Spotlight: Esther Cohen

16Back by popular demand, Esther Cohen returns for her third year as an invited writer to the Hobart Festival of Women Writers. This year she will be teaching the two-day writing intensive Sing, Cry, Explore, Laugh, and Tell: How to Tell a Good Story.  (for a full workshop description)

Esther Cohen’s writing spans genres. She is the author of Don’t Mind Me: And Other Jewish Lies with illustrations by Roz Chast; the novels No Charge for Looking and Book Doctor; and two volumes of poetry, God Is a Tree and prayerbook. In 2000 she began Unseen America, an ongoing project in which homecare workers, migrants, nannies, and others among the working class tell their life stories through the photographs they take in their daily lives.   
15  18  17  God Is A Tree
Originally from New Haven, Connecticut, Cohen now divides her time between Manhattan and Cornwallville, New York. She blogs daily at  
Esther Cohen shared her thoughts on women needing a room of their own as well as her passion for collaborative projects with fellow returning Festival participant Stephanie Nikolopoulos.
Nikolopoulos: Your home is stunning with its overflowing bookshelves, backyard porch lit with candles, and outdoor shower. Virginia Woolf wrote that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she wants to write fiction.” What sort of “room” do you need, as a poet and novelist, both in terms of the physical space and the means and opportunity to write? 
Cohen: What I think we all need to write (I would NEVER EVER disagree with Virginia Woolf but it isn’t so easy to have a room of our own. Especially those of us who live with other people in small apartments. My desk for many many years has been on top of a radiator. When it’s too hot I move.) what we need to write is WILL. Where doesn’t matter. Although in the country I have more space than I’ve ever dreamed, I write on my bed, where I am now. I like my bed, and have always had one. My first story, in grammar school, was written on a bed too. My advice for other writers is to write. Where and what doesn’t matter at all. What matters is that you are able to put those words right there where you want them to be.
Nikolopoulos: What was the first poem you remember reading or hearing that made you appreciate reading and want to become a poet? What was it about that poem that spoke to you?
Cohen: My first poem that I remember (it was published in the Peck Observer, my grammar school paper) was this:
when spring springs, will we? 
I love so many poems and poets. It would be hard to pick just one.
Nikolopoulos: You’ve done several collaborative projects. For your book Unseen America, you gave cameras to the working class so that they could document their lives and you helped tell their stories. For Don’t Mind Me: And Other Jewish Lies, you worked New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chas. For Painting Brooklyn Stories, you contributed bio-poems to Nina Talbot’s portraits. What is it about collaboration that appeals to you? 
Cohen: Yes I have done many collaborative projects, all my life. I’ve written poems with visual arts like the wonderful Nina Talbot, I was lucky enough to collaborate with amazing cartoonist Roz Chast, and I’ve been doing an ongoing project for many years with my favorite photographer Matthew Septimus (our work is on the ON BEING blog on the NPR site at Other people often bring our own work Somewhere Else. Matthew’s pictures, for instance, take my words into another place, a place they want to go.
Nikolopoulos: You’re active on social media, publishing a poem a day on your website. How do you think social media helps you as a writer? What advice would you give other writers about how to use social media?
Cohen: I publish a poem a day (and I will try to write stories too) and how that helps I’m not sure. I’m not a good spokesperson for Social Media. In a funny way it seems a little anti-social. I don’t understand it much. Don’t even know what most of the words associated with it mean. 
The way I’ve always helped other writers (don’t ask me how I know how I do this. I can’t tell you.) is by helping them find their stories. I’m in love with stories, and am pretty good at finding them. Because I am entirely sure they exist. 
Cohen can help you find your story when you register for her two-day writing intensive Sing, Cry, Explore, Laugh, and Tell: How to Tell a Good Story. For more information, visit: 
REGISTER for Festival of Women Writers 2015 at:

Author: Breena Clarke

I'm the author of three historical novels that engage the lives and communities of culturally diverse characters. My novels are set among African American identified people in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. I am a co-founder and co-organizer of The Hobart Festival of Women Writers. I am on the fiction faculty of Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing at The University of Southern Maine.

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