With majors in English literature, English-secondary education, publishing and editing, and creative writing, the Department of English and Creative Writing is a vital hub for the written word. The department has a unique structure: we have co-chairs in English and creative writing: Laurence Roth heads English and the majors under its umbrella; Glen Retief heads creative writing. Faculty work together across the department, but much of the service that we do breaks along disciplinary lines. Creative writing faculty most often do service for the creative writing major and English literature faculty perform service for the majors housed with English: literature, publishing and editing, and English-secondary education.
If we think of service as stewardship of inherited structures and strategic cultivation of future structures this breakdown makes sense in terms of focusing faculty time and energy into majors and programming that serve specific students. As such, my main service to our large department focuses on the creative writing major (you can view this webpage here) and the Writers Institute (and you can view this webpage here), which is both the physical building that houses our creative writing offices and classrooms and the umbrella under which we put our visiting writers series, our literary journals, and other beyond-the-classroom activities.
Stewardship of Inherited Structures
With the creative writing major and beyond-the-classroom activities of the Writers Institute we have inherited powerful structures that recruit, maintain, cultivate, and empower Susquehanna students. Post-tenure I have worked to provide strategic direction in stewarding these structures through curriculum development, engagement in Writers Institute activities, and recruitment activities.
Curriculum Development: I have developed our curriculum both within the major and as a way of offering creative writing WRIT courses to the central curriculum. Within the major I initiated curricular reform to add an intermediate level workshop to our curriculum and to tighten what our majors would take as creative writing electives. Prior to this reform students took only one intermediate level course and now they take two courses. Creative writing students had also been able to take ENGL 205, a general literature course, to satisfy an elective requirement for the major. To make this more rigorous we restricted the requirement to a higher level course. In addition, as I mentioned in my Teaching: Poetry Workshops page, initially the poetry track of our major did not diversify at the intermediate level, offering only one type of intermediate poetry course. I transformed this pattern such that intermediate workshops are offered on the lyric poem, the prose poem, and the narrative poem. Both of these curricular changes make our creative writing more rigorous and push students to take a wider variety of courses.
I have also increased the number of WRIT creative writing courses in the central curriculum. I was successful in making a proposal for our intermediate level workshops, the WRIT 350 courses, to count in the central curriculum as literary expression. As all creative writing majors already fulfill this requirement through their required literature courses, and it is very rare for a non-major to take an intermediate level creative writing course, this inclusion of WRIT 350 was less a pragmatic move than it was a systemic move. By including the literary expression learning goals in our intermediate-level course we ensure that creative writing majors get reinforcement of these central curricular values.
The other proposals I have made, albeit slightly less successfully, were for several entirely new WRIT courses to gain course status, to fulfill one of the primary, non-intensive areas of the central curriculum, and to focus on non-majors. This endeavor is unique within my program: aside from Glen's GO Program (Travel Writing in South Africa), these have been the sole proposals for courses specifically geared towards inviting non-majors to study creative writing for primary, non-intensive central curriculum credit. WRIT 240, Experimental Writing, which satisfies Artistic Expression, is an example of a successful application and has been taken by both majors and non-majors. The course does not count towards a major requirement, and our majors' artistic expression requirement is already covered by Aesthetics and Interpretation, but the course was taken by interested writing majors for their university elective. The course also provides an option for non-majors to experience creative writing pedagogy: as our introduction to poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction courses fill with majors (and do not count towards any primary, non-intensive central curriculum requirements), aside from Travel Writing in South Africa, WRIT 240 is the only other way non-majors might study creative writing for credit towards primary central curriculum areas. Presently and in the future I will continue to strive to find the right balance of ingredients in proposing other WRIT courses for course status and primary, non-intensive central curriculum credit in order to increase non-major access to our discipline and to generate alternative paths for creative writing majors to fulfill their primary central curriculum requirements. Meanwhile: a recent member of the Travel Writing in South Africa team, I am looking forward to taking students to South Africa for travel writing this summer.
