Workshop Leader Bios

Our Workshop Leader Community

The heart of NYWC is our talented and diverse pool of writers and social justice activists. These dedicated members of our community volunteer their time to lead weekly writing workshops, edit and publish NYWC workshop participants’ writing, and coordinate readings, book launches and other events that help bring unheard New Yorkers’ stories to new audiences. Bios of some of our current and recent workshop leaders are below. 

Maritza Arrastia is a Cuban-Puerto Rican writer of fiction, poetry, and screenplays. She reads her writing in arts, community, and academic spaces; has written, produced and directed screenplays, is the author of the novel Exile; and was recently anthologized in Breaking Ground. She is a recipient of NYFA fellowships in screenwriting and playwriting, and in fiction. Her website makes public her ongoing novel Todos; a collection of microcuentos; and some of her poetry. She is a worker writer who thinks of writing as liberation art and is committed to brining writing into her work as an educator and social justice activist. She has been with NYWC since 2014 and has been working, along with Elena Schwolsky, to build workshops in Sunset Park Brooklyn.

Kimberly Bliss is Philippine-born, Buffalo-bred, and Brooklyn-burroughed. She is very excited to be the new workshop leader at The Ali Forney Center. When she’s not killing it in fantasy baseball, she’s working on her novel.  Visit for more info, and check out one of her short stories here.

Leland Cheuk is a MacDowell Colony and Hawthornden Castle Fellow and the author of the story collection LETTERS FROM DINOSAURS (2016) and the novel THE MISADVENTURES OF SULLIVER PONG (2015. Cheuk’s work has been covered in VICEThe Millions,The Rumpus, and Asian American Writers Workshop, and has appeared in or is forthcoming in publications such as SalonCatapultJoyland MagazineElectric LiteratureThe RumpusKenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, [PANK] Magazine, among other outlets. He teaches at the Sarah Lawrence College Writing Institute. He is the fiction editor at Newfound Journal and the founder of the indie press 7.13 Books. He lives in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter @lcheuk and at

Victoria Cho is a Korean-American writer who was born and raised in Virginia. Her writing has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, The Collagist, Perigee, Quarter After Eight, Luna Luna, and Word Riot. She has been an NYWC workshop leader since 2009 and is also a VONA/Voices alumna. She lives in New York City.

Deborah Clearman led NYWC’s workshop for seniors at the 14th Street Y from 2003 to 2011 and now leads a workshop for women in jail at RMSC (aka Rosie’s) on Rikers Island.  Deborah served as NYWC’s Program Director for about 8 years, and in that time helped build NYWC from a small grassroots organization into one of the largest community based writing programs in the world. She wrote and illustrated The Goose’s Tale (Whispering Coyote Press) for children. Her short stories for adults have been published by various literary journals, including Beloit Fiction JournalConnecticut Review, Ginger Hill, Oasis, and Quality Women’s Fiction. She has also performed numerous public readings and story-tellings in New York City, at venues such as The Moth, The Pink Pony, Cornelia Street Café and others. Ms. Clearman has more than twelve years of experience teaching art and English as a foreign language, including a year in Todos Santos, Guatemala. Ms. Clearman has an MFA in painting from Indiana University and her paintings have appeared in galleries and exhibitions throughout the country. She is the author of the novel Todos Santos, published by Black Lawrence Press, and a story collection Concepción and the Baby Brokers and other stories out of Guatemala, by Rain Mountain Press. Check for info.

Michael Cooney has taught in high schools and community colleges in New York City and is currently a facilitator with the New York Writers Coalition. His short stories and poetry have appeared in Sundial, Bandit Fiction, Badlands, Bitter Oleander, Second Chance Lit, and other journals, and his novella, “The Witch Girl & The Wobbly,” was published by Running Wild Press in 2021.

Shanté Cozier joined the NYWC team in the spring of 2015.  She leads various workshops all throughout the year in Brooklyn including Brooklyn East Collegiate Middle School, Fort Greene Summer Festival and a manuscript critique workshop for adults at 80 Hanson Place.  She has received her MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York, where she focused on fiction and the art of short stories and novel writing. This aquarius is currently working on her first full length collection of poetry.

Ben Dolnick leads a drop-in workshop for adults at the Brooklyn Public Library, Central branch. He lives in Fort Greene with his wife and dog, and is the author of three novels and counting.

