• The Creative Writing Programs

  • exchange Jordan Wiklund

    Summer 2012
    In the Classroom

    From rock, paper, scissors Editor-in-Chief, Jordan Wiklund

    I proffered myself up to the rock, paper, scissors nonfiction board for the past two years and took that experience as seriously as any other within the program. It was fun, but it was also an opportunity outside of the classroom to foster a conversation about what makes pieces work and ask, “why am I affected by this?” 

    The reactions of Book Fair-goers to rock, paper, scissors at the AWP Conference in Chicago this year were effusive and immediate—“What is that?'  Steampunk and DIY endeavors are popular, and last year's journal was bound with rivets and looked spectacular. I think everyone associated with the journal is as excited about it as I am, about what it can be and where it can go. I'm thrilled we have a large staff this year—over 25! I think the more voices we have, the better the publication will be.

    Where's it going? Hard to know. One idea we've toyed with is hearing each piece in the author’s own voice.  After the selections are made, we'll record each writer reading his or her piece, hearing each writer’s inflections, nuances, and tones. We can make those recordings available on the RPS website and the Facebook page, and spread them around via Twitter and other social media. 

    Over the summer I'd like RPS to host an open mic reading, or something Daniel Handler revealed works well for shy readers—an open mic + karaoke. Can't do one without the other. Reading and sharing your own work is always an exposure. Might as well supplement such naked, thoughtful, and serious revealing of character and consciousness with heartfelt renditions of "If I Could Turn Back Time" and "China Girl." 

    In all seriousness, though, the Twin Cities is bursting with opportunities for writers to see and be seen, hear and be heard. I want to encourage people to seek out these opportunities and create some of their own. The Cracked Walnut and Barbaric Yawp reading series are fantastic, and there's so much more out there. There's the Hazel & Wren online writing community, Literary Darts magazine, Andy Sturdevant's Salon Saloon live literary magazine happy hour extravaganza at the Bryant Lake Bowl, chances to volunteer or work at The Loft. There's the Walker Art Center's Open Field program for any and all artists. It's incredible. I want RPS to form connections out there and make a statement. "Art," in the eyes of creative crowds, is encouraged, discussed, and built upon in any medium, and we live in a beautiful community for that.

    I think the more we see RPS as a bridge to other opportunities in real-world and online formats, the more others will see RPS as a serious-literary literary journal. That may seem redundant, but how many small journals out there suffer from 'oh, another avant-garde zine crafted by artistes?'   

    More than anything, I wanted the opportunity to read more of my classmates' work. I'm working through the program slowly—two classes per year—and the more I'm exposed to good writing at Hamline, the happier I am. I want to learn from everyone. I want to hear from everyone. I want RPS to be a conduit into parallel lives and universes that look mysteriously like our own.

    ________________________________________________________________________

  •   Jessy Nelson 475  

    Spring 2012
    In the Classroom

    Craft and Controversy: the Victimization of Women and Girls in Young Adult Fiction

    Story by CWP Communications Assistant Benjamin Kowalsky

    In the artistic community, it often generates more conversation when one draws a line than when one erases a line. This was evident when Jessy Nelson presented her critical thesis, “Victimization of Women and Girls in Young Adult Literature,” at the January 2012 residency for the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.  I was so interested in her presentation that I decided to pull her aside and continue the conversation begun earlier in the classroom.

    - - - - - - - - - -

    Ben:  Jessy, where did you get the idea for a topic like “Victimization in Young Adult Literature”?

    Jessy: This idea started with my sense of the political dichotomy in this country right now, how we are completely divided into this liberal/conservative mode. I read this New York Times opinion piece by Michelle Abbot about children’s literature, about how she thought The Outsiders was too liberal of a novel. And it upset me because The Outsiders is a book written by a teen for teens, and it was based on her own experience in the 60s.

    It also stemmed from a presentation by another MFA student a couple of residencies ago on a topic called “teens can handle it.” It was about dealing with tough material. I asked her if she’d ever come across a novel that she didn’t think was appropriate for teens, and she said ‘no.’ And I thought, ‘well, there’s got to be stuff out there that isn’t appropriate. The world just isn’t 100% good. ‘

    So I started looking at message boards and what people in the New York Times meant when they talked about ‘controversial books.’ Then I started to really study these books.  For example, I looked on Amazon to see what other readers were buying, because people tend to buy the same kind of books. That’s when I came across Living Dead Girl.  And interestingly enough, we had an agent last residency, Sara Davies, who mentioned Living Dead Girl  when I asked if there was a book she thought was too much.

