Idyllwild Arts Academy’s newest Creative Writing faculty member Paul Maisano moved to the mountain for his new role in August of 2022. Though he still thinks of San Francisco as home, Paul has lived and written all over the world. He spent half of his adult life in Asia, Africa, Europe, Mexico, New Zealand, living out the popular dream of traveling and writing around the world. “Moving is part of who you are,” says Paul. “I’m a chameleon. I just morph into the culture.” In this latest adventure, Paul intends to bring many of the world’s top writers to Idyllwild Arts, and bring Idyllwild Arts to the world, as part of “The Writer’s Life” series, funded by a grant from Idyllwild Arts’ Arts Enterprise Laboratory.
Paul studied East Asian languages at Columbia University, then went on to study Fine Art in Rome before moving to Wilmington, North Carolina for a writing MFA program. In his second year, he was encouraged to apply to the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He was accepted, and the opportunity to develop his craft alongside some of the best writers in the world left him feeling accomplished and ready to start his writing career when he graduated in 2016.
A summer retreat in Wyoming and a fellowship in Santa Fe helped him begin his debut novel, “Bindi,” which was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2018. Paul’s passion for teaching high school-aged students began later that year, when he started working with disadvantaged and depressed youth using yoga-based mindfulness practices. He went on to work with a research program at UCSF, which uses MRI technology to measure the changes in the brain before and after these 12-week mindfulness courses.
When he was chosen for a Writer-in-Residence position at Idyllwild Arts last year, Paul’s many interests converged. He was already familiar with the institution through family connections; his stepmother attended the Summer Program for Theatre 55 years ago. In his new role, Paul is eager to bring more mindfulness to Idyllwild Arts, claiming that “writing is a cousin to meditation.” His teaching philosophy centers around helping students make sense of a challenging and chaotic world by developing healthy relationships–both with others, and with their own inner thoughts.
From a practical point of view, Paul aims to make our young writers into better readers. “We practice close reading. We sit together and read stories. An important course I teach is Literature and the Writer, in which students learn to apply their own experiences and to expand their horizons by writing about more than themselves. I give them tools and space.” He thinks that creating plot and character comes back to being meditative. “My characters lead me. If I try to project myself onto them, I know I will have problems.”
With “The Writer’s Life” series, launched this semester, Paul aims to bring another tangible benefit to Idyllwild Arts Academy’s writing students. This ongoing series of masterclasses and readings from guest artists will give students the opportunity to learn from renowned professional writers in the industry. Guest writers so far have included Kelsi Vanada, Antonia Crane, Karen Bender, and Michael Narducci, and next week will feature Aimee Bender (with a public reading on Friday, April 7th at 7:00pm, also available by livestream here).