by Song

by Song

Join me in this live, 90-minute class and discover the ways I’ve found that the process and progress of our lives – like Song – knows more than we do.


My name is Joe Henry. And for the uninitiated among you (please: no show of hands), I declare myself to be a songwriter, singer, and recording artist; a 3-time Grammy-winning record producer (oh, vanity!); a poet, essayist, and author.

I am also a devoted husband of thirty-four years and the father of two: neither fact incidental to who I am as an artist, or the way that I have evolved in that station.

. . . . .

My friend, the poet Jane Hirshfield, once acknowledged a fundamental truth I’d never before heard properly acknowledged, saying:

“The poem has an intelligence that the poet does not possess.”

Blessed be.

When she spoke this, I felt struck as an old tower bell is struck; felt both enlightened and liberated as an artist and as a man; for it has never not been my witness that I am led into thought – understand who I am and what I believe – by the songs that I have been writing since I was fifteen years old. And since those earliest year of having my ear to the street and my shoulder to the wheel, I know that more than anything, I have been cultivating, creatively-speaking, a surrender into process.

By this, I do not mean “surrender” in terms of resignation, but of radical acceptance.

By this, I do not mean that the “creative process” is limited to the making of songs or any other so-called Art; but rather it is as a habit of being; for as I work, so do I live.

And the longer that I live and the longer I have worked, I see that the line I first thought must separate the two has become blurred and ever-changing. Most everything of significance I have learned in my lifetime has either been ushered in on the arm of Song, or affirmed and made clear by it.

All this I mean to tell you when we are together.

All this I hope to make clear when cloudy, and to make blurry when clarity defeats true understanding – for so much of what we experience happens in shadow and thus must be spoken from there.

An outline for my time with you might look like this (though what follows cannot define the engagement any more than a paper map of a road can faithfully describe the storm and humanity you may encounter when upon it):

• Life is mysterious in nature; and we are called not to dispel mystery but to abide it; to stand in its weather, and be shaped by its shifting shape; to rejoice in all that is unseen and wholly / holy unknowable.

• No matter how solitary may be your methods, every creative endeavor is collaborative: a collaboration with time, experience, history, tradition, circumstance, expectation, desire, and breakfast, to name but a few.

•All of mortal living is defined by tension. In the way that no kite remains aloft without the tension of its tether, so no love exists without a taut string between us; and thus it can be plucked to sound, like the string of a guitar – resonate and melodic.

• Like Song, successful living as well as the loved that attends it are not defined by any notion of Perfection – for there is no such thing within mortal life. The mere fact of impermanence should liberate and invite all of us away from the exhausting abstraction of that desire and its false sense of control, and into acceptance, into surrender; away from self-expression and toward discover; into the moment wherein everything that Is feels to have been…inevitable.

• Was that five? I have one additional thing to include, and you may call it a bonus if, by then, it feels like one; and that is that courtesy of Song, I came to see the connective tissue between every-thing and all of us. I can point back and often do to the moment when, at about age ten, i first heard Bob Dylan. Suffice for this moment to say that Bob didn’t change everything as much as he unified everything. By peeling back the onion on his journey and process, I could hear the connection in all I was encountering: understood the taut thread (tension again) that stitched Hank Williams and Jimmy Reed to the so-called beat poets; Miles Davis, Picasso and Cassius Clay (as he was known in that moment of revelation) to Richard Pryor; Walt Whitman to Duke Ellington, and on to Orson Welles.

I’ll strive to share with you the ways in which I believe the process and progress of our lives – like Song, and like Jane’s aforementioned poem – thankfully, compassionately, with wonder and by grace…knows more than we do.

I hope you may join me.

Joe Henry

Bath, Maine

Film Making and Film Watching

Film Making and Film Watching

Join me in this live, 90-minute class and discover the five things I think I’ve learned about writing, directing, and editing films — as well as the joys I’m certain accompany a lifetime of loving movies.