Frank Haberle‘s short stories won the 2011 Pen Parentis Award and the 2013 Sustainable Arts Foundation Award, and have appeared in the Adirondack Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Melic Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Necessary Fiction, Cantaraville, Hot Metal Press and elsewhere. Frank is a proud parent of three kids and a development professional with New York City nonprofit organizations . A former NYWC Board member, Frank now leads the Moving Pen workshop at University Settlement.

Marae Hart is from Eastern Iowa and has always loved to write for self-expression. She is the Nonfiction Editor at SLICE Magazine and has been a NYWC Workshop Leader since 2019. 

Deb Levine‘s writing for children, adults, and everyone in between has appeared in books, magazines, and online. Her books include the middle grade novels “The Saturday Cooking Club #1: Kitchen Chaos” (Aladdin, 2015), “The Saturday Cooking Club #2: The Icing on the Cake” (Aladdin, 2015), “Love Miscellany” (Skyhorse, 2012), and “Parker Picks” (Simon & Schuster, 2002). Deb is also the head of content & marketing for the global education network, Teach For All, and and was the editorial director for Nickelodeon’s award-winning website,, for over a decade. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two kids, and two cats.

Alison Lowenstein is a freelance writer and author of children’s books, guidebooks, and plays. She’s written for The Washington PostHuffington PostNarrativelyMcSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other publications and websites. Her fiction has appeared in FictionPortland ReviewMolecule Tiny Lit Mag(mac)ro(mic)101 Words, and other journals. You can find her on Twitter @cityweekendsnyc.

John Maney is originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, where he attended Macalester College, majoring in Religious Studies, and Sociology. In 1995 John moved to New York to pursue writing. While in New York he has attended poetry workshops at the Frederick Douglas Creative Arts Center, as well as through Cave Canum. John is a member of the New York Writers Coalition, and The Writer’s Room. He has published in the anthology HEAL, by Clique Calm Books; the anthology Testimony, by Free Spirit Press; and most recently in Art’s Buoyant Felicity, by Evolutionary Girls. He’s also had poetry appear in Sufi Magazine, and has a chapbook entitled Nkatie Wonu, by Broken Rose Publications. John has been featured in readings at several venues throughout New York City and State. Under the auspices of the New York Writers Coalition John has conducted creative writing workshops for formally incarcerated men and women at the Fortune Society, in Queens. He currently leads an ongoing workshop at the Port Morris Wellness Center, an addiction treatment program through Albert Einstein Medical College in the Bronx.

Carla Murphy is a storyteller, and intrepid social justice journalist who for more than a decade has been telling stories that explore the interconnections of race, class, status and power in low-income communities of color. Born in Barbados, educated in New York and London, she has reported in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, tracked economic development and labor organizing in the US and abroad, reported on police violence long before it became a major headline, covering criminal justice policies in New York, Baltimore and other cities, and addressed race and class bias in the press. She has been a fellow of The Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute, a staff reporter for and a producer for the talk radio host Brian Lehrer. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Columbia Journalism Review, The Chicago Reporter, The Christian Science Monitor, O  and other publications. She is an editor for Echoing Ida, a project of Forward Together that aims to amplify non-mainstream voices of black women and non-binary writers in media.

NYWC Workshop Leaders celebrate the launch of “What If Writing Is Dreaming Together?"

Melody Nixon is a New Zealand-born writer living in Harlem. Her essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Conjunctions, Cura Magazine, Midnight Breakfast, No, Dear Magazine, Hoax Publications, and The Appendix, among others. She is the Interviews Editor of The Common, Co-Founder and Editor-at-Large of Apogee Journal, and co-curator of the First Person Plural Reading Series–Harlem.

Tasha Paley an Expressive Arts Therapist,  uses writing, drama, play  and art as a way of healing herself, helping others to heal, and as a way  of building and celebrating community. Facilitating NYWC workshops is, for her, absolute joy! Tasha  has written and illustrated children’s books and performs with Village Playback Theatre, an improvisational theatre  company that invites audience members  share their  real life stories which the ensemble brings to life, on the spot  with the use of music, drama, spoken word, and movement.

James Peele has been a writer for over 10 years. He was a participant of NYWC workshops for six years before becoming a workshop leader himself. The author of the story collection After an Eon, James is currently writing the sequel: And Beyond.  He’s also collaborating on a stage adaptation of one of his stories and is producing a short film. As a visually impaired writer James feels gratitude to pursue his art with a wonderful community. He considers himself an enigma wrapped in a riddle, as an author who cannot read or write. James lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Paul Rozario-Falcone is a Singapore-born writer who calls Brooklyn home. He has published eight books of nonfiction, including a travel guide based on the 15th century voyages of Chinese admiral Zheng He. He was the co-founder of the first Singapore Literature Festival in New York, as well as the Second Saturdays Reading Series, both devoted to Singaporean and American literature in the city.

