Live, essential lessons from a lifetime of learning.

Join writer, speaker, and founder Nina Collins in this live, ninety-minute online class.

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.

The Joy of Dictionaries

Join me in this live, 90-minute class and discover the five things I’ve learned about the history, art, and heart of dictionary-making.

I have been passionate about dictionaries all my life. That passion was profoundly deepened when I discovered the story of the Oxford English Dictionary and the unlikely collaborators who created it, a tale I first told in The Professor and the Madman and then expanded upon in The Meaning of Everything.

In this class, I want to share some of the most intriguing, illuminating, and joy-inducing things I’ve learned about dictionaries. Among the questions I’ll address are: What was the first dictionary and how was it created? Who decides what gets included in a dictionary? How are words added and dropped? What’s the most surprising thing I’ve learned about dictionaries?  What role has dictionaries played in the dissemination and evolution of culture? What is the oddest word in the English language? What is the most commonly misused word? What’s my favorite word in English?

I’ll be joined for part of this journey by a longtime friend and fellow logophile, the writer and editor Don George, who will be asking me some of the questions that you submit in advance of the class.

I warmly welcome your questions, and very much encourage you to send in any queries you may have, in advance of the class.

Dictionaries have provided me with a lifetime of amusement and edification. I look forward to sharing my passion and my discoveries with you!

How Social Change Really Happens

Discover the five things I’ve learned about the life-changing power of diversity in the arts.

I am an author, filmmaker, media host, and Professor of Entrepreneurship and Leadership at Michigan. I have been named a MacArthur Fellow; recognized as President Obama’s first appointment to the National Council on the Arts; served as dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance; and been appointed to the Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs.

Connecting these achievements: My lasting commitment social justice and my ongoing devotion to The Sphinx Organization, the non-profit arts program I founded in 1997. Sphinx is dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts.

Our four program areas — Education & Access, Artist Development, Performing Artists, and Arts Leadership — develop and support diversity and inclusion in classical music at every level: music education, artists performing on stage, the repertoire and programing being performed, the communities represented in audiences, and the artistic and administrative leadership within the field. Today, Sphinx’s annual programs reach more than 100,000 students and artists. We also deliver live and broadcast programming to more than two-million arts lovers each year.  

In this 90-minute class, I’ll offer Sphinx’s inspiring story and my own, and I’ll share the five things I’ve learned about how social change really happens in the fields of the arts and creativity.

I’m eager to share what I’ve learned because I know the transforming power that shared artistic experiences bring to individuals, ensembles, and communities. I know the immediate challenges, and the lasting rewards, of putting structures in place that support artists and entrepreneurs. I’ve also learned how the entrepreneurial path of the artist — a path that demands ongoing excellence and re-invention — transforms the organizations and institutions of which they are a part.

I hope you’ll join me, as I share the ways that I’ve found the artist’s path sparks and sustains real social change.

Aristotle stated: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

When we’re together, I’ll share strategies for making artistic excellence a habit in your life, and I’ll share the powerful, life-changing things that I’ve learned happen as a result.

The Art of the Interview

Discover the five things we’ve learned from experience about the Art of the Interview.


Drawing on decades of experience conducting interviews onstage, for periodicals, and at home, this class is at heart about refining and deepening the art of conversation. How do we choose questions, structure them and at times remain silent so as to draw the most out of celebrities, strangers, even family members?

Pico has interviewed onstage such figures as the Dalai Lama, Elizabeth Gilbert, Werner Herzog and Annie Leibovitz. Michael has interviewed for magazines and newspapers Jane Goodall, Smokey Robinson and Francis Ford Coppola. Both have also studied—and interviewed—such master interviewers as Studs Terkel, Krista Tippett and Terry Gross.

Together, we’ll share the five things we’ve learned that most determine a great interview, approaching from many angles the practical ways of making all our interactions more illuminating and fresh: How do we put a new acquaintance at ease? How can we prepare extensively in advance and then allow a chat to go exhilaratingly off-script? How might one do richest justice to a job interview, on either side of the table? And how to bring forth an aging mother’s most heart-shaking memories?