I fell madly in love with movies at an early age, around four or five.  Maybe you did, too.  By the time I was in junior high I was giving talks on film history and spending all my allowance money on 8mm and 16mm films. I sought out old movies on TV and in revival screenings as best as I could in Omaha, of all places, but I was also coming of age in the 1970s, a period we now know as a golden age of cinema. Although I’m influenced by films from many different decades and countries, it’s American films of the 1970s that most left their mark on me, most taught me what I think a good, adult, artistic and commercial movie is.  I’ve spent my career still trying to make 70s movies, and my niche has been odd little comedy-dramas often set in the Midwest.

As much a director and screenwriter – and I love making movies — I’m also a film watcher, a buff.  You might think I’d want to come off like an expert, but the more I learn about film history, the more ignorant I realize I am. The cinema world is so vast that I always feel like a beginner, and my film knowledge is dwarfed by that of many other film nerds I know, including Richard Peña.

I’m overjoyed that my 90-minute class, Five Things I’ve Learned about Film Making and Film Watching, gives me a chance to do a deep-dive with my old friend Richard Peña. Richard was kind enough to program some of my films in the New York Film Festival over the years and to invite me to engage in public conversations with him — discussions that started about my own movies but soon took us burrowing down all manner of film rabbit holes with our little wet film snouts.

When Richard and I meet again on May 23, we’ll begin with five things I think I’ve learned about filmmaking from my experience writing, directing and editing, but who knows where we’ll end up?  I’ll also be happy to field some of your questions, so be sure to submit them in advance.

You’ll see why film lovers seek one another out – to kibitz about film treasures and film technique, about how to look at movies, of course to gossip, and the discussions always spin in the most delightful, unforeseen directions. All of it comes from the dire need to share the sheer joy of loving movies, which I am convinced is an extension of loving life itself.

The thing I’m most grateful for in life is having been born during a time in which the cinema even existed. Think of all the billions of people who lived and died and never got to see a movie – the poor sons of bitches.

I hope you’ll join us.

Reading and Writing the Essay

Reading and Writing the Essay

Join me in this live, two-hour class and discover the five things I’ve learned about the powerful legacy and continuing pleasure of this engaging, versatile art form.


The essay is a literary form dating back to ancient times, with a long and glorious history.  As the record par excellence of a mind tracking its thoughts, it can be considered the intellectual bellwether of any modern society.  The great promise of essays is the freedom they offer to explore, digress, acknowledge uncertainty; to evade dogmatism and embrace ambivalence and contradiction; to engage in intimate conversation with one’s readers and literary forbears; and to uncover some unexpected truth, preferably via a sparkling prose style.  Flexible, shape-shifting, experimental, as befits its name derived from the French essai = attempt, it is nothing if not versatile.

When I first dreamed of being a writer, in my late teens and early twenties, I was drawn first to fiction and then to poetry.  Never did it enter my mind then to become an essayist.  The essays I was exposed to in college were assigned by way of teaching to write compositions and examination papers, the sort of tax you had to pay in order to read great literature.   As I was usually assigned no more than one essay per writer from a textbook, it did not occur to me that essayists could have personalities as charming or idiosyncratic as my favorite novelists and poets.  But I was already drawn to first-person writing, that intimate, subjective whisper in the ear. What I liked particularly about first-person writing was the one-to-one connection it established between author and reader, its penchant for self-analysis, often undercut by rationalization and self-deception.  Unbeknownst to me, I was in preparation for falling in love with the personal essay.

That captivation occurred during one summer vacation when I rented a cottage in Cape Cod.  As is my wont, I snooped around the bookcases at the house I was subletting, and found a Penguin paperback of William Hazlitt’s selected essays, and took it outside to peruse.  Unlike Paul on the road to Damascus, my conversion experience occurred lying in a hammock.  Hazlitt’s cussed, animated voice electrified me from the start.  He turned me on to his friend Charles Lamb, who had a much more insidious, playful tone, but was every bit as galvanizing.  Hazlitt also warmly recommended Montaigne, whom I had read decades earlier in college with baffled indifference, but who now, as I approached middle age, became my guy, my model.  The rest of the Anglo-American canon followed more or less automatically:  Addison and Steele, Samuel Johnson, Stevenson, Beerbohm, Virginia Woolf, Orwell, and on the other side of the Atlantic, Thoreau, Mencken, Baldwin, Mary McCarthy, etc.