Writers Institute Activities: The Writers Institute hosts between six to eight visiting writers through our Seavey Visiting Writers series. Most of our visiting writers come to campus for a 4:15 PM Q and A session followed by a 7:30 PM reading. Each year a writer comes for a week-long visit and works with students in the classroom. To help facilitate this series I provide suggestions for the visiting poets and give feedback on suggestions for the writers in other genres, working to ensure that our series represents the diversity and excellence of contemporary English-language writing. In addition to contributing to planning the events I use visiting writers' books in my classrooms. I require attendance of students at events and attend them myself, helping to host visiting writers through the Q and A session, dinner, and the literary reading.
In addition, the Writers Institute hosts a senior reading series and our seniors read their work in the art gallery at six to seven evening events across the course of the year. I support these events by co-hosting roughly three or four sessions, which includes writing and reading out biographies of the student readers, welcoming friends and family, and ensuring that all runs smoothly. The Writers Institute also houses our three main literary journals: The Susquehanna Review, Essay, and RiverCraft along with The Apprentice Writer, a journal of high school writing, all of which I support by attending the annual literary launches. In addition, I am the faculty advisor of the poetry section of RiverCraft. Since spring of 2016 I have also been the faculty advisor-at-large for the journal, overseeing the work of the managing editor as he or she brings the journal to print and plans the public launch.
Recruitment Activities: Clearly essential to the success of our major is recruitment. As such, the creative writing major requires a portfolio for incoming students. This allows us to evaluate student work and presents an opportunity for us to interface with applicants about their work. As part of this process I read and comment on all application portfolios. I also personally contact poetry students about Susquehanna and often host visiting students in my writing workshop, talk with them in my office after, and match them with current creative writing students for lunch or overnight visits. In addition to the portfolio process we run a "Creative Writing Day," fall semester, where faculty give visiting students a literary reading and, with the help of current SU writing majors, run a workshop. An extended version of this program takes place during a week each summer and the entire creative writing faculty comes together to teach a week-long intensive. During this Summer Writers Workshop I teach a group of seven to twelve high school students interested in poetry. This is both a wonderful recruitment tool and also an opportunity to provide mentorship to a current student. Each creative writing faculty member selects a responsible current student to teach with them and to chaperone the students in the dorm. This is the first time many high school poets have ever met another person their age interested in poetry and the week provides a rich platform for teaching, writing, mentoring, and recruitment.
Strategic Cultivation of the Future
Recruitment and curriculum development work toward strong future structures. In addition, I offer the creative writing program strategic thinking towards the future program we would like to be and have taken a leadership role towards this future as a key member on our search committees and by working to help develop the Creative Writing Fellow position. Our searches have been fairly straight forward: In the fall of 2015 we held a search for a visiting creative writing professor in fiction for a leave of absence and sabbatical replacement. During the 2016-2017 academic year we did a search for a tenure track creative non-fiction/poetry position. This year we are continuing that search as a position in creative non-fiction. For all searches I was a key member of the committee involved in writing the job ad, weeding through the initial applications, performing interviews, and meeting about candidates.
The idea for our Creative Writing Fellowship was developed during the spring of 2016 and grew organically from discussions that Glen and I were having about our program. We wanted to provide an opportunity for a writer from a group historically underrepresented in academia, and newly out of a master's program, to teach at the college level. The idea was that the position would be a relatively low teaching load and the fellow would team-teach creative writing with the full-time professor in their genre, as well as teach our senior portfolio course, which prepares students for life after the university. This would allow the writer to get his or her feet wet while working on a manuscript and applying for jobs or PhD programs. We believed that this opportunity would be a great stepping-stone for a young writer and that this writer would bring something new and vital to our program. Our first fellow was Marcus Burke, an alumni, who held the fellowship during the 2016-2017 academic year. Our current fellow, Monica Prince, is a poet and is team-teaching a section of Introduction to Poetry with me. I have been involved in the process of creating this fellowship from the conception of its idea to its realization and I am incredibly thrilled to have the opportunity to teach with and to mentor Monica.
To return to the Service: Introduction page of this portfolio, click here.