Reforming Creative Writing Pedagogy

Reforming Creative Writing Pedagogy

2002-08-17

Joe Amato and Kass Fleisher suggest that creative writing pedagogy, particularly as found in the typical workshop, might benefit from a major, theoretically-informed, re-visioning. Introduced by ebr managing editor (1999-2002), Kirsten Young.

At ebr, I am the production editor, appointed managing editor in tempore opportuno - looks better on a resume. Either title means that I am the one to code the Amato/Fleisher essay, its vast citation mill, and all riPOSTes. For easier troubleshooting later, I wanted the code to be clean; consequently, I erased much of Joe Amato’s coding in the essay itself, which he overlooked with characteristic benevolentia.

What resulted, “design”-wise, is what contributors to the ebr cyberdebates might call “an old-fashioned hypertext” along the lines of those from when this journal started way back in 1995. Sure, it’s a long scroll down, and certain British design journals might call that into question, but I hope it’s readable, navigable, and even printable - especially since the essay is soon to be formatted as an Alt-X critical e-book.

What’s the matter with the Mill? In short, nothing. Even after installing hundreds and hundreds of links and anchors (too many to count, really) in the Progressively Circuitous Notes, I love it. And Amato tells me it has proven useful in a practical sense as well. And I hope none of y’all are resistant to the Gibralter grain in the Citation Mill. If you are, you’re taking yourselves way too seriously. In my Midwestern states, people get buried under piles of grains like these.

We hope also, with This Essay, to provoke a discussion resembling (in that it is lively and closely argued) our 1996 gathering on the politics of selling out.

Polemic is one of my favorite genres (it beats the hell out of job letters) and This Essay has it. Although the discussion mostly is about pedagogy, or the lack of it, in the creative writing workshop - and I’ve never been in one of those - there are nubby threads of polemic woven (if I may) throughout the piece. The kinds of threads one might - irritated, provoked, annoyed - pick at and unravel. One such example is the dig at pedagogical theory. For while Amato and Fleisher seem to argue that creative writing workshops could benefit if those instructors paused, with critical tools drawn perhaps from Composition’s pedagogical theory, to consider their teaching, we also find that the theory and its applications are themselves not immune from the criticism of anemia.

In various stretches of the essay, the authors address the professionalization of the writing and/or (college) teaching profession. Such discussions can address issues of working conditions, salaries, and job availability, issues that I, as part of the sub(if you will)-professional class of English studies in the university, find especially relevant. In the university, I am a Writing Associate laboring under one Director of Writing Assessment and one Writing Center Director. Both PhDs and both men. We (three women) Writing Associates have a “(.50 FTE), academic year assignment” with “a salary of $7,972.20 plus benefits” - reason enough to continue to seek full employment. Still, it’s the first time my family has had health insurance in seven years, so it’s better than adjuncting. As for adjuncting, the university allows me to instruct one course per year. As I wallowed in theory while a cultural studies track master’s student, I had no illusions that I would ever again be paid (without a really advanced degree, and lots and lots of luck finding a job) to ponder the intricacies of Hegelian Marxism.

And when Amato and Fleisher glance at the 1980’s controversy between theory and creative writing, and the 1990’s inquiry from composition into creative writing, they revive(?) Stephen North’s compelling notion of the “lore” of knowledge-makers from “composition’s rank and file.” North and the authors of This Essay suggest that “lore” should be informed by scholarship and research; I contend that the “rank and file,” who face a steady stream of students needing “practical” advice on writing, are allowed no time for doing or even reading scholarship and research.

This Essay has many such moments that resonate with me. And that’s how I know how well Fleisher and Amato see in their (now) rearward position as CW professors. Although they are no longer in the “trenches” they once wrote from, their view is still relatively clear alongside what we in the trenches do see.

To those more closely allied with creative writing, Fleisher and Amato have posed these questions, among others:

Is the creative writing workshop, like that of Grady Tripp from the film Wonder Boys, little more than a safe haven for taste distribution and reinforcement, harsh or supportive as the case may be, turning on the particular constituency of a given workshop?

Is the creative writing classroom a place simply for fortifying the mysteries of creativity, or can something more concrete, more palpable, more critical, more urgent therein be attended to?

Do advanced degrees help would-be writing instructors (much as literature instructors), regardless of talent, to acquire the analytical tools needed to acquire critical insight into teaching?

Onward, then, to “Pedagogy” and all its parts: Prelude; Act 1; Inter/mission; Act 2; Act 3; Postlude; Progressively Circuitous Notes; and The Citation Mill.

Kirsten Young, Managing Editor (1999-2002)