Cynthia Zarin is a Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing. She currently teaches “Profiles and Portraits” and “Writing the Contemporary Essay.” Born in 1959, she graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and received an M.F.A. degree in writing from Columbia. Her collections of poetry include “The Swordfish Tooth” (1989), “Fire Lyric” (1993), and “The Watercourse” (2002), the last of which was selected for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She has also written extensively for the New Yorker and was a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship awardee.

Writing today needs more …

Reading. Books are the best teachers. And revision. I never get anywhere until at least the third draft.

If you could meet one character from a novel, who would it be?

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey. I love mysteries. How wonderful that someone else figures it all out!

If you could ask President Obama one question, what would it be?

Stop pandering?

You can’t live without?

Alas, I have to say it, coffee.

What is your favorite word and why?

I remember being asked that question in third grade and answering: meander. I still like it, a wandry word with the taste of mead. I don’t think I’ve ever used it — written down, that is. Too shimmery.

How do you take your coffee?

Regular, no sugar. But I’m from New York.

What’s the most difficult piece you’ve ever had to write?

Whatever comes next! In the past, probably a profile I wrote for The New Yorker about Madeleine L’Engle, who turned out to be someone other than I thought she might be. But that’s always true.

Do you have a Facebook account? Why or why not?

No. It wouldn’t occur to me.

What is your favorite memory of Yale?

With a group of students, turning a class assignment, “Twenty Questions” in English 457 (“Profiles and Portraits”) into a one-act theater piece performed at the JE Theater.

If you could go back to college now what would you do differently?

I wouldn’t worry so much about what people thought of me. Now, that was preoccupying!

What’s your favorite New Haven establishment?


The most embarrassing moment of your career was …

Interviewing a naked woman posing as Lady Godiva. She was riding a horse.

What advice do you have for Yale Students?

Find something you love and do that. Be kind. Listen.

Most importantly, why is Yale better than Harvard?

Well, well. Do we have to go there? Aren’t you all tired of that question yet?