Photography by Danny Fulgencio.
Blake Kimzey always wanted to be a writer. He just didn’t know how. For years he labored in the cube farm, working tirelessly to the steady tapping of keyboards and attending meetings that would make even the most dedicated employees consider swallowing staples one by one.
It wasn’t until he enrolled in a nighttime fiction class at Brookhaven College in Farmers Branch that he found new life in fantasy worlds where people wore oxygen masks or grew gills and lived under water.
Kimzey took the class three consecutive semesters, and by the end, he had nine short stories, a mentor and a writing community to support him as he chased his dream.
“I was terrified. My own struggle was thinking that my writing wouldn’t be good enough,” Kimzey says. “If it weren’t for that Brookhaven class, I wouldn’t be a writer. It changed my life.”
Now, the Little Forest Hills neighbor is a published author with a passion for helping emerging writers develop their craft. In March 2017, he started Writing Workshops Dallas, an independent writing school that offers classes and seminars to writers, poets and screenwriters.
With more than 1,300 students, the school quickly outgrew its space at The Mix and moved to The Drawing Board in Richardson. Doctors, lawyers, mechanics and other working professionals meet there after work for eight-week classes that include assigned reading and homework.
Under the instruction of National Book Award finalists, New York Times best-sellers and other experienced writing coaches, many students go on to publish their first stories or gain acceptance into the best graduate programs.
“My passion in starting this was as much for the teaching artists as the students,” Kimzey says. “You have to practice what you preach, and seeing students turn in work inspires me. I recognize myself in them.”
After taking classes at Brookhaven, Kimzey moved to California and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from the University of California-Irvine. His fiction has since been broadcast on NPR, performed onstage in Los Angeles and published by Tin House, D Magazine and Vice.
His short story collection, “Families Among Us,” contains one of his favorite tales about a family whose Pan Am flight plunges into the sea. Years later, they crawl naked onto the shore, holding their luggage, after deciding to permanently abandon the fuselage that had been their home. They hear the waves crashing and feel the sun on their skin for the first time in decades, but they soon realize they miss the fluidity of the water.
Similar themes of family and loss appear throughout his published work, which includes nearly 50 short stories. Yet his rise in the literary world wasn’t without obstacles. Before going to grad school, he worked part time at Olive Garden to pursue his writing career. He was inundated with rejection letters before his first story was ever published.
“When I was working at Olive Garden, it was hard not to be discouraged or think that it wouldn’t happen,” Kimzey says. “When you submit work, you face a mountain of rejection. That’s why you need community. It fuels you for the next step of your journey.”
Connecting writers with other writers is one of the primary goals of Writing Workshops. At monthly happy hours, students and teachers gather at The Wild Detectives to celebrate success and encourage others in the face of rejection. Most who attend are students from the Dallas area, but some are international students who have traveled as far as India and Pakistan to take classes.
In July, Writing Workshops went global with its first event outside the United States in the heart of literary Paris. For centuries, the city has been a moveable feast for unknown artists hoping to cut their teeth in the literary world. Young writers from around the world followed in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and converged on Paris for the weeklong event.
Students honed their craft during the day, and at night, Kimzey brushed off his skills as a former Parisian bicycle guide and led the writers on a literary tour that left them feeling artistically refreshed.
“We hold people accountable for their dreams,” Kimzey says. “If you take a risk, take a workshop, you’re admitting to yourself and others that you have this dream. You never know where your experiences are going to lead.”