Teaching Creative Writing to Undergraduates

It was nice recently to receive a contributor’s copy of a book that I’m in (briefly). I contributed a 3-page response to questions about Chapter 4, “Facilitating the Writer’s Workshop: Helping Students Become Good Critics (Of Themselves and Others).” I’ll leave it to others to weigh the value of my remarks, but I was intrigued to see the book in print and have a chance to see the contributions of authors Stephanie Vanderslice and Kelly Ritter, as well as the thoughts of other creative writing teachers who responded to the chapters.

I haven’t had a chance to read it cover to cover yet, but I am looking forward to it. What I have read is thoughtful and useful. I won’t say I agree with every point, though I haven’t found myself strongly disagreeing either, but the book is thought-provoking. It is aimed at the new creative writing teacher, often a graduate student or recent MFA graduate, who suddenly finds him or herself in an undergraduate classroom on the other side of the desk. It is full of practical advice — in the early chapters often focusing on the differences between graduate school and undergraduate creative writing classes, later giving advice on textbooks, terminology, and so forth. As such, it seems valuable to anyone who is new to teaching, and it earns its subtitle: ‘A Practical Guide and Sourcebook.’ New teachers will need to weigh the experiences of the authors and other contributors against their own experience and come to their own conclusions, but this thin volume will help them find many valuable issues to consider and point out avenues to explore those issues further.

Though I am not its primary audience (having taught creative writing for nearly two decades), I fell there is much that the seasoned professional can gain from the book. It furthers a conversation that is perhaps too rare in creative writing circles, at least in the United States. It argues that creative writing can be taught, and it makes its case for how this can be done.

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