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Nancy Davidoff Kelton (WSC ’69)

Nancy Davidoff Kelton (WSC ’69) has taught writing at The New School for Social Research, New York University School of Professional Studies, Hunter College, and The Strand Bookstore. She has written seven books and essays for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Buffalo News, Newsday, Parents, Working Mother, More, Redbook, McSweeney's, McCall's, Next Avenue, and other publications.

Her books include Writing from Personal Experience and Finding Mr. Rightstein, a memoir from which she adapted a play. The play won Long Beach (CA) Playhouse’s New Works Festival 2023 and had a staged reading there in April 2023. Spark Theatre Festival NYC had a staged reading of the first half in November 2023. The play is called Everyone’s a Stranger.

Nancy grew up in Buffalo, NY. Her parents first brought her to New York City in 1957, when she saw the play The Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway. She was hooked on the theater and on New York. Buffalo figures heavily in Nancy’s writing. So does her Aunt Yetta.

Below, Nancy shares more about facing rejection, academic strengths (and weaknesses), and her fondest NYU memories.

What did you study at NYU, and what do you do today?

I majored in psychology and took many courses in literature. I am a writer and a teacher.

Tell us a fun fact about you.

I wrote essays and books for 50 years. My first published essay, "Lunchroom" in The Teacher Paper, 1972, was primarily a conversation between two first grade teachers I overheard when I was teaching

in a public school on the Lower East Side. For the next five years as an elementary school teacher, I wrote essays about my experiences in the classroom and four biographies—on Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Harry Truman, and the Wright Brothers—for young children.

At age 70, I began writing my play. 70. I LOVE writing dialogue. I hear voices. If I weren't a writer, I would probably be in a padded cell.

I have loved the theater since I was a child. I go often. Living where I do, I can walk to Broadway or off-Broadway theaters.

Nancy at a reading of her memoir

I love writing. I am passionate about sharing my stories and truths. Since college, I have been a freelance writer. I am a born revisor. I learned about rejections. When a theater said ‘no’ to my play, I revised it and continued to submit it. It is getting ‘yeses’ now.

I majored in psychology at NYU. I majored in persistence my whole life.

Writing and marketing a play is exciting and challenging.

I am not afraid of hard work. I am afraid of people who are afraid of hard work.

I think my play will have great productions. If I am in a nursing home or an assisted living facility when that happens, maybe the younger members of my family or my young aides will take me to the openings.

Nancy with the cast of her play

What are 3 words that define NYU for you?

Fun. Exciting. Eye-opening.


Share your most memorable moments from NYU.

Learning so much about people who were different from me. Learning about plays and books from inspiring English professors. Learning how bad I was in Chemistry and finding a lab partner who helped me through it and sat with me in Washington Square Park after class and lab (or instead of class and lab, when we “cut” them). Laughing whenever the Chemistry professor asked the class, “Is everything crystal clear?” He asked that often. Chemistry did not become clear to me.


What is your favorite place on campus?

The library. It was in the Main Building then. I worked there. I loved libraries since I was a child. When it wasn’t busy, I read. As an NYU writing instructor years later, I spent a lot of time at Bobst.

I loved Washington Square Park and sitting on benches people watching.

If you could take one more NYU class today, what would
it be? What was your favorite class at NYU?

I would take a class in film or art. I loved several classes: Child Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, several art history and literature courses.


If you could give one piece of advice to NYU’s graduating students, what would it be?

I would suggest trying to discover what excites them, not what excites their parents, and then pursue those things. If they do not know, they should explore what feels good, what makes their hearts beat faster, what makes them smile. There is no reason to rush into something or do what they think they “Should” do.



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