|Julia Fierro at the Franklin Park Reading Series|
On Monday night, I had the opportunity to see Julia Fierro read an excerpt from her debut novel, Cutting Teeth, at the Franklin Park Reading Series.
“It’s dark,” she warned me beforehand. “It’s so dark.” As she launched into a chapter of her book featuring Tiffany and her mother, I realized that in all the years I’ve known Julia, I hadn’t read any of her writing.
I first met Julia Fierro as a sophomore at Hofstra University. I needed a creative writing class to fulfill a core requirement, and Julia’s class fit my schedule. She had a light blonde streak bleached into her bangs and a hot pepper on rate my professor.
At the time, I had already declared a major in geology, mainly because we got to go hiking often. There’s something about climbing through the Catskills and looking for fossils in old quarries that really sells a major.
Creative Writing required a five page short story. Stories were workshopped, rewritten, and resubmitted. I sat down to write, and unlike the many research papers I’d written with index cards and hours of research, words spilled onto thirteen pages without my control, without my consent, until they told the story of Ada, a pregnant teenager in Alabama who convinces a childless couple from New York to adopt her baby. It was the first time I’d ever written in a voice that wasn’t my own and it felt incredibly natural.
The story was inspired by a friend’s brother, a rookie member of the NYPD, who told me that there are colonies of people living in NYC sewers. The first time he went down there, under the sounds of dripping water, he heard a baby crying in the darkness.
The image haunted me, and when I sat down to write that first short story, it was the first thing I thought of. I wanted to write a story about a teenage girl who winds up pregnant and living in the sewer. The sewer never made it into the story.
Sometime in the middle of that semester, I bumped into Julia in the library. She was browsing books, and I had a copy of The Great Gatsby tucked under my arm. There’s something about the fall that makes me want to reread it, searching for that one moment when Gatsby and Daisy share their first kiss under a sliver of October moon.
That day in the library, Julia told me how much she enjoyed my story, how surprised she was that I’d never written anything before (excluding elementary school creative writing assignments). She told me that I could be a novelist one day, and in that moment, I wasn’t Gatsby blinding reaching across a body of water for an intangible green light, I finally knew what I was reaching for.
I declared a second major in creative writing (I wasn’t ready to fully give up those fossil-finding expeditions). I spent the next three years studying under Martha McPhee, was selected to read alongside faculty at Hofstra University readings, and rewrote that first short story until it won the Eugene Schneider Award for Short Fiction.
That first class with Julia was the only one I took with her at Hofstra University. Nine years later, after getting married, moving to Brooklyn, and starting my first novel, I was looking for a writing group. I contacted a local bookstore and asked for a recommendation. They immediately sent me to the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, assuring me it was the best one in Brooklyn.
And it happened to be run by Julia Fierro. At first it seemed coincidental that Julia should pop up twice in my writing life and at two pivotal moments, but after learning more about Julia and Sackett Street and the extensive home she’s made for NYC writers, I wasn’t surprised we’d bumped into each other again; I was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.
It was an honor to hear Julia read on Monday night and to see how well her debut novel is doing. After years of nurturing other writers, it was inspiring to watch her and Cutting Teeth take their place in Brooklyn’s literary scene.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of Julia Fierro, more information can be found about her and the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop at www.juliafierro.com.