    So I studied these novels to find out ‘Is it the material itself that is controversial?’ or ‘Is it the way that it’s written that makes it controversial?’

    Ben:  Why did you think the presentation at the MFAC residency was the right place to start exposing people to your idea?

    Jessy:  In our third semester we have to do a critical thesis.  Actually it was not my intention to do this topic for my thesis. I was going to do something on revision, because I thought it would help me in my creative writing.  However, I feel like we don’t talk enough about controversial novels and what they mean to a reader. We talk about it in terms of our own craft and our own writing processes, but I really thought we ought to be talking about the reader as well, because we do write for young adults.

    You can write anything for adults because they are old enough to put things down. I think that teen readers don’t necessarily do that.

    Ben:  But couldn’t I make the argument that this is just a case of marketing gone awry in a publishing world that recognizes teen and young adult literature as more profitable than books that are explicitly for adults?

    Jessy:  There are some books, like Tender Morsels, which are marketed toward teens because teen books are selling better than adult books. That’s just the way it is. If you look at the New York Times bestseller list, a great number of them are actually teen books. There’s this crossover audience, and so marketing people are saying, “OK, we want to draw from that appeal.’

    - - - - - - - - - - -

    A painting doesn’t begin until the artist first makes a line, and that’s also when artists open themselves up to controversy. “Why put the line there?” some might ask.  In Jessy Nelson’s case, her presentation seeks to draw a sensible line and create a ripple effect that stimulates discussion throughout the children’s and young adult literary community.

     

  • In the Classroom Archives

    Spring 2012

    In the artistic community, it often generates more conversation when one draws a line than when one erases a line. This was evident when Jessy Nelson presented her MFAC Low Residency thesis on “Victimization of Women and Girls in Young Adult Literature”. I was so interested in her presentation that I decided to pull her aside and continue the conversation begun in the classroom at the Low Residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University.

    Jessy, where did you get the idea for a topic like “Victimization of Women and Girls in Young Adult Literature”?

    This idea started with the political dichotomy of this country right now and how we are completely divided into this liberal/conservative mode and I read this article by Michelle Abbot about children’s literature and it was a New York Times opinion piece, and it was just her talking about how she thought “The Outsiders” was too liberal of a novel. And it upset me because “The Outsiders” is a book written by a teen for teens, and it was this experience that she had experienced in the 60’s. It also stemmed from a couple Residencies ago, another student did a topic called “teens can handle it” and it was about dealing with tough material. And I asked her if she’d ever come across a novel that she didn’t think was appropriate for teens. And she said “no”. And I thought, ‘well there’s got to be stuff out there that isn’t appropriate. The world just isn’t 100% good. ‘So I started looking at message boards and what people in the New York Times were talking about when they talked about ‘controversial books.’ Then I started to pull these books out and I started to really look and I actually started on Amazon, where I looked at these books and then I looked at what other readers were buying, because they tend to be the same kind of books. And I started to look at topics and discuss it. That’s when I came across “Living Dead Girl”. And interestingly enough we had an agent come last Residency, Sara Davies, and I asked her about books, if there was anything she thought was too much, and she said “Living Dead Girl” as well. So I got these novels and I want to look at “is it the material itself that is controversial?” or “is it some way that it’s written that it becomes controversial?"

    Why is this the right time to release your findings?

    I’m going into my fourth semester, in my third semester I had to do something called a “critical thesis” and actually it was not my intention to do this. I was going to do something on revision, because I thought it would help me in my creative writing. Last Residency, when we were talking about going into this critical paper, I was actually going to do revision, but I had all this stuff thinking about my own writing and just I feel like we don’t talk enough about controversial things. We don’t talk about these novels and what this means to a reader. And a lot of times we talk about it in terms of our own craft and our own writing processes, and I really thought we ought to be talking about the reader as well, because we do write for young adults. Adults, you can write anything, because they are of that moral age group where they can put things down. I think that teen readers don’t necessarily do that.

