Students’ creative writing needs an outlet

The Washington University English department is one of the best in the country. The graduate program ranks 29th in the world according to U.S. News & World Report. The department brims with exciting personalities and fantastic professors. We all know this, and we appreciate it. But we believe that the University has folded one too many things inside the English department: the creative writing program.

Set the creative writing program free. Let it be its own department. There is evidence all around us that shows that students long for more creative writing experiences.

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To be fair, Wash. U. has made strides recently to bring more creative writing to the students. The only creative writing courses on tracks used to be poetry and fiction writing, but the University has since added nonfiction and playwriting tracks to the mix. Additionally, specialized courses like Fiction Writing: the Short-Short, Sudden Fiction and Microfiction have satiated creative desire.

But groups like WU-SLam show that Wash. U. has not completely satisfied its students when it comes to creative writing. WU-SLam seems to be a statement that the University does not offer enough specialized opportunities to its students, and that the students took matters into their own hands in creating WU-SLam.

In January, the WU-SLam team brought its lyrical verse and love of squids to the Danforth University Center’s Tisch Commons for the Grand Slam, and, frankly, they rocked the house. Seating was so tight that the organizers had to send a live video feed of the event to the Fun Room, where patrons watched the action from beanbags and couches. WU-SLam kept the audience engaged the whole night.

What makes WU-SLam’s popularity even more impressive is that the squad of poets only formed in November 2008. That means that it took less than a year and a half for WU-SLam to propel itself to one of the most entertaining student groups on campus. Of course, the club’s popularity owes as much to the poets’ performances as it does to the student body’s tastes. Wash. U. students formed the club, and Wash. U. students embrace it.

The English department has jumped on this recent enthusiasm for writing, and will award prizes for student writings in prose, verse, critical essays and general excellence in academic writing. Until this year, there was no award for undergraduate fiction. After seeing the works of fiction that students produced in Fiction Writing 1, the Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing students took matters into their own hands and funded a new fiction award. These awards offer students a chance to have their writings honored, but is that enough?

Aaron Samuels, vice president of WU-SLam, said that the University needs to do more to encourage creative writing among the student body. He said there should be a creative writing department separate from the English department.

“Creative writing is different from composition literature or English literature,” Samuels said. “It has its own skills and requires its own studies.”

According to Marshall Klimasewiski, a professor in the English department, there has been talk within the English department about forming a new English major with a concentration in creative writing.

“It’s a complicated process to add a new major, so those discussions continue,” Klimasewiski said, “but I know that there is a great deal of interest in it among undergraduates, and that’s something the faculty recognizes and appreciates.”

Of course, the department would need more writing faculty to do this properly, and hiring will be difficult in this economic climate. Still, hopefully Wash. U. will act on the students’ desire for more creative writing someday soon.

  • max

    True that. Expand creative writing at Wash U. A major, or just more emphasis on creative writing would go along way. I took 10 classes to fill an English major, and my fiction writing class, the best I took at Wash U – was an elective, Come on people.

  • engl alum

    No need for the departments to separate or for new faculty, or even to call the major “English with a focus in creative writing” (15 of the credits that counted towards my English major were creative writing, with plenty of creative writing credits left over, enough to earn me a minor in writing as well). In addition, I agree with Wash U’s long-held belief that great writers are great readers as well.

    Just allow a creative thesis, Wash U. The arguments against it have always been weak and insulting to writers. The belief that a long collection of poems or short fiction (developed with guidance from the writing faculty) is not as valuable or requires less academic energy than a long research thesis is false.