Guest Post, Alexandria Peary: Discussion of AWP Panel “Creative Writing is for Everyone: Pedagogies for the Twenty-First Century”

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Pedagogy is deeply important for creative writing for a reason beyond teacher professional development or the legitimizing of creative writing as an academic discipline. While pedagogy certainly helps in those areas, students are the main reason for its importance.

It’s not news to say that the traditional workshop model has been critiqued for its lack of a nuanced or evolving pedagogy. (I think of it as a “mono pedagogy” in the way a bra fitter once told me during my impoverished graduate student days that a sports bra is “mono mammary.”)

Organized as it is around exchanging drafts (usually at a fairly advanced stage) and the giving and receiving of feedback, the workshop model makes certain assumptions about where the student is located in his or her writing process.

Typically, the workshop model pays sparse attention to prewriting, early drafting, and the actual implementation of that feedback to revise. The workshop approach casts light onto a fairly limited stretch of the writing experience, leaving radio silence before and afterwards.

The workshop model also operates from a certain set of assumptions about the context (the who-what-where-why-and how) of a creative writing education. It assumes the student is:

  • someone who’s authored a fairly advanced draft
  • someone who’s fully ready for peer feedback and doesn’t require training in the earlier moments of the writing process
  • someone whose intent is the production of belletristic and possibly publishable texts
  • someone who writes in response to literary models
  • someone who’s sitting in a classroom.

One of this year’s AWP panels on pedagogy, “Creative Writing Is for Everyone: Pedagogies for the Twenty-First Century,” strives to dismantle these assumptions.

The five panelists present a sample of pedagogies from the 2015 collection Creative Writing Pedagogies for the Twenty-First Century (Southern Illinois University Press): Steve Healey, Tom C. Hunley, Tim Mayers, Stephanie Vanderslice, and Alexandria Peary (moderator and presenter). Panelists discuss service learning; process and rhetorical pedagogy; Creative Writing-Across-the-Curriculum; and creative literacy.

By rethinking the individuals, purpose, and location of creative writing instruction, speakers in this panel point to the ways creative writing can be relevant not only to those on a path to becoming literary writers, but to every other student as well. Pedagogy is a matter of access: it determines which students receive the benefits of an education in creative writing. While sticking to the workshop model potentially disenfranchises students, the reverse is also the case:

  • creative writing can assist many types of learners in other majors
  • creative writing can be learned and practiced by individuals outside the university
  • creative writing can show students ways to lessen the mystery of finding ideas through a time-honored rhetorical tradition
  • creative writing can celebrate the writer of the unfinished as much as the writer of the polished product.

This AWP session occurs at AWP on Friday, April 1, from 3:00-4:15 PM in Gold Salon 1, JW Marriott LA, First Floor. Copies of Creative Writing Pedagogies for the Twenty-First Century will be available at the Southern Illinois University Press booth. Southern Illinois University Press will be offering a 30% conference discount on Creative Writing Pedagogies for the Twenty-First Century to people who attend the panel and AWP; the promo code will be valid for 1 1/2 weeks after AWP.

Guest Blog Post, Lucy Bryan Green: Dear Hiring Committee:

Lucy Brian GreenI realize the rhetorical purpose of this teaching philosophy is to convey my expertise as an instructor of creative writing. Having spent a year applying to jobs like this one, I’m well practiced in such arguments: I study writing pedagogy and carefully develop my syllabi. I show up to class on time, prepared, and smartly dressed. I take attendance by asking students fun questions about themselves, because I want to make them feel welcome and I am genuinely interested in getting to know them. I grade attentively and give constructive feedback on every assignment. I have a way of explaining the difference between passive and active voice that elicits laughter. By and large, I know what I’m talking about (I am, after all, a practitioner of my subject). My students tend to give me good rankings on evaluations and say nice things like, “This was honestly one of the best and most fulfilling courses I’ve taken.”