We hope you will join us.

Writing Narrative Non-Fiction

Writing Narrative Non-Fiction

Discover the five things I’ve learned about writing and reading great non-fiction.


I’m an author, an analyst, and — currently — a Professor of Practice of Human Rights at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. But first, and always, I am a reporter. I write long-format narratives, mainly about war and the politics of conflict.

I’m a former Guggenheim Fellow, and in 2020 I was awarded the Black Dodd Prize, the American Academy of Arts and Letters highest prize in Non-Fiction. My award-winning book, The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria, has been translated into 30 languages. I’ve written seven other books on war and conflict, served as the Middle East Editor at Newsweek reporting mainly on human rights abuses and investigating war crimes, and been a frequent writer for The New York Times, the New York Review of Books, Harpers, Granta and The Guardian. 

Some of the greatest forms of literature come in the form of narrative nonfiction – in particular memoir and essay. I look forward to leading you through five things I’ve learned about this form.

In this live, two-hour class, I’ll talk about the essential role that great non-fiction narrative plays in shaping readers’ and writers’ understanding of the world. I’ll also share the most storytelling techniques I’ve found most useful in my own work: I’ll talk about the best ways to interview sources (including family members and voices from the past), and address each of the essential components of great narrative: construction, timing, research, pace, dialogue, and recall.

We’ll also talk specifically about memoir — about how to construct a compelling and successful narrative that shares the substance of your own life and what we all can learn from specific techniques of great writers including Joan Didion, James Baldwin, Barbara Skelton, Lillian Hellman. Together, we’ll look at thematic memoirs such as Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon, Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club and Lit; and also at some populist nonfiction, including Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. (I’ll share specific readings I’ll reference in this class in advance with you via email closer to the time of our live session.)

If you’re a writer, my aim is that when this class concludes you’ll be better equipped to make your non-fiction as successful as you want it to be. If you’re a reader, I hope all we share together will increase your continuing appreciation and enjoyment of great, essential writing.

I hope you’ll join me.

Crafting a Sense of Place

Crafting a Sense of Place

Discover the five things I’ve learned about the focal point of all great writing: Location. Location, Location.


How do the most successful writers so effectively transport their readers to another era, to another planet, to Timbuktu, or to a dark, rainy Paris street during World War II? To date, I’ve written 19 books in the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc series and a historical standalone, Three Hours in Paris. In the process, I’ve thought a great deal about how a strong sense of place can immediately engage a story’s readers and how essentially location establishes a story’s themes and characters, shapes its plot, and determines the narrative’s possibilities.

I live in San Francisco, but each of my Aimée Leduc mysteries are set in Paris. In part because I work so hard to establish an authentic sense of that wonderful city, I’ve been fortunate to be recognized for my writing. I’ve received multiple nominations for the Anthony and Macavity Awards, a Washington Post Book World Book of the Year citation, the Médaille de la Ville de Paris—the Paris City Medal, which is awarded in recognition of contribution to international culture—and invitations to be the Guest of Honor at conferences such as the Paris Polar Crime Festival and Left Coast Crime. I also know that my writing travels: With more than 400,000 books in print, the Aimée Leduc series has been translated into German, Norwegian, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, and Hebrew.

In this online class, I’ll share the five things I’ve found most essential to my own ability to establish a strong sense of place, no matter the subject or location. A good part of creating a vivid sense of place is linked to preparation: Each time I return to Paris I make a point of entrenching myself in a different part of the city, learning its secret history. I’ve posed as a journalist to sneak into closed areas, trained at a firing range with real Paris flics, gotten locked in a bathroom at the Victor Hugo museum, and even gone down into the sewers with the rats so that my heroine Aimée can complete the same journey in a way that feels genuine and authentic to my readers.

I’m hoping to share a couple of these wonderful stories with you, but our time together will focus on some other essential strategies you can employ to make the settings in your stories come alive for your readers. I’ll share the ways I research a location before I sit down to write — what I first need to understand about a place before I can even begin a draft, the kinds of details I search for to make things vivid for my readers, and how later I focus my research once writing is underway. I’ll share how I invoke the five senses to bring key details to live in my writing; and the ways I use emotions and feelings to deepen, contrast, or complement the story’s essential elements. I’ll also share my thoughts about what I call “writer’s immersion,” and how this technique helps me uncover the most important, most telling details that keep my story moving forward.

