceptive critiques, fascinating insights, broad knowledge, and deep appreciation for the craft; my own growing discipline to write on deadline and my wife's enthusiasm for a newfound freedom in writing.
What is the single-most important thing you've learned while at The Writing Institute?
SC: That, through creative writing, I have found a new instrument with which to make music, an instrument more suited to my present skills and mindset than the piano, which I have missed terribly and, at the same time, have not wanted to return to.
HW: To trust the process: that I will come up with something of interest; and that I can make it better as I revise it.
What is it like taking a class with your spouse?
SC: Fabulous! It's a blast. I've learned all kinds of interesting, new things about him that weren't manifest over the past 22 years, and I love exchanging drafts and being one another's editors. We've always had a wonderful time sharing arts and culture and our thoughts about the world around us, but this adds an exciting new dimension—both to our imaginations and to our appreciation of one another.
HW: It's great. We usually edit each other's stories before coming to class. We have different creative processes but value each other's judgment.
What is one thing you want people to know about The Writing Institute?
SC: The Institute not only offers remarkable opportunities to learn and grow in the art and craft of writing but it also provides community, with classes and readings, where we can share these experiences. For me, particularly, it brings me back to those golden undergraduate days when I wrote to learn in the company of gifted students and the best teachers on earth. Here it is, 40-something years later, and it endures in vital, undiminished form.
HW: That it is there. It offers you a chance not only to improve your writing but also to hear different perspectives in a caring environment.
What are your future goals or aspirations for your writing?
SC: Book contracts, magazine articles, a newspaper column, wild acclaim.
HW: I would like to continue to compile stories that could lead to writing a memoir that students of documentary and journalism would find valuable.