But don’t be deceived. I’m no expert. This is only my fifth year teaching writing to college students, and frequently, I feel inadequate to the task. I’m a better teacher than I was when I started, to be sure. But even on days when my students seem to grasp the importance of sensory detail, or when they enjoy the dialogue in a George Saunders story as much as I do, or when a writing prompt produces a lovely turn of phrase—I feel like I am failing them in some enigmatic but crucial way. I can’t shake the sense that the time I passed babbling about narrative stance would have been better spent listening to the thunderstorm outside.

Recently, I was walking through the woods near my house, thinking about John Steinbeck. In particular, I was thinking about what it took to write East of Eden. Steinbeck was an incredibly learned man—and I’m not referring to his formal education. Imagine the number of books, conversations, excursions, and ambles required to produce such a resonant story. As important (if not more) than his mastery of the craft of writing was his intimacy with American history, farming practices, Christian theology, eastern religion, philosophy, military hierarchy, Asian-American culture, small town politics, and California geography. What use would his talent and skill have been without his devotion to the art of observation? Steinbeck’s fine-tuned depictions of the natural world and of human motivations, relationships, and behaviors exist because he chose to cultivate depth and breadth within himself.

When I was a junior in college, my favorite professor told me (along with the other student in his fiction workshop) not to apply to M.F.A. programs in creative writing until we’d been out of school for a few years. His message: Live a little while longer, and then (maybe) you’ll have something worth writing about. I appreciated his honesty then, and I admire it now. And he was right: the experiences I’ve had over the last decade have both shaped me as a writer and given me meaningful material to write about. They’ve also made me into a more discerning, open-minded, and empathetic person. But I reject the notion that only time can give students the experiences and maturity required to write well. Aren’t depth of insight and breadth of knowledge something students can (and should) actively seek?

Lately, I’ve taken to dreaming up activities that might help students develop richer inner lives and more practiced powers of observation. I wonder what would happen if I gave them the following “assignments” to complete alongside their writing projects, textbook readings, and peer reviews:

  • Spend ten hours over the course of the semester volunteering outside of the university setting at a food bank, nursing home, halfway house, homeless shelter, etc.
  • Write a letter to someone you’ve wronged, and ask for forgiveness, OR do something nice for someone who’s wronged you.
  • Attend a religious service for a tradition you are unfamiliar with.
  • Break a law (but make sure not to hurt yourself or anyone else—and don’t get caught).
  • Read a book on a subject outside of your major that interests you.
  • Give a prized possession to someone who will appreciate it.
  • Explore (on foot) a part of town you’ve never visited before.
  • Go an entire day without talking.
  • Stand up for somebody who’s suffering an injustice.
  • Spend a weekend doing nothing but things you love to do.
  • Skip class once this semester to have a nonacademic learning experience.

I believe that students who earnestly undertake these activities would write more engaging, nuanced, and descriptive pieces than what I’m used to seeing. I also know that assigning such endeavors is more likely to get me fired (or at least reprimanded) at my current institution than hired at yours. Liability issues aside, these assignments resist assessment, deemphasize performance and achievement, and don’t clearly connect to the “learning outcomes” desired by English departments. Moreover, they defy the business model embraced by many of today’s universities—a model that turns teachers into salespeople, students into customers, and education into a transaction.

But students want to be more than consumers of educational product. The first day of this semester, I asked mine to write down what they hoped to get out of my class. Here are some of their answers:

  • “To help me see things from different points of view, to let my creativity flow, and to expand my horizons.”
  • “I would like the opportunity to write freely and liberally as a release from the copious amounts of technical writing that my major has required of me.”
  • “I have started songwriting and I think this class will help me with that.”
  • “I believe that being proficient and expressive with the written language is important to personal growth.”
  •  “Mainly I wanted to express my emotions in writing and this was the class, in my opinion, that could help me do that.”

These answers reflect a hunger for more than credit hours, an easy A, a marketable skill, or a line for their résumés. These students want what a liberal arts education is supposed to provide—channels for participating in and finding fulfillment within a free society. Call it hubris or foolishness, but I think I can point them toward what they’re looking for, or at least join them in looking for it. It would be lovely if I could try without the fear of losing my job.