I began writing the stuff and teaching the personal essay to my graduate students; I had to photocopy masses of material because it was hard to find any anthologies that went back before the twentieth century.  I, however, have been blessed or cursed with an historical sense, and have envisioned the personal essay as a conversation between living and dead authors across the centuries.  Eventually it dawned on me that I myself would have to edit the anthology I needed to assign.   That is how The Art of the Personal Essay came about.  It has become the standard text, adopted by universities across the United States.  I became so identified as the champion of the personal essay that I began to feel imprisoned in my promotional role, though happy to take whatever rewards it provided. 

Part of the problem was that the more I studied the vast literature of the essay, the less was I convinced that the personal essay constituted such a unique subgenre, distinct from other kinds of essays.  First, I fell in love with Emerson, whom I had stupidly excluded from my Art of the Personal Essay, only to realize decades later that there was no American essayist more imbued with personality, acuity and sheer strangeness than this man.  Second, I began writing a lot of criticism—of movies, books, architecture, visual arts—and it didn’t seem to me that my brain or my deployment of rhetorical strategies was operating any differently than when I wrote personal essays.  I knew that some of my favorite practitioners, such as Virginia Woolf, George Orwell and Max Beerbohm, were equally adept at critical pieces as they were at personal essays, with no shrinkage of their inimitable personalities in their criticism.    As I immersed myself in the critical masters, from Diderot to Ruskin to Edmund Wilson to Lionel Trilling to Susan Sontag, I saw that they were all cobbling together a highly specific voice or persona through which evaluations and insights could issue forth.  

I have since been expanding my idea of what constitutes an essay, which has taken me in many new directions: food writing, nature writing, science writing, psychoanalysis, sports, politics, geography, religion.  No longer restricted to the self-consciously belletristic, I seek out fine examples in every discipline, because every discipline has gifted writers who are willing to venture forth with their thoughts on the page, testing hypotheses, registering skepticism about received ideas, examining their own doubts, employing worldly irony, and making a pleasing arc of their cogitations.  Which brought me to my current project: editing a three-volume set of anthologies of the American essay.

 At bottom is my conviction that the best way to familiarize yourself with the essay is to become a dedicated reader of the form.  Immerse yourself in its literature.  In our workshop I will be discussing various masters and making recommendations.  As someone who has taught creative writing for more than four decades, I will also be advocating useful practices for those who wish to try their hand at it.  Whether you would like to write essays yourself, or simply enjoy them as a reader, this session should provide a basic introduction to the form, a foundation for further exploration, and, I hope, a good time. 

Cinema’s Past, Present, and Future

Cinema’s Past, Present, and Future

Join us in this 90-minute class and discover the five things we’ve learned about bringing international cinema to the American audience, about cinema’s rich history, and about the many ways to love the movies.


When I was about 10, while looking through the stacks in my local public library, I came upon a shelf labeled “Movies,”—793, I think, in the old Dewey Decimal System. Before me were half a dozen books on film. This seemed so strange to me—books about movies? Even though by then I was a pretty voracious filmgoer, somehow I didn’t quite imagine what a book about the movies could be. I checked one out, The Liveliest Art, by Arthur Knight, and soon was entranced. Knight traced the movies from shots of speeding trains to the glory days of Hollywood, also discussing the new waves of cinema coming from abroad. I began to note when some of the films he talked about would show up on TV.

Then, on a Sunday in early September, 1965, the advertisement for the Third New York Film Festival came out in the Times; scouring its offerings, I was amazed to find THE WEDDING MARCH by Erich von Stroheim, one of the more colorful characters in Knight’s book—“the man you love to hate”—and I knew his movies were really hard to see. I asked my parents if I could go and, after getting my wonderful, ballet-loving aunt to agree to accompany me, we ordered tickets. A few weeks later we were sitting in what eventually became Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. A man came out to introduce the film; he was Henri Langlois, legendary Director of the Cinémathèque Française, although at that time I had no idea what that meant. The lights came down, the piano accompaniment started, and THE WEDDING MARCH lit up the screen. I was completely hooked.

