Creative Writing / College Writing

I’m a “commenter” not a “poster” this week, but being in an MFA program and having spent the last couple of years off and on thinking about the ethics of “creative writing,” I’d like to address Renee Delong’s section in the “Risky Business” piece. I agree that creative writing as a discipline is fraught with unremarked-upon assumptions about race, class, gender, etc. The idea of the “writer” as this essentialized, embodied figure is of course charged with a civilization’s worth of problems. When I imagine “the writer,” I think of John Updike smiling self-satisfied in press photos, or the portraits of poets of centuries ago puffed up and absurdly stylized. This likely speaks to my position, as a white male “writer,” who has become uncomfortable with the historical weight of his chosen pursuit. Even the term “creativity” is troubling, sentimental as it is, drawing to mind the entitled subjectivity of the privileged few. My sense is that Delong takes issue with the creative-writing degree at her college because funds might be better used elsewhere, and because she sees the discipline, if the word applies, as ideologically charged and acritical. As I said: fair complaints. However, I also think there is value to providing students a space to write in a different, non-academic way, to approach literature as a free-floating pursuit, where texts from here and there might talk to each other, a la comparative literature, and the discourse in the classroom is devoted to the complex subjectivities of students’ “authentic” voices. (I use that term ironically, if only to comment on the pedagogical problems of identity, the way it’s malleable and imprecise, and yet, on a day-to-day level, manifests fairly consistently.)

I wonder if “creative writing” is a straw man (straw person?), an offshoot of English education that most clearly (i.e. most reprehensibly) typifies the structural failures of academia. Ideas of argumentation and criticality are themselves governed by a barrier to entry. Even if the methods are sound, even if there are useful theories that can help offset the inborn bias, there is still a rhetorical gap in academia that promotes exclusion. I don’t think that conversations about “point of view,” “characterization,” and so forth serve as a stand-in for rigorous training in composition. But I do think they bring certain important rhetorical issues to light, and invite exploration in a way that is both low-stakes and generative. The danger of university education as vocational training is always looming. I see the high stakes of preserving, and furthering, a broadly accessible and demanding writing curriculum. I just think a hybrid approach could help illustrate notions of audience and intent—and perhaps engender a sense of personal connection—that might strengthen college writing as a whole.

As a disclaimer, I am not a banner-waving “creative writer,” but rather someone with a set of tasks this semester who is trying to reconcile their responsibilities and incongruities. I write fiction and poetry because I enjoy it, and it feels like a useful means of investigating my assumptions and blind spots. Maybe it gives rise to even more assumptions, but it’s not as if these discussions ever resolve, nor should they. My goal this year is to figure out how I can accommodate and challenge at once, include and complicate. Whether that’s possible in a creative-writing class, I don’t know. But I’ve enjoyed working with the students so far, and I’m optimistic about where things are going.

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2 Responses to Creative Writing / College Writing

  1. Alex Radison says:

    I took issue with DeLong’s piece. Not because systemic racism can’t or doesn’t affect creative writing, but because she never presents her argument. She says: “At another institution I saw how the energy given to the creative writing program contributed to and stemmed from the race-blindness of the faculty members in the English department,” but she never actually gives any examples. Is the creative writing faculty mostly (or only) white men? Are the readings inappropriate? Or is she arguing that the funds could be better spent (as Nick suggested)?

    I do agree with her comment on race-blindness generally, as it is something I personally have to struggle to overcome (I’m half Latino but don’t look it, so for all intents and purposes I’m a white male). Still, why is creative writing being singled out here? In my experience, creative writing is the closest we come to a level playing field in all of academia. I can’t speak for other schools or programs, but the creative writing program here at QC is about as diverse as it gets (teaching staff, readings, class make-up). Then again, maybe I’m overestimating the inclusivity of the field due to the aforementioned race-blindness.

    I guess my point is that it’s not useful to simply say that there is a problem without delving into what, specifically, the problem is. Obviously DeLong did go into specifics in the actual meeting she had, but we don’t get any of that so I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

  2. Giselle Shohet says:

    Giselle’s response to Nick’s comments
    In responding to Creative Writing/College Writing, I feel drawn to address this topic of creativity and creative/composition writing. In Act lV, part of “The Risky business of Engaging Racial Equity in Writing Instruction: A Tragedy in Five Acts” it is not exactly clear why DeLong is opposed to a creative writing degree. She is, nevertheless, supportive of individuals’ voices being spoken and listened to.
    In conjunction with TDF, or The Theatre Development Fund, I have taught playwriting for approximately a decade. Here, high school students of every color and orientation read and wrote drama. In particular, they wrote about conflicts between people, society and culture. Issues of race, background and sexuality were explored. In short, through this creative writing, students explored their own identity, values, and lives. According to Bloom’s taxonomy, the ability to create, or, in this case, write creatively, is the highest level of thinking. Creative writing has been important to me both personally and professionally. In order to do this writing, not only must students value their imaginations, but they must be able to analyze and evaluate their own writing and the writing of their peers. When we study a student created text, we evaluate why it is worthy and how to get it to a better place through revision.
    It seems that this kind of writing is the most inclusive of every person, precisely because it validates the authentic voice. Also, remarkably, it draws those who choose it, because it is an important vehicle of self-exploration, which, I think, is an important aspect of being an educated person. This connects to the writing of RAP lyrics. Students from a variety of backgrounds and identities engage in this challenging task, if only because it is a cool thing to do. Still, these students are interested in this academically demanding work. At the end of the day, this discipline is part of the point of education in our democracy.

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