Primary Discipline: Literary
Areas of Specialty: Fiction, screen-writing, memoir writing, story structure
Based in: Bellingham
Jeff Bender was born in Philadelphia. He attended Davidson College (N.C.) on a wrestling scholarship and Columbia University’s MFA program on a writing scholarship. At Columbia, he studied with Amy Hempel and Sam Lipsyte. Wow—these 2 really opened his eyes.
In 2012–13, his story “The Guard,” won an Artist Trust GAP grant and Richard Hugo House’s New Works Competition. It later was published in The Iowa Review.
His work has been published elsewhere in McSweeney’s, Electric Literature, Guernica, Okey-Panky, Revista Letteraria (Milan, Italy), The Awl, Seattle’s City Arts, and elsewhere. He’s presented at the Chuckanut Writers Conference (Bellingham, Wash.), the Write on the Sound Conference (Edmonds, Wash.), First Person Arts (Philadelphia), and Columbia Selects (New York) and has earned residencies from Seattle Arts & Lectures, The Norman Mailer Writers Colony (Provincetown, Mass.), the Edward F. Albee Foundation (Montauk, N.Y.), and the Jentel Artist Residency Program (Banner, Wyo.).
He lives in Bellingham with his wife and 2 kids.
Because I view writing as both a grownup and childlike pursuit, I tend to address all of my students as if they were adults. (Indeed, some are.) I don’t change my tone of voice for, say, twelve-year-olds, because I want to promote the idea that I respect what they’re trying to do, that their personal experiences matter, and that each of them has something worthwhile to say. I prefer to work with adolescents and adults because, starting at about age twelve or thirteen, we are all part-kid and part-grownup. I want my students to approach writing both as adults and as kids: not only with a sense of self-awareness and honesty and what the great writing teacher Gordon Lish calls fairness; but also with a childlike silliness, imagination, and inhibition.
Some of my favorite media to teach are the memoir, the short story, and the vignette. While story structure is vital, I think the best point of entry, especially for new writers, is character—when the character comes onstage and says, “This is me (so far).” My students and I look at professional examples of entrances and move on to skills, which I encourage them to accept or reject according to their personal visions. We talk about obsessions, secrets, fears, character versus characterization, conscious goal versus subconscious goal, rising action, and the reveal. In revision, we talk about going back and planting seeds. I try to present each of these concepts as simply and clearly as possible. The writing itself will be challenging enough; I see little virtue in presenting skills that only some of my students will be able to grasp.
Suitable for Grades: 6-12
Preferred Grades: 6-12
Curriculum Integration Possibilities: Literacy, Reading, Writing
Languages spoken other than English: Spanish