(Poetry, Director of Creative Writing Program 2013-2016)
In my workshops, we start by focusing on the specific tones and structures of poems. We examine both technique and those forces from which technique evolves. I think that emerging writers should begin to tell their own stories about the rich history of the art. Writing classes, it seems to me, should invite students into a public discussion about artwork and its place in the world.
(Fiction, Spring Semester)
My usual approach is to read a student's work as closely as I can in an effort to find what is distinctive in the student's writing. I don't praise or criticize very much until I have described—and encouraged workshop members to describe—what is on the page. In this way we can all discover the form of the work and how it may help, or work at cross purposes against, the content. I am interested in helping students improve their writing, but I am equally interested in helping them to discover in what ways their writing may be emerging.
My approach to the Workshop is to expect the maximum from my students. I want them to be at once ambitious and humble; ready to risk all in their writing, to risk their pride by taking criticism, and to risk their popularity by offering honest and thoughtful criticism. My approach to Reading as Writers and Topics courses is to look at the works always as a writer might, never as a critic or an academic theorist: sometimes this means that the way a book is put together is more interesting to me than what the book might or might not be saying. Although I find that the better the book, the more likely it is that structure and content are closely and excitingly bound together.
(Fiction, Literary Nonfiction)
What are you reading? Why are you writing? By encouraging writers in my classes to exchange the answers to these questions as we talk about stories and essays, I hope to support a lively and ever-evolving community—one that is thoughtful, rigorous, bold, and inventive. I ask my students to be generous in both their attention to others' work and in sharing their own pieces.
As a writer and teacher, I believe in sharing what I know and learning from the community of writers. This includes other faculty, but also writing students. In a university setting, we learn from one another. An active writing program should encourage the gift of creativity, but also offer opportunities beyond the traditional workshop setting. As writers, we are fortunate in being able to learn our craft from voices of experience. What we return to the world is a gift. The chance to make that gift is what a university creative writing program is all about.
(Literary Nonfiction, Poetry, Fall Semester)
I came to teaching after working as an editor and free-lance writer so I may have a tendency to see my students as colleagues. I think of us as working on their writing in order to get it ready for an imaginary magazine I'm editing. I like that moment when a student sees that sentences have sinew; that language is as physical in its way as paint is for an artist. Then we're cooking.
I approach creative writing from a rhetorical perspective, focusing on the interaction of writer, reader, text, and context. My courses all involve equal amounts of analysis and creation: we try to read like writers and write like readers. Class time is devoted to close reading for craft, as well as discussions of genre, audience, delivery, and reception. Workshops toggle between line editing and global revision, as we seek to discover the ideal shape a text should take. As much as possible, I try to work individually with students to help them realize their creative visions, recognizing that writing is not only a means of discovery but also a response to particular social situations and audience expectations. In this sense, I agree with Michael Cunningham that writing is "a gift we as writers are trying to give to readers."
I think writers need to learn to be both artists and critics, and that's what I try to convey when I teach: that one begins by shutting the critical voice away, allowing risks and experiments and mistakes; and that one gradually summons the critic back, not to savage the artist but to shape and refine and enlighten. I think one can work this kind of dual magic on one's own writing and, in a workshop setting, on others' writing, too.
(Literary Nonfiction, Poetry, Fall Semester)
My classes involve a lot of reading and writing. I like to introduce students to a wide range of non-fiction prose styles and to give them an opportunity to write in ways they haven't tried before. When I assign writing exercises, I encourage experimentation with new forms and voices. Often students find that these exercises lead them into longer projects or help them to reconceptualize some of the work they are already engaged in. I think I am especially attuned to the deep material a student is trying to bring forward and try to assist that process with my comments. I have a strong interest in form and am usually able to guide students who have structural problems with their writing. In general, my aim is to help students discover the material that has the most meaning for them and bring it to its fullest realization.
I encourage students to read broadly and experiment with different structures and styles as they discover what and how they want to write. Research is an important component in my nonfiction courses, and we explore the ways fact and narrative interact to create a compelling piece. Workshop is a place to take risks, spark conversation, and hone writers' questions about their material.