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The Columbia Chronicle

Garnett Kilberg Cohen talks ‘Cravings’

Retired faculty member Garnett Kilberg Cohen, discusses her new short story collection and her experience teaching at Columbia during an interview at the Columbia Chronicle Newsroom on Sept. 22, 2023. (Nakea Love)

Last spring, Garnett Kilberg Cohen retired from a 35-year career at Columbia where she was previously a Chair and faculty member of the English and Creative Writing program. Her body of work consists of four collections of short stories and publications in magazines such as the New Yorker, Rumpus, Gettysburg Review, and many more.

Cohen sat down with the Chronicle to discuss her new short story collection, “Cravings,”  published on Oct. 31. The 160-page collection features stories with a strong focus on memory and grief. “Hors d’oeuvres” is the first story in the collection, featuring a woman reminiscing about a tragic childhood memory of her father.

She explained “Cravings” came from the idea that all her characters in the collection desire something that is always out of reach.

“What people want in life says a lot about who they are. If you want to be a professional journalist, that says a lot about who you are,” Cohen said. “If you want to be famous, that says a lot about who you are so that’s where ‘Cravings’ came from.”

In her thirty-five years at Columbia, Cohen is said to have been instrumental for the Creating Writing department’s nonfiction program.

“She was a really important presence in helping us begin a nonfiction journal we had for some years, so she was really important to the creative writing journals that were during her career,” said Kenneth Daley, Associate Professor in English and Creative Writing. “She was always in the center of that work and always promoting student work.”

She ran “Punctuate,” one of Columbia’s nonfiction magazines and class up until 2021 when it merged with the fiction and poetry concentrations to create “Allium, A Journal of Poetry & Prose”. In the class, she taught students how to edit literary work and how to run a literary magazine.

Since 1988, Cohen has taught hundreds of students in nonfiction and fiction classes. Before the tutoring center existed, she ran the writing center for six years in the early 90s’ in what was called “Writing Across the Curriculum”. Students of all skill levels were encouraged to visit.

“There were so many rewarding moments as a teacher here at Columbia. Sometimes when a student gets something published, it’s really rewarding. When a student says something I hadn’t thought of, that’s really rewarding,” Cohen said.” It’s rewarding seeing when they make a breakthrough in writing too. If they’re writing well and then all of suddenly I see a change. I can think of my last semester where two students made a breakthrough where their writing went from being kind of perfunctory to really original.”

CM Burroughs, associate professor for creative writing, spoke of Cohen, “Garnett is a friend to her colleagues, a champion of her students, and someone I value greatly—I’m excited for her life post-retirement, and I’m glad that we have her exquisite writing to keep her present in the Columbia community for many years to come.

Cohen will launch “Cravings” Nov. 8 at Women & Children First Bookstore in Andersonville.

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About the Contributors
Cesar Toscano, Opinions Editor
ctoscano@columbiachronicle.com   Cesar Toscano is a senior creative writing major. Prior to becoming Opinions Editor, Toscano reported on hip-hop night at the Subterranean, the Chinatown Summer Fair. He is a member of the Editorial Board and joined the Chronicle in June 2023.   Hometown: Mount Prospect, Ill.
Nakea Love, Photojournalist
nlove@columbiachronicle.com   Nakea Love is a senior photojournalism major, minoring in Cultural Studies. She covers art exhibitions and both campus and metro events. Love joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Schwenksville, Penn.