2015 Kathryn Gurfein Writing Fellowship at Sarah Lawrence College Honorable Mention
I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t write anything besides an email, a thank-you note, or maybe a business letter, for more than 30 years. I knew I liked to write — once. I won a prize in the We Are The Flag essay contest in the 5th grade, and I was Editorial Editor of the Taylor Allderdice High School Foreword. In college I published a piece on The Rocky Horror Picture Show (yes, it was the late 70’s) in the Detroit News. I kept a journal and scribbled away for my Creative Writing class. My professor encouraged me to enter the Hopwood Contest, which I lost.
English? Journalism? My parents were not impressed. They threatened to withhold my tuition unless I majored in something “practical,” so I put down my pen.
A couple years ago, my children grown and my Manhattan career and commute behind me, I signed up for an Intro Fiction Writing class at a nearby writer’s workshop. I wrote a few short stories. My words flowed clumsy and syrupy at first, then faster and steadier. I liked it. I graduated to Intermediate Fiction. To my astonishment, I banged out a 350-page novel.
I submitted writing samples and schlepped on trains and subways to Red Hook, Brooklyn to attend Ted Thompson’s Sackett Street workshop. I submitted more writing samples and drove an hour to Bronxville at night — white-knuckled, for twelve weeks, on three dark, slick highways in rain and sleet — to workshop my entire novel with Pat Dunn and Jimin Han at Sarah Lawrence. Was this my inner child, finally breaking free?
Writing is now integral to my life. I write (almost) daily; I barely look up, not even to answer the phone or to peek out the window. My writing isn’t consistently free-flowing, or polished, or even good, but I persevere. Observations fly out of my fingers and I’m not sure how they become part of my conscious mind. Choices become paramount, become obsessions. I find themes buried within, meanings that come to me weeks later.
Learning about writing has led to all sorts of benefits. I’ve met gifted students and teachers, generous with their feedback and passionate about their craft. I’ve become a more careful observer, a more critical reader and watcher of TV, theater and movies. My subconscious is energized. I jump out of bed at all hours to record dream-fragments and plot ideas, startling my ever-patient husband. Fully-formed characters come to me; strangers, or maybe half-real, half–fictional, and they become my fiercely guarded friends.
Why do I write? I don’t know for sure — perhaps to create, to understand, to challenge myself, to self-actualize. I do know I love rhythms, rhymes and reading, and I love a good tale. My first teacher taught that compelling characters had to be damaged and driven, and I’ve dreamed up a dark side, sometimes satiric, often comedic, to all the good sides of my existence. Writing forces me to examine regret, joy, love and desire; it’s addicting and always a challenge. It’s a satisfying but secret terror, and I haven’t even begun to touch the tough stuff. If only I’d continued in college, but better late than never.
Ellen Bregman is a Pittsburgh native, a University of Michigan grad, an award-winning baker, and a 20-year veteran retail executive, a former Ready-to-Wear OVP/Divisional Merchandise Manager at Bloomingdales. She is currently the Volunteer Coordinator at Play With Your Food Theatre in Westport, Connecticut, where she resides with her husband.
Ellen was awarded Honorable Mention in the 2015 Sarah Lawrence Gurfein Fellowship for an excerpt from her novel, Control the Controllables, an insider-trading mystery (with 20 original recipes) set in Manhattan, where the moneyed, glamour- worlds of Celebrity Baking, Fine Art and Investment Banking collide.