It’s a lot to cover in a single sitting, but I’m confident you’ll find our time together worthwhile. When our class has concluded, you’ll know what it’s taken me a long time to discover for myself about the ways that a strong sense of place establishes everything else in a story. If you’re a writer, the things I’ve learned are sure to help you to compose  your own more effective narratives no matter your subject or style—in fiction, non-fiction, memoir, or travel essay.

A strong sense of place anchors readers and draws them into the story. If you’re a reader, this class will give you a behind-the-scenes, personal glimpse at the ways my mysteries are crafted and assembled.

I hope you’ll join me.

How to Look at Art

How to Look at Art

Discover the five things I’ve learned about how artists and art lovers become really good at art.


Art is for anyone. It’s just not for everyone. I know this viscerally, as a would-be artist who burned out. Many people ask “How can I be an artist?” Or “How do I look at art?” I never went to school and have no degrees – other than three honorary PhDs. I spent decades as a long-distance truck driver (my CB-handle was The Jewish Cowboy) and didn’t start writing till I was forty. All this is by way of say that all of us are self-taught and that artand the confidence to understand artis best when it is most self-taught.

But how do you get from starting to make art or just looking at it seriously to being really good at it? There’s no special way. But to begin you need to understand art. How? Everyone takes a different path. I am still not sure what I’m doing. Yet over the years I’ve found myself returning to a handful of core ideas again and again. Most of these ideas come from the simple act of looking at art, then looking some more. Others come from listening to artists talk about their work and their struggles.

In this talk we’ll plumb art’s mysteries and depths. On offer will be nodes and nubs of advice, a kind of assemblage designed to take the listener from clueless amateur to generational talent or at least help you live your life as an artist or lover of art a little more creatively. Art, in all its forms, raises many persistent, strange, and even scary issues—challenges that can keep artists and onlookers intimidated, cynical, afraid to get started or to keep going. Even lifers like me. Don’t be afraid; or do be afraid and get on with it and to work anyway, you big babies. Smileface emoji.

Some of our fears of incompetence are circumstantial or learned:

What happens if you didn’t go to school for this? (I didn’t.)

What if you’re almost pathologically bashful? (Hi.)

What if you have impostor syndrome? (Almost everyone does; it’s the price of admission to the House of Creativity.)

Other questions are foundational:

Is the psychology of the work the same as the psychology of the artist? (Not really. And yet there must be a little bit of Jane Austen in every character in Sense and Sensibility, right? Just as there must be a bit of Goya in each of his monstrous figures. Or is there?)

How do you know if your art is working? (As painter Bridget Riley put it, “If it doesn’t feel right—it’s not right.”)

Deepest of all: What is art, anyway? Is it a form of consciousness? A tool the universe uses to become aware of itself? Is it a craft-based tool for the study of consciousness or maybe the greatest operating system our species has ever invented to explore the seen and unseen worlds? 

I say yes—art is all these and more. And your talent and desire is like a wild animal that must be fed.

With all these questions floating around unresolved, how does any aspiring artist take that leap of faith to rise above the cacophony of external messages and internal fears and do their best work? How does a would-be lover of art do the same?

That’s what we’ll be touching on. Please join me.

Writing Fiction

Writing Fiction

Discover your voice and the work you were born to create with one of the most widely read authors in the world.


I have written twenty-six books, eighteen of which are novels. I can say without bragging too much that I have some experience in this strange craft of writing. In this class, I will talk about the most important lessons I’ve learned about fiction writing in the last forty years.

First, I’ll discuss the distinctive characteristics and requirements of some literary genres, such as historical fiction, the crime novel, and young adult fiction.

Then, I’ll talk about my way of shaping a plot, which probably differs from the standard norm, but it has worked for me.

Next is research: What’s the best way to find the information needed to write your book? How do you use the information without overwhelming the story? Research is essential, but it shouldn’t be too obvious. When is it time to stop researching and start writing?