Somehow, 23 years later, I found myself on the stage of Alice Tully Hall, opening the Twenty-Sixth New York Film Festival as its director, a position I was privileged to have for the next twenty-five years. Simultaneously, I tried to keep up an academic career, and since 1989 I’ve been teaching film history and theory at Columbia University. When people ask what I do, I sometimes reply “I’m in the film history business.” As a programmer, I organized retrospectives of national cinemas and significant film artists; as a festival director, I got to cull a wide range of a given year’s films and come up with a kind of snapshot of where my colleagues and I thought the cinema was headed. And finally, as a film professor, I get to offer my thoughts on how the cinema has grown, adapted and evolved over its 125-year history, hoping whatever insights I offer can serve the next generation of filmmakers.

Another question I’m sometimes asked is “Can you still watch movies just for pleasure?” I can’t imagine how else one can watch a movie. If anything, I’m often disappointed that more people don’t take advantage of the enormous, voluptuous banquet the cinema is offering up — such a range of styles, themes, subjects, approaches — more than enough to delight and intrigue every viewer. Sadly, most seem satisfied with only the “fast food” offerings on display at our multiplexes or on our TV screens.

I’m delighted to have been asked to share with you my thoughts about cinema’s past, present and future, and it’s a special treat to be having this conversation with my dear friend Phillip Lopate — one of the few people I know whose passion for the adventure that is the cinema easily matches mine. I look forward to comparing notes on some cinema’s classic masters, and debate who our contemporary masters might be, as well as where we each think that the ”action” in cinema really is nowadays. The writing of film history, and especially film criticism, is an issue of special concern to both of us, and we’ll discuss what we look for when we read about film. As two avid filmgoers, I think both of us are concerned about what seems to be the incipient decline of theatrical screenings; we’ll compare predictions as to what the future of the movie theater could be. Finally, I’m sure there will be plenty of questions about my time at the New York Film Festival—what went right, what went wrong.

I very much hope you’ll join us.

I first fell in love with films when I was a little kid and my parents sent me and my siblings off to the local double-feature movie house so that they could have some “private time.” While they were engrossed in whatever that meant, I was drinking in the erotic magic of Veronica Lake and Yvonne DeCarlo doing their mischief onscreen. As a teenager I had the good fortune to be living through a cinematic high point (the French New Wave, the Italian masters Rossellini, Fellini, Antonioni, Satyajit Ray, the last flourishing of classical Hollywood masters like Ford, Hawks and Hitchcock, the American experimentalists Cassavetes, Mekas, Shirley Clarke…) I started a club in college called Filmmakers of Columbia, and made a short film, but regrettably my working class parents had little money to support my habit, unlike my classmate Brian de Palma whose father was a wealthy surgeon, so I put down my Bolex and turned to the typewriter instead.

Since then I have written some twenty books: essay and poetry collections, novels, monographs, edited anthologies. Not bragging, just saying. I’ve also written a ton of film criticism, because I’m still movie-mad.  But the fact is that though I’ve written for the New York Times, Vogue, Film Comment, Cineaste, etc., I’ve never had an official critic’s post and remain something of an outsider in the world of film festivals. That’s why I was so grateful when Richard Peña asked me to serve on the New York Film Festival selection committee, along with “legitimate” critics. At the time, Richard and I were acquaintances, so I was surprised when he tapped me, but over the decades we have morphed into close friends. Part of that intimacy was acquired during the tricky process of agreeing on which films to include or exclude. Richard can be quite commanding, (dare I say bullying?) but I was never shy about standing up to and opposing him, if need be, which may have accelerated our warm friendship and certainly our mutual respect.

So now I get the chance to engage him in conversation about our mutual love of the cinema.  Five seems a small number of the possible takeaways I am expecting from our talk, but I expect a few of the following to emerge. When we were young, barely more than kids, why did we think it necessary to learn the whole history of cinema? What was it like for Richard to assume the mantle of the Lincoln Center Film Society, and act not only as a film programmer but an administrator, a negotiator with foreign distributors, a multi-lingual presence on the global scene? How does he view the differences between our roles: I as a writer and film critic, he as a curator, scholar, all-purpose film maven?  What does he think of film criticism–who are his favorite film critics? We have both ended up as professors at Columbia: what has been the impact of our teaching lives on our understanding of movies? How has our both being parents affected our sense of responsibility to pass down the knowledge of film history?  How do we see the future of film, the current trends, the risks and problems? I am sure we will not run out of things to talk about, and I would welcome the comments of listeners and kibbitzers.