    But couldn’t I make the argument that this is just a case of marketing gone awry in a publishing world that recognizes teen and Young Adult literature as more profitable than books that are explicitly for adults?

     Well, there are some books, like Tender Morsels, which is marketed towards teens because of how publishing is going. And both fortunately and unfortunately the publishing world for teen books is selling—they are selling better than adult books. That’s just the way it is. If you look at the New York Times Bestseller List a great number of them are actually teen books. There’s this crossover audience, and so there’s these marketing people who are saying “OK, we want to draw that appeal.” You’ve got that. I don’t think any author goes out to write a book that is damaging to children. I’d hate to think that’s the case. But what I think is that some don’t think about the craft enough…If you don’t actually look at your craft, you’re not going to be thinking “well, how is this being portrayed?” and that’s what I think it comes down to: a breakdown of remembering who you are writing for.

     As is the case in so many things with artists, you create more controversy when you draw a line than when you break down a wall. What can you say to artists who bristle at the thought that they’ve got to practice some kind of restraint?

     There’s this notion that we as artists don’t have to justify our art. And as a Young Adult author I don’t believe that’s true. I believe that you do owe more to your reader than you owe to your own self.

     So, you would say that the point is artistic choice. In fiction there are possibilities of portrayal that aren’t available in CNF, and thus can be called into question as to their suitability?

    Yes, it’s fiction, and yes you can go with that hopelessness. But is it portraying the real event? If it’s not portraying it close enough to reality then you’re sending a false message…You need to allow your readers to have that wall. Jane Rush Thomas once told me that we don’t have the right to fix our own childhood on the backs of the children of today. We’ve all had damage happen to us, but we don’t have the right to fix it on our own children. I think some authors do that. They forget that what is inside of them comes out.

    What is it that you’re hoping to accomplish with this, and how far do you think this idea of yours is going to go?

    Half an hour is not even close to enough time to present this. But I was going to give what I could. It’s like the ripple effect: when you toss the pebble into the ponds the ripples go out and they get bigger, and they get bigger. To me, as long as you can spread this ripple effect, it will get out into the community and we will have this discussion, and we will look at it like that idea. We are going into the world of writing thinking about the tough stuff. Because if we don’t do it, who out there is going to do it?

    spring 2011

    "A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as someone who has found a process that will bring about the new things we would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir, he engages in an activity."

    -William Stafford, "A Way of Writing" (found on the syllabus of "The Creative Process," Spring 2011)

    As any MALS or MFA student can attest, the course of study in a graduate degree program is marked by rigorous examination of craft and ample opportunities to practice putting the techniques to use. But even after all the critical reading and workshopping and revision, the writer is still the sole agent responsible for finding—and employing—a process that allows the writing to actually happen. Wouldn't it be great if there was a course that formally examined process, included reflections on creativity by working artists, and offered guidance to developing writers on how to find their "best practice"?

    There is such a course. Developed by faculty member Patricia Weaver Francisco, "The Creative Process" is a required course for the MALS degree and is also popular among MFA students. "The Creative Process" began as "Mind and Its Processes," a course that Francisco taught with College of Liberal Arts psychology professor Matt Olson. The themes in the course spoke to Francisco's growing interests as a scholar and her experiences as a writer.

    "I had a new-found enthusiasm for the fascinating coherence of testimonies about creativity that I'd discovered in my own reading," Francisco says, regarding her motivations for teaching a course like "Mind and Its Processes." "I'd recently become a mother and was struggling with the fact that the methods I'd used to write my first book, a novel published four months after my son was born, were no longer going to work. How do people DO this over time? It was a question I desperately wanted answered."

    Although "The Creative Process" is a requirement for completion of the MALS degree, most students come to the course willingly and with a mission in mind. Current MALS student Satish Jayaraj enrolled in the course this spring with the hopes that it would alleviate the "severe writing slump" he was in and would reinvigorate his creativity. Current MFA student Kelly Hansen Maher took the course to explore the variety of approaches writers use to get their work done. Additionally, she felt it was the right time to study her own habits and strategies as a writer.