I’ll also discuss the challenges of creating characters that are believable, three-dimensional and complex, like real people.  Characters move the plot and sooner or later they have to talk, so I’ll discuss the role of dialogue in my fiction, when and how I use it.

For me, a sense of place is essential in a novel. I’ll talk about how I bring a place to life in my writing.

And finally, we will talk about the very act of writing: How do you instill discipline in your schedule? What should you do when you get stuck? How do you kill off characters you love? And how do you know when you’re done?

I’ll be joined for part of this journey by a trusted travel companion and my beloved friend, the writer and editor Don George, who will be asking me some of the questions that you submit in advance of the class.

I am passionate about fiction writing, and it’s my honor to share my experience with other writers, wherever they are in their own writing journey.  Maybe I can help a little to discover your voice and to write the work you were born to create.

I hope you’ll join me!

The Art of Stillness

The Art of Stillness

Discover the five things I’ve learned about opening up space in our heads, and in our days.


Long before the global pandemic, our lives were spinning out of control. More data and distraction than we knew what to do with. Less time to take care of anything essential. A post-human pace that we could survive only by not being quite human.

As we prepare to return to something like normal, will we find ways to live at a saner pace, with things more in balance? What might help us keep both calm and clarity alive? More and more people these days turn to meditation, or yoga, to qigong or mindful eating. But even for those not ready for a formal practice, there’s something gained—this strange season has reminded us—in stepping back from the rush, in taking a break, in going for a walk or losing yourself in a book, if only so as to remind yourself of what matters most and how to remain close to what truly sustains us.

Drawing upon 30 years of going on retreat (more than 90 times), 33 years of trying to live simply in Japan and 46 years of talking to the Dalai Lama, I’d like to share five things I think I know about opening up space in our heads and our days so that our moments feel unhurried and we can best deal with all life throws at us.

This class will call upon viewer suggestions, on personal experience and on the wisdom of the ages to try to offer concrete, practical tips that anyone can use to try to restore depth and intimacy to her life and to build up what is ultimately our most essential resource: an inner savings-account.

I hope you will join us.

Living and Dying During the Pandemic

Living and Dying During the Pandemic

Discover the five things I’ve learned about living meaningfully with death after our year of challenge and loss.


As I wrote in a recent year-ending editorial in the New York Times, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has done more than awaken us to the fact that we die. This personal, global disaster challenges us to honor the passing of others and to activate the role we each have in facing our own mortality. The shared loss and pain we’ve each experienced in the last year makes it harder than ever to follow our first impulses, simply to turn away from death. Covid-19 demands that we fold the prospect of death meaningfully into our lives.

As a hospice and palliative medicine physician and founder of Mettle Health, I devote my professional life to consulting and supporting patients and caregivers navigating serious illness. Now, in this online class, I’ll share the five essential lessons I’ve learned while helping others navigate serious health challenges for themselves or for someone they love. More than that, I’ll try as best I can to contextualize the essential things that have become even clearer to me over the course of the pandemic.

Some of what I’ll share I’ve been thinking about for a long time: For example, how my own experiences have shaped how I’ve come to think about death. I’ll also share the key themes of my book, A Beginner’s Guide to the End, Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death— which offers strategies for planning ahead, dealing with illness, getting help along the way, preparing for when death is close, and the practical matters that come after death.

But what I really hope to focus on is what I’ve learned even more clearly about living and dying since last March, when the pandemic began. I’ll explain how living in the face of illness can set off a cascade of realization and appreciation; how loss can be the force that shows you what you love and urges you to revel in that love while the clock ticks; and how I’ve often seen that reveling in love is one sure way to see through and beyond yourself to the wider world, where immortality lives.

I’ve come to see that the invisible threat we’ve been forced to face during the pandemic offers us a unique moment to look at the big picture of life I believe that the things I’ve learned might offer something of a mission statement for some ambitious and practical changes, ideas that can lead to something better for ourselves and for the people we’re connected to. I’d very much like to share these possibilities with you and to hear what you’re thinking and feeling.

I hope you will join me.

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