Please join us!

What It Takes to Finish a Book

What It Takes to Finish a Book

Join us in this live, 90-minute class and discover the five things we’ve learned about the essential mindsets that will help you get your book finished.


For the past three years, we’ve been interviewing all kinds of authors—from Jacqueline Woodson to Elizabeth Gilbert and Pico Iyer to Mary Karr—on our popular weekly podcast, Write-Minded. In our professional roles—Grant as Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and Brooke as the Publisher of She Writes Press—and through our podcast, we’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to get the work done.

In our 90-minute workshop, we will share secrets to writers’ success, ranging from the emotional challenges writers face (and can overcome) to concrete strategies for prioritizing your writing so you can cross the finish line. 

Between the two of us, we bring decades of experience with writers to this class—and we share what we’ve learned about what separates those writers who want to do it from those writers who actually do it. And when we say do it, what do we mean? That’s right, getting that book done! 

We share a similar ethos when it comes to writing and getting published, and we always have fun together—and bring to all our content things writers really need, like permission to laugh at themselves, to acknowledge that this journey is really hard—and even ridiculous!—sometimes. Our five things will resonate with any writer who’s on the journey, and that matters because it’s in the universal challenges that we find inspiration. 

This class will support writers and authors to stay the course, give themselves the much-needed high-fives along the way, and remember that the journey is indeed the reward. Come ready to be inspired and also held. Getting a book done requires support, and you will find that here. We have your back, and so do the other students you’ll convene with here. Sometimes all it takes is a shift in perspective, someone saying the right thing in the right moment. If this is your year—your time—to finish your book, join us. We welcome you.

Being Grumpy

Being Grumpy

Join me in this live, 90-minute class and discover the few things I’ve learned about the elasticity of identity and imagination.


After years of readers asking me how I wrote a novel about a seventy-two-year-old woman with blue hair and “gotten it right,” I can say that I am no longer shocked by the question. I remain, however, still a bit bewildered by it. The assumption, of course, is that I’m a man and therefore, shouldn’t be able to understand how a woman thinks or feels.

Now, I am a man, probably, or at least most of the time. I identify as such, and it is my identity. Well-meaning readers who ask the question probably think that my identity limits my perspective. It probably does. I’m sure it does.

And that’s one of the main reasons I write: to expand my perspective, to enlarge my world.

Identifying as a man makes me see the world a certain way, however, being male isn’t my only identity. My work has been described as immigrant literature. Yes, I am one. I’m an Arab, I’m American, I’m Lebanese, I’m an atheist. I’m a soccer player. I am gay. So many identities, so little time. These days, grumpy is the identity that I feel defines me more fully. I am a gay writer, a queer writer, and Arab writer, an immigrant writer, a Lebanese writer, a Lebanese-American writer, an American writer, a grumpy writer, and more, much more.

Drawing on years of experience of being an outsider—and on sixty-some years of being an oddball—I will share a little about what I think works about claiming a certain identity or having one assigned to you by society, and what is limiting about it. I will talk primarily about writing, but identity cuts across everything in life. I suggest that for many of us, the reason we might not be able to understand how someone who is not like us feels or thinks is not necessarily a failure of empathy, but one of imagination. I will tell stories of the elasticity of both identity and imagination.

There are many reasons why I call myself a grumpy writer. I joke about it in hopes of pinpricking the inflated power the subject of identity has over us.

In Lebanon, I am considered an American. In America, I am considered Lebanese. I am grumpy in both countries.

Grumpies of the world, unite!

What I will not do is teach you how to be grumpy. You either have it or you don’t, so get off my lawn.

Documenting Stories of Conflict

Documenting Stories of Conflict

Join me in this live, 90-minute class and discover the five things I’ve learned about photos’ unique power to inform, to connect, and to document people’s lives.


I’ve been a freelance photojournalist for over ten years, focusing mainly on conflicts and their aftermath. I work regularly with magazines and newspapers in the US and Europe — Harper’s Magazine, Stern, Le Monde, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, among others — and have exhibited my projects most recently at Prix Bayeux Festival for War Correspondents, and Visa Pour l’Image photojournalism festival. 