Should you choose to hire me (ha!), I will teach my students how to write with eloquence and stylistic flair. More importantly, I will cast them into a complex world filled with complex individuals and challenge them to respond with intelligence, curiosity, and compassion.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Past Intern Updates: Ljubo Popovich

Ljubo PopovichLjubo Popovich, Poetry Editor from Issue 8, shares some thoughts about his time at ASU and his discovery of non-Western literature.

I always thought that my parents and elders were pulling my leg when they told me to enjoy my college years – that they are the best years of my life and so forth. When I was in college I came close to feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork, and I never got heavily into the social life of the students that lived on campus, of going to the football games or participating in clubs or fraternities. I had a few friends, but my main concern was getting out into the world, and getting through this period of uncertainty and dread of the future. Eventually, I switched my major (twice), and landed in English. Finally things were getting interesting. I could stop plodding through Architecture and Engineering and simply learn what I genuinely cared about. My appreciation for literature grew and blossomed at ASU in my last two years. I felt much more comfortable in this realm.

I spent hours in the library, wandering through the stacks, always using what I learned in my classes as a jumping off point for further exploration. This curiosity has become a central part of my life. I became interested in literature and culture outside of the United States. When I stayed in Montenegro, I had the chance to visit Italy, Greece, Germany, England, Switzerland, Serbia, and Croatia. Now I can’t wait to go back and eat the exotic food, walk on the beaches, drive through the mountains, and experience entirely different cultures. The great European and Asian writers that I discovered gave me further encouragement to see as much of the world as possible.

What the future holds is still an unknown, but I know that I found a limitless source of joy in the works of Chekhov, Goethe, and Gogol. Dostoevsky and Akutagawa, Maugham, Victor Hugo, Cervantes, Italo Svevo…wherever I turned, there was a fresh perspective. I have learned that one book is always the doorway to another, and that life makes sense when you are lost in a good book. My experience with Superstition Review gave me a taste of the publishing world, and I think that my thirst for literature will now lead me toward a career with a publishing company, or perhaps as an editor of a magazine. For the time being, I work at ASU Online, in student services. Though it gives me much needed work experience and enough of an income to plan for the future, I am always on the lookout for opportunities in the fields I am most interested in.

Although I have only been out of college for half a year, I am beginning to understand what my parents meant. My years at the university were formative and they were some of the happiest years I have had, despite the struggle and uncertainty of that period of my life. Most importantly, I met the girl to whom I am now engaged, and I received the basic tools I will use for the rest of my life: education, determination, love, patience, and intellectual curiosity.

Dispatches from Delhi: Report 7

For my first week at New Era Public School, I have divided my time between assisting and supervising special/remedial education classes and shadowing teachers of different subject areas in 11th and 12th grades. I have to say, I have learned quite a lot about India’s education system through my time in both these tasks. Regarding the latter, it is kind of the same as American high school­­—cocky kids, semi-interesting subject matter taught in monotony, and overwhelming adolescent disrespect reluctantly bending to authority for 45 minutes per class.

Nevertheless, the former is where I was able to see kids in the Indian education system up close and personal and at very impressionable ages. I spent every day from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. with groups of kids ranging from 2nd to 8th grade, some with learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, autism, etc.) and others with behavioral issues that interfere with their studies. I learned the process for getting a student extra help through placement. These special education courses start with the child’s teachers’ or parents’ recommendation for remedial education followed by a comprehensive assessment administered by an educational psychologist on the special education staff. If the assessment determines that the child in question requires special education, then several provisions may be available that can lighten the child’s class load to a more manageable size. For example, a child who fairs poorly in mathematics and science can switch these classes for computers and art. In addition, the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), which administers all important examinations for high school students as well as undergraduate students, makes provisions for children with learning disabilities during examinations by providing them extra time for the tests and tests their knowledge of computers and art rather than mathematics and science.

