Breaking Out of Our Literary Shells

It feels impossible to coalesce the Creative Writing major thus far – at least from my perspective as the instructor – in a few paragraphs. Already, I could write a novel grasping, articulating, and highlighting the profound genius I have witnessed in my students’ poetry and prose. Each day feels like a mic drop, another moment when a student writes or shares a thought, idea, or well-crafted piece of writing that has the whole class awed, laughing, or deeply, deeply moved. Each day I look out into an ocean of not only my students, but also one-day colleagues and peers.

An exercise that most stunned myself and our indefatigable, incomparable, and irreplaceable TA Michelle Kats, was this past Wednesday when we learned about and wrote “Hermit Crab” essays. I had no idea what a Hermit Crab essay was until I got to BIMA; one of the students, who was here last year, told me about them, as did Michelle. So I researched and learned: a Hermit Crab essay is a personal essay disguised within the shell of something else – a menu, or an instruction manual, or a letter, a playlist, an obituary, a multiple choice test, etc.

So, on Wednesday, we brainstormed “shells” and types of formats one would not usually consider creative writing. The list was massive and covered the entire chalkboard. Then, we looked at examples, including what the aforementioned student wrote last year in the Creative Writing major. Then, we made a list of five to 10 significant moments or experiences in our lives. Next, we looked up at the chalkboard and began to pair the aforementioned “shells” with three of our life experiences. And then, we wrote. Forty minutes per life experience – we wrote.

I had them eventually pick one that they would be required to share with the class. Thus far, I hadn’t yet required that everyone must share their writing, so a few students had yet to share their brilliant craft. So Wednesday was a special moment and shift. After breaking off into pairs to peer-edit their work (this is one of their favorite things to do – breaking into small groups for peer editing!), they made changes, and read their work aloud.

I was, as I said before, stunned. From the menu of types of boys a student knows at their high school, to a multiple choice test for how to be healthy, to a list of how to take a hike in Israel amidst a siren blast, each and every student – all 13 of them – changed the literary game.


Caroline Rothstein

BIMA Creative Writing Faculty

Back to Basics: Farm-to-Table Food

The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.

Joel Salatin, Folks, Farmer and Author of This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

Genesis Culinary students began day two of their course with a reading and discussion of the above quote. This short yet poignant observation of our modern food system begs the question: Why is there such a disconnect between the land and the supermarket and how does this disconnect affect how we eat or think about food? As curious cooks and aspiring home-chefs, these are the questions we must ask ourselves whenever we prepare a meal.

image1To dig deeper into the subject, we went straight to the source and paid a visit to Brandeis University’s extraordinary rooftop farm. Located on a hidden mezzanine near the science labs, the rooftop farm grows entirely from milk crates filled with soil and provides enough produce each week to feed over a dozen families and has the potential to feed many more. Launched in 2015 thanks to a student-led initiative, the farm is maintained by a group of volunteer student organizers, one of whom gave us an in-depth tour of the rows of kale, melons, cucumbers and tomatoes currently in season.



Participants harvested sweet and hot peppers, tri-colored carrots and a range of fresh herbs to bring back to the kitchen classroom, where we paired up and honed our knife skills. Quietly and patiently we improved our dicing and mincing.  We learned to julienne peppers and chiffonade herbs and the room filled with the incredible aroma of hyper local vegetables. Tonight, as we settle into dinner in the dining hall, we will no doubt think of the farm, and the farmers, that made our meal possible.


Liz Alpern

Genesis Culinary Art and Anthropology

Adapting to Brandeis, BIMA, and a New Home

At around two thirty on an afternoon at Brandeis University, Massell Quad hums with the quiet sounds of people enjoying the pleasant respite from the scorching heat that has taken up the past few days. The soft green of the trees above us creates a canopy of sparse shade, and the pond shimmers with the gentle breeze in the sunlight. People sit with guitars and clarinets and other instruments that I couldn’t name if I tried, and the layered melodies combined with the wind and sun creates a blissfully peaceful atmosphere.

A tour group slowly makes their way around the pond, the tour guide reciting facts about the campus I realize, with a jolt, I already know. Its funny how a place can change so much in your eyes in the course of two weeks. When I first got here, the Brandeis campus posed a challenge, a map full of places to get lost or mistakenly open doors not meant to be opened, but already, I see this place as somewhere familiar and comforting. Already, I pride myself on knowing what the tour guide describes.

We have been at BIMA/Genesis for two weeks now, and in what seems like such a short period of time, the friendships that have been formed are astoundingly close-knit and true. And the best part is– we aren’t finished yet! No doubt, in the following weeks, the relationships we have started will continue to thrive, and new connections will be made every day. The Brandeis campus, for me at least, has transformed from a daunting map to a home.

Gavi Klein,

Berkeley, CA

BIMA Creative Writing