Photography is a language and a craft that takes time to shape and develop. That can seem almost irrelevant now with social media platforms where images are shared in their billions every day. But photos with meaning, depth, and those that can create empathy, inform, and be a bridge between people still holds importance because they can often cut through the noise.  

In this live 90-minute class, I will discuss my approach to photographing complex and difficult stories, why I believe they are still important in our image-saturated world, and also touch briefly on the practicalities of being out in the field. Ten years in a career can seem like a short amount of time, but much has changed – because of the intersectional advancements in tech, the Internet, and social media – in the sphere of journalism and photojournalism. I’ll talk a little bit about what compels me to continue doing this work despite the risks, and why it is necessary to be present on frontlines and on the periphery of conflicts and social issues. 

We’ll also discuss how photo stories are researched and constructed with some behind-the-scenes look into the actual making of some pictures. I’ll deconstruct some images, before discussing how narrative, aesthetic, and the content of pictures are put into play, and the various ways in which they can be presented to provide context. 

I very much hope you’ll join me.

Chat example

Writing Family History

Writing Family History

Join me in this live, two-hour class and discover the five things I’ve learned about diving into your past and bringing the story you find there to life.


Hi, my name is Russell Shorto. I’m a New York Times bestselling writer of books of narrative history.

With my latest book, I’ve entered new terrain: family history. Like the man said, This time it’s personal. I’ve known since I was a kid that my grandfather was a smalltime mob boss in my Pennsylvania hometown. I decided I was ready to tackle his story. Researching it took me into a netherworld of bookies and payoffs, of America in its mid-century brawn.

More than that, though, it took me into the heart and soul of my family. Not far into my research I realized that this was going to be an act of personal discovery. I’m convinced that writing about your family is one of the richest and most rewarding things you can do.

That’s why I want to share with you “Five Things I Learned About Writing Family History.” I’m inviting you to sign up for a live, two-hour online seminar in which I’ll distill everything I’ve learned from my own family history project. Using my research into my grandfather’s world, I’ll give you my techniques for interviewing relatives. We’ll examine how to squeeze illuminating facts out of old documents. We’ll talk storytelling: the basics of writing a rich, multilayered story. I’ll ask you to look into yourself as well – I’ll encourage you to dig, to push past the painful things that will come up, to see a family history project as a means of personal growth. And finally, I’ll give you my tips for getting it done.

By the end, you’ll be empowered and energized to dive into your past and bring to life the story you find there.

Women and Aging

Women and Aging

Join me in this live, 90-minute class and discover the five things I’ve learned about the richness and promise that shape the second half of women’s lives.


Hi. My name is Nina Collins. I founded and run a social platform & website  for likeminded —  and by that I mean educated, savvy, witty — women over 40 called The Woolfer.

I wrote a book on Aging without Apology called What Would Virginia Woolf Do? and I also have a masters in the field of Narrative Medicine, which is the study of how we tell our stories in the context of aging, illness, and death. I have a life coaching certificate and have worked in palliative care and end of life settings, and all this activity comes out of a deep interest in how women, particularly, handle transitions of loss.

I’m going to share with you Five Things I’ve learned about women & aging — from some of the practical, the Health/Medical issues that people don’t like to talk about but which are so very real, and also mostly manageable, to the sexual, which encompasses, of course, both physical and psychological issues. I’m going to share with you wisdom I’ve gleaned from the stories and experiences of tens of thousands of women in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond, and I’m going to talk about loss: death, divorce, the empty nest, the fear and also the freedom of irrelevance and invisibility. I’ll also talk about community, and how much we need each other to make it through our complicated lives. As one Woolfer said to me recently “It’s our job to stay alive for each other.”

I’m so looking forward to having this conversation with you, to share some of the resources and humor that have helped and inspired me, and to really show you that this idea that we can blossom in the second half of our lives is far from an empty promise.

The richness that awaits on this side of 50 is truly surprising. We’re going to have a lot of fun talking about it, and exploring why.

© 2021 All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy

Thanks for stopping by!

Sign up for our newsletter.
Find out first about every new class.

Register now. Get the latest news and the earliest discounts delivered right to your inbox. Not all the time. Just once a week.



By sharing your email, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.