    According to Francisco, these are excellent reasons for investing in the course, and she hopes that students do feel an urgency in figuring out how to be their creative best. "The class is designed to create an emergency," Francisco says, "If not now, when?! Our intense focus on what accomplished creators in all disciplines have discovered about their processes, paired with non-stop individual experimenting, creates a foundation on which to build, repair, and re-design a creative life."

    In Spring 2011, students in "The Creative Process" studied texts by Rollo May, Brewster Ghiselin, the father of "flow" psychology, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, and others. Course assignments asked students to do much deep analysis and reflection based on the texts they read and the ways they experimented with their own creative processes.

    "It's a demanding course," Francisco says. "It requires deep thinking about one's dreams, goals, habits, resistance, perfectionism, passion, commitment. It's also academically rigorous, so every semester is a challenge. Will we all get to the place where the breakthrough occurs and coalesces into change? How? When? I see thinkers and writers at their best in this class, and it reinvigorates me."

    Like all well-developed and time-tested courses, "The Creative Process" invites students to take from the course what they most need as scholars and writers. Both Jayaraj and Hansen Maher were up to the challenge, and they benefited from the course on many levels.

    Says Hansen Maher: "The course—as promised—has helped me see my own habits and methods of working in the context of all creative processes, across disciplines and cultures. ... I see how my work (be it my poetry, prose, or 'other') is comprised of a series of steps that overlap and conjoin but do have distinct characteristics and pitfalls. From this, I have been able to shape a really responsive habit."

    Jayaraj felt the course not only helped him access his creativity again, but it made him "respect creativity as a force." He says, " I am now not only more prepared to continue being creative in my own writing life, but I am determined to push creative endeavors as a teacher and as a member of the community."

    The course surpassed Hansen Maher's expectations, too: "What has surprised me about the course has been how profoundly it has touched on my sense of vocation as a writer. I have a 40-hour per week job and a small daughter, so in addition to school, I keep a very active schedule. It has been my constant lament that I do not have enough writing time. Patricia [Francisco] is so smart about all this; she has such a researched and personal outlook and presents the convincing perspective that, regardless of constraints, writing is a joy, and habit is unique to the writer. I have come to take a 'tender approach with myself,' to borrow from Michelle Cliff's phrase, and have stopped seeing my writing as anything but my great fortune."

    Since its first iteration twenty years ago, Francisco has taught many variations of "The Creative Process," including a course offered by Hamline that was open to the community. Based on what students have gained from the course over the years, it is no surprise that now, ten years after the community course was offered, its members are still meeting.

    Jayaraj echoes the wider benefits of "The Creative Process" and the important themes it addresses. He emphasizes the crucial importance of acknowledging and cultivating creativity: "[The course] showed me that despite the economic downturn that has people turning away from creativity and the liberal arts, it is a must for our world to go forward, and there is a community out there that knows it."
     

    Fall 2010

    Creating Across Genres: The Beginning of the BFA at Hamline

    In spring 2010, Hamline launched a new undergraduate major in creative writing and a BFA program, making Hamline the first university in the United States to offer three fine arts degrees in creative writing. To earn the BFA, students are required to complete fifteen courses in the major: nine courses in creative writing taught by faculty and six courses in English literature taught by faculty in the English department.

    Faculty member Deborah Keenan taught the program’s introductory course, "Creating Across Genres," during spring semester. The course attracted a group of twenty-one students who demonstrated diverse reasons for taking Creating Across Genres. “The variety of students in [the course] intrigued me,” Keenan says. “The student athletes, the science majors, students deeply committed—already—to a writing life, students seeking the Hamline Plan's Writing Intensive designation, the students deeply involved in Hamline's theater department and social justice work, students on scholarship, and students making it to class despite working forty-hour-a-week jobs. It was a great combination of natures and ambitions and I learned a lot from these students.”

    Sophomore Rebecca Brown hadn’t imagined that she would participate in the BFA program until she took "Creating Across Genres." “I was more interested in just dabbling with writing,” Brown says. “However, through the class, I began to see that there are so many genres of writing to participate in.”

    Junior Lewis Mundt came into "Creating Across Genres" with years of experience writing poetry—he published his first book of poetry and short prose, You Better Close That Window; They Say It's Gonna Rain Tonight, this fall—while some of his classmates had little to no experience with the genre at all. “[Keenan] was able to cater to both styles, to challenge those of us already in one comfort zone to move out of it and to introduce material to an audience it may have never had before.”

