Essays

“An Argument Worth Having: Championing Creative Writing in the Disciplines”

An excerpt from English Leadership Quarterly 38.2, October 2015:

ELQoct2015coverI still remember my first encounter with Writing Across the Curriculum. At an in-service during my rookie year teaching high school English, a guest speaker described a writing-intensive program that included essay assignments across the disciplines. The English teachers nodded sagely, appreciating the confirmation of writing as a universal evaluative and reflective tool. However, several teachers from other departments balked at “teaching writing,” arguing they had no formal training for such work. “I can’t grade writing,” an exasperated gym teacher interjected. “I’m not an English teacher.” The speaker tried to sooth her concerns, but we English teachers stayed mostly silent, perhaps afraid of seeming pushy or presumptuous. When the writing program lurched into implementation later that year, it never found its footing, likely because those of us most familiar with the pedagogy behind these new writing initiatives did not argue effectively for their implementation.

Since then, I’ve studied creative writing at the MFA and PhD level, often receiving teaching assignments that offer a chance to bridge the instructional gap between creative and expository writing. In college, these disciplines usually remain discrete, but for the necessarily generalist secondary teacher, they often come into useful instructional contact. Drafting an additional page or two of a novel studied in class, for example, allows students to write creatively while also demonstrating comprehension of the studied text and meeting multiple learning objectives during the always-too-short class period. As I’ve worked to dismantle barriers between composition and creative writing, I’ve often thought of my colleague the gym teacher and the walls she built between her curriculum and the writing tools utilized by English teachers. While the incorporation of expository writing in the disciplines has become more commonplace, an argument should now be made for integrating creative writing assignments into non-English classrooms. David Bartholomae (1986) famously suggested that student writing in college too often “becomes more a matter of imitation or parody than a matter of invention or discovery” (p. 11). The same can be said of high school courses, but creative writing provides an important and underutilized opportunity for students to shift their voices from bland imitation to authentic discovery.

(To read more of this essay, you can access the issue online here.)

“Composing Creatively: Further Crossing the Composition/Creative Writing Boundaries”

(with David Yost)

An excerpt from The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 42.1, Spring 2009:

In a 1994 roundtable paper, a creative writing graduate student wrote that his program sharply divided expository and creative writing; a paragraph later, he admitted that he nonetheless tries “to smuggle as much so-called creative writing in as possible” to the composition classroom. Sixteen years later, little has changed. This student’s experience mirrors our own, and we imagine that it is not unusual. While pursuing his MA, David taught both first-year composition and an introduction to creative writing, and though encouraged by mentors and program directors to think of them as separate subjects, David regularly slipped exercises from each course into the other. Chris similarly taught both composition and creative writing while pursuing his MFA, and was also encouraged to view them as discrete entities, with no middle ground between research essays and short stories. A brief, informal survey of several graduate student colleagues turned up more examples in language just as furtive as ours: creative writing activities were “snuck into” their classrooms, “camouflaged” in the language of composition. Creative writers assigned to teach composition, it seems, tend to draw on their specialty whether their programs like it or not.

Yet perhaps because the teaching of composition by creative writers is largely a graduate student phenomenon, surprisingly little criticism exists to inform this practice. While Wendy Bishop and Tim Mayers have made convincing cases for how composition studies and creative writing might usefully overlap, theorists have yet to build on their ideas to demonstrate how such a pedagogy would operate in the classroom day to day. In this paper, therefore, we intend to explore how the sorts of creative writing exercises commonly taught by graduate students can become an integral part of the work of composition.

(To read more of this essay, pick up the journal here, or find it reprinted in Dispatches from the Classroom, available from Bloomsbury Publishing or Amazon.)

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