It's Friday night, and most of John Dufresne's colleagues and creative writing students are either unwinding from a long week of classes or working on their manuscripts.
But Dufresne is still in front of a class — only this class is free, no enrollment necessary. Just show up with a story, a scene from a screenplay, an episode from a memoir, or a chapter of that novel you've been working on, and it'll be sure to get critiqued by the class of more than two dozen aspiring authors, as well as by one of the nation's most respected creative writing teachers.
"I love talking about writing and thinking about writing, and I love the opportunity to get other people excited about books and about the creative process," says Dufresne, a professor at Florida International University.
"I see my job sometimes as simply demystifying the act of making up stories — it's not as difficult or miraculous as folks have been led to believe. But it is hard work. Hard and gratifying."
Dufresne should know. For two decades, he has mentored successful writers at FIU and traveled around the country teaching writing seminars. He has also broken down the craft of telling stories in two widely regarded books — Is Life Like This?, a step-by-step guide to writing a novel in six months, and The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction.
A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, Dufresne published his first book of short stories, The Way That Water Enters Stone, in 1991 to critical acclaim, and his first two novels — Louisiana Power and Light (1994) and Love Warps the Mind a Little (1997) — made the New York Times list of notable books of the year.
He hasn't stopped. His third novel, Deep in the Shade of Paradise, was published in 2002; a second short-story collection, Johnny Too Bad, followed in 2005, and the novel Requiem, Mass. in 2008.
"When I'm not teaching or writing, I'm reading, or I'm with friends talking about reading and writing and teaching," Dufresne says. "I'm working on a novel that I should be finished with, but it won't end — also a number of stories, screenplays, and am just taking notes for the novel to follow."
Though most of his books and stories are set outside South Florida, Dufresne says living here has shaped his work.
"My world and the world of my stories have become larger and more diverse since I moved to Miami, and I thank the city for that," Dufresne says. "I suppose the exposure to the varieties of human interaction here has made my fiction more honest and my themes more varied.
"I love the multicultural community we have here and the opportunities we have to experience and understand the many ways of being American and human. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else."