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Some students like a lot of direction; some want to be free to rove off in their own field. It’s like church is for me—a sacred space where we are listening to each other so attentively and revering our shared experience. But, the social aspect, having people respond to your work with joy and pleasure, laughter and attentiveness—it’s a place in the university where we are with each other in a very meaningful way, I think. Then, I’m reading literary magazines, manuscripts for friends and colleagues.AH: HS: The projects are all at various stages of completion. Some can’t walk at all, so they need to be carried—you can’t ever really set this one down. Then, I’m reading for the textbook—always trolling for the pieces that will teach the strategies best. I’m devoted to The New York Times and The New Yorker. I like books about creative process and philosophy of pedagogy. Whereas a Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing places central emphasis on students’ practice of their craft, an undergraduate program complements the study of writing with a rigorous study of literary works.
The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) recognizes that colleges and universities have different strengths and missions, and AWP encourages innovation and variety in the pedagogy of creative writing.
Among its member programs, however, AWP has recognized common elements of an effective BFA program in creative writing.
An undergraduate course of study in creative writing gives students an overview of the precedents established by writers of many eras, continents, ethnicities, and sensibilities; it gives students the ability to analyze, appreciate, and integrate the components that comprise works of literature.
By creating their own works, student writers may apply what they have learned about the elements of literature.
The hardest part is the permissions process—making sure every author is fairly compensated for his or her work.
It is expensive and labor-intensive and deeply gratifying.AH: HS: I don’t have a favorite writing exercise—I don’t know about writing exercises. In the introductory course, I see the students as writers and my job is to set up deadlines and guide them—we tackle form, working in a poetic tradition where you try out all these different recipes for poems. Part of the value is just having someone seeing the work, and knowing it—it helps you see it better. It’s great to have someone who can listen—they don’t really even have to say anything; you can feel what’s horrid, just being there, reading. It’s hard for the students to find true peers sometimes.I wouldn’t assign writing just for practicing a skill, I don’t think. I see us making art, and I will offer suggestions on what they might try when they choose their subjects, but the artist gets to pick what she wants to work on. I also have a writing group, and those discussions—these really smart wonderful people who read so carefully, so closely, so deeply—what a rare and lucky thing it is to spend Sunday evening in a living room, with the work. And, I hear students maybe not quite certain how to know and put into words commentary that will be helpful. HS: Much of my time is spent reading the works of my students.I take classes every year, and I am able to update and refine the teachings in the book based on the new things I learn about how do creative writing.I’m super interested in creative process and strategies for helping students who don’t read widely figure out a way to give language to complex thoughts and feelings.I never feel I’m working enough, or learning enough, or reading enough. I don’t like to talk about the work—forgive me for dodging your question. I don’t like to talk about the specific pieces before, during, or after. To cultivate that expertise, a strong undergraduate program emphasizes a wide range of study in literature and other disciplines to provide students with the foundation they need to become resourceful—as readers, as intellectuals, and as writers.The goal of an undergraduate program is to teach students how to read closely as writers and to engage students in the practice of literary writing.AH: HS: My students love a lesson I learned from Dylan Landis who learned it from Tony Earley, going cold, though I think I teach it differently from what they have in mind.Going cold means that when you are writing something with high emotion, you pull way back on the feeling on the page, so as to engage the reader more fully. I like all the categories, and I am interested in the play of all the shapes.