    Keenan challenged her students with a variety of texts and writing assignments in each of the three major genres—poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Revision was a point of emphasis throughout the semester. “[The course] kept me writing and revising,” sophomore Michelle Metzger says. “For other classes or clubs that I've been a part of, we write a lot, but rarely come back to [the work] for revision.”

    In addition to what they accomplished toward completion of their degrees and beyond what they learned as writers, Brown and Mundt feel strongly about the merits of a BFA program. “[Adding] a BFA program to Hamline is part of the growth of the school,” says Brown. She believes that it will attract more students and “[make] us a more rounded school, in the way that we have a sports program and now a more complete arts program.”

    Mundt believes that programs like a BFA enhance the greater academic landscape. “I think there's a lot of artistry getting pushed to the wayside in the name of the Almighty Dollar,” he says. “We think that our degrees need to be validated by our bank accounts and that the way to the heart of the American Dream is a cushy job or at least a cushy desk chair. I think that a BFA program in creative writing can teach students that their talents are valuable and craft-able, and it can be a beautiful outlet for even the fairweather scribe. A lot of us are bursting to let our creativity out without confining it to snide comments slipped between MLA citations, and a program rooted in expression is just what we need.”

    "Creating Across Genres" is being offered again this fall, taught by faculty member Katrina Vandenberg.  Two additional courses in the BFA track, "Forms in Creative Nonfiction" and "Forms in Fiction," are being taught by faculty members Barrie Jean Borich and David Marshall Chan.

    For more information about the BFA program or the undergraduate creative writing major, visit the BFA home page.

    Spring/Summer 2010

    Literary Theory: Pushing Beyond the Page

    by MFA students Rochelle Love and Steve McPherson

    There’s no getting around it: Literary theory is a prickly pear as far as most writers are concerned. But aside from the tweed jackets, the pipes, and the horn-rimmed glasses, is there anything that really separates theorists from any other kind of writer?

    Becky Weaver would like to tell you no. During our J-Term 2009 class we read several of the heavy-hitters in literary theory (Derrida, Barthes, Foucault, Adorno, etc.) and digested Jonathan Culler’s excellent Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2000). Our class discussions were given over to working through how these theorists’ writings and lines of thought affected us as writers, and we accomplished this by taking the theorists off their pedestals as the arbiters of what is right and wrong with literature.  Instead, we read them as authors and looked at ways their work could help us with our own.

    Dividing our reading equally between the aforementioned theorists and writers whose work interfaced with their ideas in interesting ways (Kathy Acker, Anne Waldman, Barrett Watten, Carla Harryman, and others), we refused to separate the act of writing about literature from literature itself, and in the process learned to read the work of theorists, in Bruce Chatwin’s words, “for plunder.” New approaches and insights pushed us in new directions with our written work and forced us to consider not just what we write, but what is behind what we write and how our writing intersects with the larger dialogue. Our work for the class was split almost evenly between inquiry papers (in which we responded to theorists via prompts brought up in class) and creative papers (in which we explored ideas from both theorists and authors in poetry or prose). The inquiry papers drove us towards a final critical essay in which we brought the work of one theorist into dialogue with one of the creative works we had read or an outside work of our choosing. This afforded us the chance to work more on the theory side, while our portfolio allowed us to pull together revised creative pieces into a unified whole representing our creative output.

    There are plenty of classes that can help push you towards the goals you can see for yourself as a writer, but the ones that change, on a fundamental level, how you see the game itself are few and far between, and Becky Weaver’s Literary Theory class is one of those game-changing ones.

  • News

    Jun 23 2014

    Inspired By

    Countless students and writers have been influenced by Hamline CWP professor and poet Katrina Vandenberg. Among those inspired by her writing is young adult writer and The Fault in Our Stars author John Green.

    New on The CWP Youtube channel -- videos from the BFA Senior Reading. May 15, 2014. Congratulations, graduates!

    CWP faculty members John Brandon (BFA/MFA) and e. lockhart, a.k.a., Emily Jenkins, (MFAC) are both celebrating new releases in fiction.