Julia Fierro launched her debut novel Cutting Teeth to a full house at Brooklyn’s BookCourt bookstore. Fierro, as the founder of Sackett Street Writer’s Workshop, has influenced the lives of more than 2,000 Brooklyn writers, many of whom had crammed into the store. Her husband, Justin Feinstein introduced her.
Fierro arrived in Brooklyn more than a decade ago with her husband–then, her boyfriend–hoping to sell her first novel. Many of her MFA classmates had already sold books and she expected to sell hers easily. It did not. Struggling financially as an adjunct, and feeling isolated from the writing community, Fierro launched Sackett Street Writers Workshop from her kitchen.
“Julia never stopped giving to writers and the writing community,” Feinstein says. She helped her students improve their craft and worked with them even after classes ended. He jokes that it was usually the men who lingered in her kitchen after class.
Fierro built her own literary community by continually giving back to the writers who entered her circle, and Sackett Street has produced many fine authors. As a result Fierro has been called “the mother of literary Dragons.”
The community around Sackett Street helped her too. After her first novel was rejected, she spent many years not writing. Only after years teaching students was she ready to come back to the craft. Cutting Teeth “exploded out of her,” Feinstein says.
“BookCourt is one of the few places I feel safe and happy,” Fierro says as she stands in front of the crowd. “They are my literary family.” She adds that if it wasn’t for all the writers in her life, she never would have returned to writing. Fierro says she had to retreat from the literary world for a time, and it was Sackett Street writers who brought her back to writing.
Cutting Teeth follows the narratives of a half dozen Park Slope parents. At first she worried maybe there would be parents who saw themselves in the characters, but really they are all just versions of herself. “There is part me in every character,” she says. She says that includes Rip, the father who enjoys fantasizing about the breasts of the mommies in his playgroup.
“Fiction starts about very close to real life,” Fierro says. But eventually as the narrative unfolds, it grows more distant from that reality. She says that one of the women in the story has more in common with a single, male, childless friend than any mother she knows.
Fierro makes writing, reading, and promoting her book look easy. In anticipation of her publication day, she launched a Tumblr, Parenting Confessional, that has since gone viral. She says she has no idea how that happened with genuine bemusement. Still, her success was not without challenges. She didn’t write for six years and she was teaching six nights a week. The hardest part though she says, was “just believing in myself.”
She says she gave herself the assignment–writing the novel–when her youngest child turned two. She doubled down on her babysitter, and committed to writing. The truly hard part, she says, is being a young mother leaving her children to write.