Serpico Takes a Writing Class

I thought this tidbit in Corey Killgannon’s profile of Frank Serpico was pretty great:

After several frustrating attempts at collaboration with co-writers — “They just don’t get it,” he said — Mr. Serpico enrolled in a weekly workshop through an arts group in Troy, N.Y., where his classmates also do not always understand his stories. “How could they?” he said. “We have women in the class writing about their kids — they don’t know what a bag man is.”

Frank Serpico writes out the story of his life daily in longhand, at the cabin, then types the pages on a computer at the public library, using the two-finger method he honed filing arrest reports on station house typewriters, gathering the pages in a manila folder. The memoir begins on the night of the Williamsburg drug bust, his bleeding body cradled by an elderly tenant who called for assistance when his fellow officers did not, the narrator floating above and recounting the life path that led him there.

Writing groups, and writing classes, are funny things. Some of my best classes in college were on writing, but I can see how that might not be a precisely universal experience. Mark Salzman’s beginning of True Notebooks is all about how awful his experiences teaching adult-education writing classes were (one of his students called another student’s mother a bitch after the student read a story about how her mother slapped her father after discovering his adultery), though he ends up loving teaching in prison. I can only imagine what it must be like for Serpico to get critiqued by the housewives — and for them to get feedback from him. Do you think he tries to get them to write about corruption in nursery school admissions processes? Or gets them to blow the whistle on their co-op boards or something?