50th Stories: Office Space and Chatter

Celebrating 50 Years of Teachers & Writers Collaborative

Teachers & Writers Collaborative is turning 50 years old in 2017. To celebrate this milestone, we asked people who have been part of T&W’s work over the last five decades to tell their stories. Nancy Larson Shapiro, long-time T&W staff director and now chair of the T&W Board of Directors, shares memories from T&W’s early offices.

After moving from 186 West 4th Street (where our offices were converted to condos), T&W landed in a light spacious office at 84 Fifth Avenue in 1978. We shared the third floor with the New York Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Arts Intermix. From my perspective the best part of this move was that I met and married one of the NYCLU lawyers (Steve Shapiro), and when our son Sam was born, he often commandeered his circular walker between the offices. In 1984, though, T&W was forced to move again, and we found space at 5 Union Square West when drug dealers plied the Square, before it became the fashionable spot it is today. We had essentially one large room on the fifth floor, which we divided up with bookcases. The rest of the floor was occupied by what was left of an electrical business run by the three men-Eddy, Teddy, and Murray-who also owned the building. The three of them sat at old-fashioned machines with their one employee, Ethel, and made extension cords for their few remaining clients. We had a door in our space that led to the factory floor, and walking through that door was like walking into another century. (NOTE: In 1992 T&W moved to the seventh floor of the building and with a grant built out the space to create a Center for Imaginative Writing. We stayed there until our lease was up and the spiffy architectural firm above us took over the space in 2006.)

Our fifth-floor office was cramped but cozy-a hodgepodge of desks facing in different directions to create some sense of privacy. When Ron Padgett and Chris Edgar, our magazine and book editors, needed to concentrate, they wore headphones. This was early in the technological revolution, and the office essentially had one nice Apple computer set up on a long desk, which we took turns using. Now, we would rather have a setup like you might see that has office desks for your call centre-type premises upon which to position computers, papers and all manner of office supplies. There was an old Atari set up in the storage closet that could be used in a pinch. One corner of the space had metal shelves to the ceiling housing our books and packing area. A typesetting office and a mailing house off-site set and mailed the magazine. When we had artists meetings, we pushed the desks back to create a somewhat open space.

Writers would often come in to type up their diaries and their student’s work on our IBM Selectric typewriters. One day poet Sheryl Noethe was in the office typing. Despite the fact that there were about eight of us in the room, it was very quiet. Concentrating on her typing, Sheryl suddenly said loudly, “Does García Lorca have a hymen?” Silence, pause.

“I mean a hyphen!”

Tell Us Your T&W Story:
We want to hear your T&W story. Please send submissions-written reflections, videos, images-to 50thstories@twc.org by September 30, 2017. Thank you!

Nancy Larson Shapirois an educator and arts administrator based in New York City. She was the director of Teachers & Writers Collaborative from 1982 to 2007. She has worked and spoken exhaustively to advance the literary arts and co-authored to bookThe Point: Where Teaching & Writing Intersect(Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1983).