Life experiences shape Scott Nadelson's writing, teaching

by University Communications,

Scott Nadelson’s life began unraveling in 2004, when his fiancée left him for a drag king a month before their wedding.

That’s when he took up residence in a drafty attic. The brakes went out in his car, and he learned his cat was dying.

For two years, Nadelson struggled to reassert himself — enduring a slew of awkward dates and personal missteps along the way. Accounts of these experiences are shared in his new memoir, “The Next Scott Nadelson: A Life in Progress.”

Nominated for an Oregon Book Award, the book not only reveals a vulnerable and comic glimpse into Nadelson’s life, it’s helped this Willamette University English professor with his teaching.

“I don’t think I would have started writing nonfiction if I wasn’t teaching it,” says Nadelson, who’s taught at Willamette for 10 years. “I feel like I see my students take more risks and adventuring more in nonfiction than in any other genre. That’s spurred me along, and I think I’ve been able to spur them along also.”

Digging Deep

Ironically, Nadelson didn’t set out to write a memoir. He intended to write a fictionalized story of a breakup, based on a kernel of truth from his own life. The more the plot developed, though, the more he realized he was telling his own story.

“I was far enough past the break up that I had this sort of comic distance from it,” he says. “I really saw it as a comedy, and I was just having a blast writing it. The more revealing and the more uncomfortable I could make it, the more fun I was having.”

Nadelson is the author of several story collections, including “Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories,” “The Cantor’s Daughter,” and “Aftermath.” In his works, he explores the uneventful world of the New Jersey suburbs where he was raised, the search for identity and fulfillment, and the contradictory states of separation and assimilation found within American Judaism.

As a writer, he says he aspires to be known in a complex and profound way. But as a professor, he hopes to motivate his students to enjoy the pain and pleasure of creating something out of nothing.

“Alongside the students, I learned how to use my own material without inventing, fictionalizing or exaggerating,” he says. "My need for brutal honesty came from working with students on their own work.”

Inspiring Others

English majors Anna Fredendall ’15 and Sasha Ives ’15 have taken Nadelson’s teachings to heart. Not only is he genuinely interested in his students as people and writers, they say he’s thorough and thoughtful with his critiques.

“Scott structured his class in such a way that really pushed me to dig deeper and refine my work, and thus end with a stronger piece of writing,” Fredendall says. “Everyone should take a class with Scott. Everyone.”

Ives agrees, saying Nadelson helps his students investigate the stories their lives have given them. Because of him, she’s learned to never throw away anything she writes. She’s no longer afraid to share her work with others, and she’s grown to embrace the challenge of making mundane events come alive on the page.

“I have wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school and have struggled a great deal with insecurities about my work throughout the years,” she says. “I owe Scott much credit for being a large part of what encouraged and inspired me to pursue writing again. He truly cares, it’s as simple as that.”

Doing What He Loves

Both on and off campus, Nadelson finds ways to share his love of reading and writing with others.

He teaches a full load of creative non-fiction and creative writing classes at Willamette. He recently finished another novel he hopes to publish. He also spearheads the university’s Hallie Ford Literary Series, which brings notable writers, playwrights, poets and others to campus each semester to share their works and mentor students.

Through these and other pursuits, Nadelson strives to help his students develop their craft. He wants them to learn the importance of discipline, of making time to write long after they graduate. Above all else, though, he wants them to enjoy the process.

“Don’t think about the final product, love the process, love what you do every day,” he says. “If you can’t wait to get to the page when you wake up in the morning, then you’re going to do this forever.”