However, despite the school’s acknowledgment that those with behavioral issues require equal (sometimes greater) remedial work, a child diagnosed with behavioral issues but not an actual learning disability is exempt from provisions set in place by the CBSE. Moreover, with most of the children with whom I have interacted so far, the biggest issue seems to be a behavioral issue contributing to learning difficulties rather than outright disabilities, especially since many of the children are of average intelligence but lack the environmental factors to facilitate proper learning.

Vivek

Take Vivek as an example. He is a seventh grader whose assessment notes that he is of average intelligence. His teachers have described him as troublesome, hyperactive, and overall a difficult child to work with inside the classroom. Nevertheless, after speaking to him for about an hour, I could not confirm any of those judgments. I expected standoffish, rude, and disobedient. Instead, I got quiet, studious, and inquisitive. The discrepancy surprised me, so I spoke with one of his teachers, and I learned that what should be manageable difficulties for Vivek to work through in school are only further compounded by the harshness of his family life. His father, an auto-rickshaw driver, died when the boy was very young and both his mother and his grandmother are illiterate. Furthermore, they have very little means of financial support for the four of them (Vivek has a younger brother). As a result, Vivek has trouble in nearly every subject area, especially regarding his English reading, writing, and comprehension skills. Since Vivek belongs to what the school formerly calls an EWS (economically weaker section), his family is exempt from having to pay school fees and he receives as remedial work as his other subject teachers will allow during the school day. However, despite all of his teachers’ care and concern for Vivek’s wellbeing, he ceases to be their responsibility when he leaves the walls of the school. It is not that they do not care, but in a country with a total population this large, it is not surprising to imagine that they have plenty of other children to attend to just within the confines of the school grounds. Luckily, New Era is doing its very best to keep kids like Vivek from slipping through the cracks by switching classes, mandating remedial work-time, providing extra work, and exempting from fees whenever possible. My concern is with what else can be done with such limited means in a system this large and underserved.

Whatever the answer, like the teachers and staff at the school, I am just glad I can help kids like Vivek with their homework and morale. Baby steps.

Poetry Out Loud Gives Young Poets New Opportunities

Each week here at Superstition Review, we like to showcase the talents of our interns. This week’s piece comes from Advertising Coordinator Christine Peters.

Poetry Out Loud (POL) is a national poetry contest in which high school students have the chance to test their poetry prowess. Young poets around the country are preparing for the contest, which takes place at the school, region, state, and national levels. The aim of POL is to teach students about history and literature while building confidence and public speaking skills. It is a creative approach to integrating the arts into the standard curriculum; it fosters empathy, appreciation for the arts of poetry and performance, and self-confidence.

Created in 2006 by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, POL is administered through the U.S. State Arts Agencies. POL provides all of the necessary materials to the schools, free of charge, at the beginning of August. Students, with the support of their teachers, study and memorize poetry in order to prepare for competitions at the school level. In early spring, winners from the school level move on to regional and state competitions. In mid-May, winners advance to the national level to compete in Washington, DC.

This is the type of investment that has the potential to enrich our society; by investing in the arts, in our schools, in our youth, and in our future, we build on traits that the standard curriculum cannot even begin to cover. The program supports art education by teaching students about the inner-workings of poetry and performance. It supports our schools by creating links between history and literature. Since many of the competitions take place on university campuses, POL exposes students to the world of high education. Furthermore, it prepares individuals for personal success and provides them with confidence and public speaking skills that will carry them through their education.

Meet the Interns: Frederick Raehl

Fiction Editor Frederick “Brandon” Raehl is a senior at ASU completing concurrent degrees in Psychology and Literature, Writing, and Film. As well as working in healthcare as a CT Technologist, he plays music, writes screenplays, and develops black and white photographs. After completing his honors thesis in psychology titled, The Effect of Workload on Academic Performance, his time is now devoted towards writing. Though his current ambitions outside of college are unclear, he intends on using writing in any endeavor he decides to pursue. His favorite all-time book is The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

1. What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?

I am one of the Fiction Editors for Superstition Review. My responsibilities include reviewing work from fiction writers for our upcoming issue. Some of my duties include preparing response emails, reading and voting on what to publish,  and completing weekly tasks and reports. I need to check Blackboard frequently and keep the instructor informed of my progress.

2. Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?

One of my goals of being an undergraduate student is to obtain a diverse and challenging education. Being a part of the Superstition Review allows me to pursue this goal. I love writing, and I’m curious about what goes into the process of  publishing. I enjoy new experiences and new challenges.

3. How do you like to spend your free time?

With the little free time that I have, I enjoy pleasure reading, playing guitar and drums, going to movies, journaling, and playing with my dogs. Most of my time goes towards school and work. I first went to x-ray school, which I do for a living, then decided to go  back to obtain my undergraduate.

4. What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?

I think interview and content editing would be interesting, as well as web design.

5. Describe one of your favorite literary work

I would have to say that Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is still my favorite  book. I first read it in 7th grade and came back to it when I first started college. It feels like every time I read it I discover something else that I love about it. I’ve read many books in my life, but none have ever replaced my long time favorite.

6. What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. No, I’m not an alcoholic, but I really enjoy reading about personal triumphs over adversity. It’s a great read, if anyone is looking for something to pick up.

7. Creatively, what are you currently working on?

I’m beginning to write a screenplay for my capstone course. I’m always writing new music and journaling as well.

8. What inspires you?

I’m inspired by authenticity. When I see something that I know is real and not just something crafted to make money, I’m inspired. I believe that one should be brave enough to create something that comes from within, regardless of what the world will feel about it. When people do what they know is right in their heart instead of what may be right in society’s eyes, I am inspired. Finally, and the most simple, I’m inspired by decency. I love it when I see people working together and treating each other in a civil manner.

9. What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of obtaining a college education with honors. It may seem miniscule to some, but going to college has challenged and changed me in many ways. I believe that if I hadn’t decided to go to ASU after x-ray school, my life would not be as hopeful as it is now. Many people think I’m crazy to go back to school when I already have a decent-paying job. The pay is not the problem. I feel like I’m meant to do something  more with my life than what I’m doing now. I don’t know exactly what that is right now, but going to college has allowed me to investigate this. And I know that my decision to obtain a college degree will help me live a happier life.

10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I see my life moving forward. I will not be in the career I’m in now. I know this for certain. What I don’t know is what I will be doing. I know that I want a life that allows me to be creative while also benefiting society. I have several ideas that I will investigate. Being successful is important, but more so I would like to find myself in a career that is in tune with my values and I feel passionately about. Who knows where I’ll end up, but I will never stop looking.

Local Event: Arizona English Teachers Association Annual Statewide Conference

It’s only one month until the Arizona English Teacher Association holds their annual statewide conference at ASU Polytechnic Campus, hosted by ASU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The AETA is the local branch of the National Council of Teachers of English, but because its focus is regional, caters to interests of not only English teachers, but by natural extension, students and readers in our state.

You may be wondering why this conference is of interest to you, and I’ll tell you now–the guests expected to go to this year’s conference are phenomenal. Just to name a few, authors PJ Haarsma and Frank Beddor, and keynote speaker Professor Beverly Chin, will all be attendance. This is an exciting opportunity to listen to these authors discuss their works, interact with them, and get more insight into their craft. Not only that, but it’s an opportunity to hear emerging authors read their work and, if you’re involved in education, to gain new teaching models and theories used in the classroom.

Former attendees include Superstition Review-featured author and poet Sherman Alexie, so their guests are generally of interest to our readership. They look for the freshest, most interesting faces available in new literature particularly of interest to teachers and educators in the state.

Ticket prices vary, but there are discounts for students, and admission is not limited to those involved with the organization–anyone can attend the conference with paid admission. The conference dates are October 16 & 17 with open enrollment until the date of the event.

AETA’s Official Website (conference link on the left side)

Conference registration form

PJ Haarsma’s Official Website

Frank Beddor’s Official Homepage

Beverly Chin’s Educational Profile