By Stuart Pennebaker
Gotham teacher Philip Cioffari is prolific.
A writer with five published novels, a short story collection, and pieces included in publications such as Southern Humanities Review and Playboy, plus numerous scripts and an indie feature film, which won Best Feature Film at the Long Island International Film Expo.
It’s mind-boggling that Philip has much free time, or has ever been flirted with by writers block. However, Philip has much wisdom to impart on both. In fact, his first play was written during a time when he wasn’t finding his flow with fiction.
“I got into writing plays, because not much was happening with the fiction that I was satisfied with,” Philip says. “I took playwriting classes and I wrote a number of plays in the nineties, and that's how I kind of backed into playwriting.”
Eventually, Philip wrote a full-length play that was performed at an Equity theater in the Bronx for almost a year. He then turned this play into a screenplay, which he directed.
But fiction is Philip’s first love. He became interested in writing as a nine-year-old while listening to mysteries and other stories broadcast on the radio, and he hasn’t wavered from his desire to tell a riveting story since. Many of his novels are tension-filled mysteries set in the Bronx, where he grew up.
“I can't write something unless I find some kind of personal connection to it, which might be a little kernel of truth that I build on,” Philip says. “Now, that does not mean that everything in the book is true, of course, just a starting point or an emotional connectivity that gets me going, and then I get into the material and the material becomes what it wants to become.”
When he isn’t writing or teaching, Philip takes theater classes, another way he develops new material. As a writer, he finds the community and connection valuable.
“On a regular basis, I do take theater classes,” Philip says, “not because I have any real interest in becoming an actor, but because I like being around people who are trying to express themselves and express the hidden parts, or the deeper parts, or the harder to express parts of themselves.”
He also finds this kind of connection in his classroom, where he teaches fiction. He describes his students as, “people who are trying to, or need to go beyond the ordinary, so they may have other jobs in whatever field, but there's something more that they want, that they're trying to find through writing.”
Philip isn’t afraid to try something new for the sake of the stories he tells, and he is always on the hunt for inspiration. He has read hundreds of plays and appreciates the visceral, rich language of Southern writers such as Carson McCullers.
His connection to the world around him, creativity, and ability to tell a story full of anticipation will be evident in his forthcoming novel, Night and Its Longings, which he has recently finished revising. This story follows a crime writer who is asked by a husband—whose wife he’s in love with—to find the wife when she vanishes.
“I wanted to write a different kind of story,” Phillip says. Time and time again he has done just that.