Rafi Zabor

Author of the PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel The Bear Comes Home, and the memoir I, Wabenzi.

As a writing coach, I work collaboratively In regard to your work. If I know what needs doing, I’ll get on your frequency and help you do it. If I don’t know what needs doing, I’ll tell you so, and that’s that. I have a real love of bringing good work forth. I love to see it happen, and I’ve helped writers get through that process to where they wanted to be.

How did it get to be this way? It’s a reasonable question.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn and I’m living there now, though in the years between I lived around this country and also abroad—England, France, Turkey, Israel—partly in search of the experience, and a more capacious point of view, that might give me something more interesting to write about. I went to Brooklyn College and graduated with a B.A. in English. There I took a couple of writing classes that gave me a lot to work with in the succeeding years, but I decided, a bit romantically perhaps, to go to school in the world rather than in an MFA program—they were thinner on the ground than they are now. So I got out there, lived adventurously, got into trouble and out of it, and experienced a larger world than I would have, had I stayed home. Times and possibilities are different now, and university writing programs are better organized and more diverse than they used to be, with a lot of good writers teaching in them; and it’s not only “Writing Program fiction” that comes out of them, either. But I think it’s your life-experience outside the classroom and inside yourself that will provide the key and substance to what you can usefully bring out from yourself and into the world.

Rafi Zabor is an extraordinary teacher. I recommend him with great enthusiasm. He teaches with wisdom and kindness, and an encyclopedic knowledge of literature, both contemporary and classic. I have experienced his skills as a teacher firsthand in a semester advanced writing workshop at the Unterberg Center of the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. In the classroom, he has a commanding presence that inspires students and energizes discussion, pushing us to aim higher, work harder, and delve deeper.

The writing assignments he devised challenged and brought out the best in each author. The care with which he read and listened was exceptional, and I continue to come to him for advice on writing. His patience for line edits is a rare gift, and his comments astute and helpful.

He is in a league by himself in his writing. His first novel won the PEN/Faulkner Award for his novel, The Bear Comes Home. It is a masterpiece, and his second book, I, Wabenzi, a memoir published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, is also a major achievement, a complex and nuanced account. He has a new novel his agent is circulating now.

I wholeheartedly recommend Rafi Zabor. I have studied at Columbia for my MFA, and SUNY for my PhD in writing, and I have never had such a wise and generous mentor.

Holly Woodward

I am writing to highly recommend Rafi Zabor as writing coach. I attended a workshop Mr. Zabor taught in 2017 and 2018, and have continued to utilize his invaluable services since.

He brings a musician’s ear, an intensely creative and analytical mind, and a passion for compelling storytelling to everything he does. Zabor’s vast knowledge, dialectical dexterity, and the improvisational nature of his presentations enliven and broaden the discussions in class, and his deliberate care makes you feel individually tended to. His dizzying command of details and apt social critiques inspire me to read, write, and live more thoughtfully and fully. 

I came to Rafi as a writer who had some measure of talent but who’d lost discipline and inspiration to write. I’d always felt constrained by the unspoken rules of the workshops at Vassar and Columbia. I still possessed that adolescent voice in the background of my mind which always cheered for destruction. I wanted my writing to be in a position where it was entertaining and absorbing enough that I didn’t feel the need to question the endgame. Simply put, I was still an emotionally immature writer. Thankfully, Rafi’s guidance changed this. He forcibly nudged me to confront my conditioned assumptions and limitations, and I broadened my perspective in form and content. A fiercely intelligent and admirably adventurous person, Rafi is relatable and accessible. He urged me to grasp onto my own personal truth and stand with it. Rafi’s teachings for me were an entry point into a new world of unforeseen sensibility.

He provides inspiration, accountability, and thoughtful analysis. His engaging discussions form a call and response method with his students. His openness and readiness to adapt to students’ questions and opinions lend a strong sense of respect and enthusiasm. His personality and compassion shine through everything he does. He possesses an exquisite consideration for all. I recommend Rafi Zabor without reservation.

Robert Clouser