How A Writer’s Craft can be a (more) Anti-Racist Textbook, Part I

Let me just say, I’m reading The Anti-Racist Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez, and I’m looking forward to reading Craft in the Realy World by Matthew Salesses, two books that came out this year that are rethinking creative writing pedagogy in the light of anti-racism. I’ve read articles by both writers, and as I dig into their books, I’m thinking specifically about my creative writing textbook, A Writer’s Craft, and how it may or may not dovetail with these ideas. At first, I thought I might wait until I had finished both books to write about them, but it seems necessary to acknowledge how important this moment is for creative writers, and also how anti-racist creative writing pedagogy builds on critiques of the workshop model that have been ongoing for years.

One main reason I decided to write A Writer’s Craft was because I wasn’t satisfied with the book I was using at the time and how often it talked down to students or prescribed rules. So I set out to write a textbook that teaches craft and yet is also open to new ways of thinking and talking about craft. That’s one reason I chose to title the book “A Writer’s Craft,” not “The Writer’s Craft” or something more prescriptive. I wanted to suggest that the book presents the thoughts of a writer about craft, but not a definitive statement on craft — even though any book makes a claim for a certain level of authority.

In the Introduction, I include a “Note to the Instructor,” where I encourage you to present you own views, to argue with the positions I take in the book, to engage in a productive dialogue with the book, to assign chapters out of order or to bring in supplemental materials. These are things I have always done with the textbooks I’ve used. By including this in the Introduction right before my “Note to the Student,” where I encourage students to take an active role in their learning as well, I give students permission to read the “Note to the Instructor” and to see that everything in the book should be part of this conversation in which they can be participants.

Another choice I made when putting this book together was not to include an anthology of stories, poems, essays, and plays. The main reason I did this was because of the cost. Obtaining the rights would drive the price of the book higher, and I want a book that is affordable. But the other reason is that I always felt I should use the readings in a book I had required students to buy, but I also felt limited and restricted by those readings. This choice allows instructors to use examples from online magazines or anthologies, where they can choose very recent writing that is a good fit for their students: to represent their communities and/or to challenge their stereotypes or notions of what a literary text ought to be.

I didn’t write A Writer’s Craft specifically to be an anti-racist textbook, in other words, but it can be used that way, which is something I want to encourage. As I read more deeply about the anti-racist workshop model, I’m planning a series of posts that go into more detail on these and other choices in the book, on how in a second edition, or through the supplemental materials I can provide in A Writer’s Craft Community, the book can be more openly anti-racist.

I have a number of ideas of what I’ll write about in these posts, and I’m excited to discover more as I continue my reading. Two posts I’m planning soon are: some thoughts on craft and some thoughts on how I arrived at my own teaching practice. Look for those soon.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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