Binnie Kirshenbaum's mother was a teacher. Her mother very much wanted her to be a teacher, too. Her mother said, “How about this? If you teach, you’ll have your summers off to write.” Her mother said, “You can’t be a waitress for the rest of your life.” She said, “I would rather be a waitress for the rest of my life than spend one day as a teacher.”
She was a waitress by night, leaving her free to write every day, not just in summer. Other than her writing, she needed to concern herself only with bringing Table 2 more bread. She made the right decision. A collection of her short stories was published. Now she was a published writer and a waitress. When she published her first novel, she hung up her waitress apron, and got married to someone who had a job with health insurance. After publishing her second novel, she got a phone call, out of the blue, asking if she’d like to teach a workshop in the MFA program at Columbia University. Teach? No. She was never going to be a teacher; it was practically a vow. But to teach a fiction workshop at Columbia was tempting, very tempting. She grappled with herself. She agonized. What should she do? Her husband wisely said, “Say yes. If you hate it, you can quit.” That was in 1998. In 2002 she became a Professor of Professional Practice and was then promoted to full professor. It’s fair to say that didn’t hate it.
For two years she was the Director of Fiction, and then for four years, she served as the Chair of the Writing program. Her tenure as chair was a productive one. She came up with the idea of producing an annual anthology that would contain student writing in a beautifully produced book that was both artifact and yearbook. She oversaw the production of The Thesis Anthology for six year. She introduced the Literary Translation component whereby, in addition to their specific genres, students can study the art of literary translation, as well as participate in Word for Word, an international translation exchange program for student writers. She pioneered the concept and implementation of Master Classes, which are 4 and 6 week courses of particularly sharp focus. She initiated the first Teaching Fellowships for the MFA students to teach creative writing to Columbia undergraduates. During her time as chair, the new permanent faculty hires were: Susan Bernofsky, Victor LaValle, Dottie Lasky, Donald Antrim, Phillip Lopate, Deborah Eisenberg and Richard Ford. Then she rested. She is currently again Director of Fiction and teaching workshops and seminars.