Cory Schneider is a teacher and writer living in Brooklyn. By day, he teaches middle school English in Manhattan. By night (or weekends…or whenever), he writes short fiction and personal essays. He’s worked in the social justice space of education for several years, developing programming that helps students and schools build partnerships with nonprofit organizations. In a previous life, he worked in publishing. Since then, he’s better off writing books and not editing others’.

Elena Schwolsky is a lifelong writer and social activist who joined NYWC in 2014.  She is currently co-leading, with Maritza Arrastia,  “Cosechando Cuentos.” a Spanish language workshop for immigrant women who are members of worker-owned cooperatives in her neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  Elena’s writing is informed by more than 30 years of work as a nurse and community health educator including 10 years spent as a pediatric AIDS nurse at the height of the epidemic. Elena currently works as a consultant and trainer for a variety of community health education projects in New York City and has trained peer educators in Cuba and Tanzania. Her essays and stories have appeared in the American Journal of Nursing, The Veteran, and the anthology Storied Dishes:  What Our Recipes Say About Who We Are, and she is at work on a memoir exploring the intersection of her personal and professional experience in the AIDS epidemic.

Rona Tamir is an Israeli born, Brooklyn based screenwriter for TV and film, writing—mostly comedy— in English and in Hebrew. Before moving to the US, Rona was a staff writer on various political satire and sketch comedy shows on Israeli TV and hosted Israeli radio shows. As someone who by definition works alone, Rona cherishes every opportunity she gets to write alongside other people.

Anthony Vasquez is a Brooklyn native and self-employed dog walker. When he isn’t busy spending time with his furry pals, he enjoys a good brisket sandwich, writing poetry, and trying the latest DIY project.

Arnine Cumsky Weiss teaches deaf and hard of hearing children. She is the author of two novels, The Undefeated and She Ain’t Heavy and four books of non-fiction related to bar and bat mitzvah and converting to Judaism. Last summer she assisted with a workshop in the South Brooklyn’s Children’s Garden led by Nancy Sanchez-Taylor which had several future leaders of the free world and at least one future presidential hopeful.

Avra Wing is the author of the young adult novel After Isaac, praised in Publishers Weekly as a “complex story of life, love, grief, and recovery.” Her first novel, Angie, I Says, was made into film Angie starring Geena Davis and James Gandolfini. Avra’s poetry has been published in numerous journals, including Crab Orchard Review, Hanging Loose and Michigan Quarterly Review, and her collection, Recurring Dream, won the 2011 Pecan Grove Press Chapbook Competition. She leads a workshop at the Center for the Independence of the Disabled, New York, and has also led a NYWC poetry-writing intensive. You can find her at

Marcie Wolfe is a life-long literacy educator and teacher of writing. She has written alongside adults and youth in a variety of settings including schools, community-based and worker-education programs, and universities. Marcie joined NYWC in 2018 after her retirement from Lehman College, CUNY. In 2019 she led a memoir series at the Kingsbridge Library and, since the beginning of the pandemic, has led a weekly workshop online. Over the past 18 months she has offered more than 100 prompts in this virtual forum and has been inspired, delighted, and moved by participating writers’ creativity and courage. Marcie’s own recent writing and mixed media art projects often draw from her experiences growing up in a Brooklyn housing project. Since the 1990s her heart and home have been in Washington Heights.

Rhonda Zangwill is a writer and editor in New York City. She has led creative writing and storytelling workshops for a number of underserved groups, including incarcerated women and men, seniors, disabled adults, ESL students, and veterans.  She also has worked with people of many backgrounds in drop-in workshops at public libraries.  She has published her own work in several literary journals and given readings in venues in New York City and beyond. Rhonda currently leads a seniors workshop for NY Writers Coalition, and is delighted to help participants express their creativity and to build writing communities that are encouraging, safe and welcoming.

Kip Zegers is from Chicago, educated at John Carroll University and Northwestern University. He was a VISTA volunteer living and working in Central Harlem from 1966-67 and then attended Union Theological Seminary, applied for and received Conscientious Objector status. He has published four full length volumes and six chapbooks, most recently The Poet of Schools, Dos Madres Press, 2013 and The Pond in Room 318, Dos Madres, 2015. He taught at Hunter College H.S., a public high school for gifted students, for 33 years, and his work continues to grow out of New York City, school, and kids.