Chicago writer Jill Pollack founded Story Studio Chicago the year she turned 40. “Maybe it was my own little mid-life crisis,” she says, “but I closed a different business and decided to devote myself to my fiction writing.”
Noting a fiction community deficit, Pollack dove into creating a resource for writers of all levels. Seven years later, primed to embark on a new semester, Jill answers a few questions for Our Town.
Our Town: What inspired you to create StoryStudio?
Jill Pollack: I must have been thinking about the idea for a while because I remember waking up one morning [with] the entire concept there in my head. In 2003, I started with just four students in a room I sub-let in Bucktown. We were on the ninth floor and if the elevator operator decided to go home early, I had to lead my students down nine flights of steps in the dark! Within six months, we had a steady trickle and I was teaching about three classes a week. Today, on Ravenswood, we have three classrooms, a student lounge, kitchen area and offices where more than 650 students came through last year.
OT: Now SS is larger, what traits characterize your staff?
JP: We are certainly picky about instructors. Almost all find their way to SS through referrals from current instructors or other writing friends. What sets them apart: we share the same philosophy toward teaching writing. For us, learning to write is not a matter of formulas or rules. It's a matter of finding your own individual voice and a writing process that works for you.
OT: How have economic changes affected SS?
JP: The economy has been an interesting unknown factor. In 2009 I braced for a terrible year. But in fact, we grew at the same rate as we've grown every year. In 2010, we're also ahead of where we were last year. I'm beginning to understand that when money is tight, people choose to spend their time and money on activities that offer more emotional satisfaction.
OT: You’ve revamped recently. What changes excite you?
JP: Our new Writer's Roadmaps [which] help you choose an individual course, or lay out a plan of several courses to achieve a specific writing goal. For instance, StoryStudio has Roadmaps for writing Short Stories or Novels, Personal Essay or Memoir, Magazine or Food/Travel Writing and even a roadmap for just getting the words down on paper. We'll refine these and add more as we move forward. We're also insanely excited about launching our online program. By spring 2011 we expect to offer a range of classes and workshops online, in addition to more low-key draft-exchange programs.
OT: What kind of writers gravitate to SS?
JP: At our Open Houses, we see would-be writers scared to death just to walk in the door. It takes courage to put your words down on paper. We also have a growing community of intermediate and advanced writers, including lots of folks who have completed their MFAs and are looking for a writing community. Every single class, I am blown away by the insight, imagination and sheer courage of the student writing. Because our classes are filled with students from different backgrounds, varied ages and experiences, our classroom discussions are amazing. I feel like I learn as much as them.
For information about upcoming classes visit http://www.storystudiochicago.com/
Sarah Terez Rosenblum (@SarahTerez) is an MFA-holding writer, teacher and Spinning instructor. She's also the Theater Listings Editor for Centerstage Chicago. Look for her posts twice a week.