We’ve launched a new series that we’ve titled “Department Dialogue.” This series offers our professors a platform that they can use to discuss English-related topics that are of interest to both faculty and students alike. We continue the series with responses from the Creative Writing faculty, who have all answered the same question: what does creative writing mean to you?
Creative writing, through both academic rigor and imagination, is a means of stronger thinking about the world and the self. Craft requires work, technique takes practice, and the imagination needs to be fed. The world requires us to continually participate. This is how writers live. Creative writing, to me, means struggle, but it’s always worth the effort.
To me creative writing is so important for its sharing of voices, experiences, struggles, and sensibilities that have been largely shunned, discouraged, and marginalized by society. I love writing that gives voice to people others might wish to sweep under the rug. There is nothing like discovering an exciting new writer or piece of writing that uses language to activate worlds and dream-states in the reader’s mind, transporting readers and engaging them with complicated peoples, places, and lives that all deserve attention and empathy, even if that empathy arrives conflicted. I am excited that after years of reading and writing, I still constantly happen upon incredible new writers and their worlds, often without planning to. I love that passion for creative writing allows one to participate in an endless conversation about writing and writers, that it provides a never-ending treasure hunt, a little dirt-digging on one writer unearthing another writer who leads to another.
Creative writing is diversity unleashed, with different aesthetics and experiences and ideas released into the world in a beautiful cacophony. One of the things I love about creative writing is the sheer breadth of what can be accomplished, and how very subjective artistic taste can be. What speaks to one reader (or writer) may not speak to me, and vice versa. In creative writing, those differences are, and should be, celebrated.
The value of creative writing is the synthesis of hyacinths and Velveeta, in your pantaloons, under your parasol, the sun all lollygagging past a banker’s (and all their ilk, lobbyists, lawyers, marsh rats, etc.) shiny forehead, pockets pulsing of credit cards and offal, as she wretches up our misery/economy, as the river flows by (not so unlike a rainbow-silk deerstalker buttoned with lovely puzzles, sealed in a whiskey soap bubble tied to the ears of a weather balloon flying in a hot wind against a chalky sky…), while bankers kneel and hurl and tear at their hairs (thin wispy, basically marionette strings, in my opinion), while the stock market lurches and leaps and topples…the river just strutting all Mick Jagger, all Patti Smith roaring along—and how much is the river worth, a river worth!—all Fyodor Dostoevsky on a bicycle, just dressed in the deepest purple suit, this crazy ragged suit (he’d lose it later in roulette and later win it back), just waving to you (if you’re a poet, sending telegrams to the soul [as Brautigan might mutter]) and to your kids (if they are imaginative; if they love rain and gum shaped as worms and beheading daisies for jewelry and the sound of tractors, and so on) and Dostoevsky just flipping off the bankers (who are again apologizing via the language of vomit) and Dostoevsky flipping off the business kids down at Hertz, down at Budget and Thrifty (indeed) and Enterprise (starship, my ass), in the white starchy shirts, just dying, man, just exploding inside, just hurling all over my rental contracts as the river laughs on all buttery, all oozing soul, turpitude and toady, solemn by the heron legs, the whirl of bass and bluegill, angular on a boulder (Gertrude Stein and Cindy Lauper picnicking [Pop-Tarts and Solo cups of sherry] yellow bikini on the boulders, waving, too, authentic, easy grin, whistling by now, and so on.), creaky little riverlets, foamy curls, a valedictory speech of lilies (as the bankers all plug their ears with mud; hemorrhage their hollow chests out; let’s liquidate something now!), river all tonsorial, all bravura, all scabby and muddy churl, all hyacinths and Velveeta (as I mention again, for emphasis I suppose), all wormy and squirmy, while the bankers squeal, while the bankers straight-lace all the way home, all the way down the road gurgling with vomit that is nothing but vomit and they can’t even see the vomit because they live it/are in it/are it, the vomit, but the creative writers can see (creative writers live with their eyes/lives not only open, but glowing/sucking on the healthy cheekbones and the cracked leg bones of the world…) the vomit just lustrous/polychromatic and fine, the bruises behind the makeup, banker, the sigh behind the salutation, the beetles beneath the green chemical lawn (the dotted line, etc.), and the creative folks, they skip and skop, they hop, they guffaw, they cry a little, a smidgen, the creative writers, because they gaze above and they gaze below and they want to gaze more closely/mostly/honestly and therefore they live their lives in such a way—in such a purposeful, sustaining, significant way—to do what they want to do, day leading on to way—to look, yes, to see. To actually see. That is the value of creative writing.
In my career, I’ve taught in five different English departments and five different creative writing programs.
Let me tell you what’s unique about creative writing at Ball State.
We have a great curriculum.
- Most creative writing programs only offer courses in fiction and poetry. More are offering creative nonfiction. But very few programs teach screenwriting courses—but we do.
- Some undergraduate creative writing programs are like mini-MFA programs because you focus specifically in one genre. Our program doesn’t let you specialize like that. We want you to take classes in multiple genres, to stretch yourself, to learn how studying poetry can make you a better fiction writer, to learn how studying screenwriting can improve the scenes you write in creative nonfiction, etc.
- Some programs are nothing but workshops, but our program features classes like Creative Writing in the Community and Literary Editing and Publishing, which give you a taste of teaching, service learning, and publishing.
- At Ball State, you take literature classes along with other English majors. Where I went to college, creative writing majors didn’t take classes with the literature majors. I took general education lit classes. And so when I went to graduate school and took grad lit courses, wowza, I really struggled. But at Ball State, creative writing majors take “real” lit classes.
We have a great community.
- I’ve never seen anything quite like The Writers’ Community anywhere else. It’s not a class. It’s a student-led, co-curricular club that makes an enormous impact on its members.
- Recently, I brought a friend to the Mark Irwin reading. She got her MFA at a very prestigious program, and she said, “God, I love how smart and genuine the students are.” I had to agree. I’ve taught in programs with far more competitive anxiety than camaraderie, where students were way too worried about how much they “mattered.” I’m glad our program isn’t like that.
- We bring great writers to campus who take the time to really talk with students. Some programs bring in “big name” writers who breeze in, breeze out. I say it’s much more inspiring for students to meet writers who’ve just published their first books, who might be just a few years farther along than the students in the audience.
We have an amazing faculty.
- See, at some schools, a particular aesthetic dominates. When that happens, when you’re only exposed to certain texts to model, you end up unconsciously imitating those texts. As if that’s the “right” way. But at Ball State, we have lots of different poets and writers, lots of different aesthetics so that you can figure out who you are as a writer—not who you think we want you to be.
- I really do believe that we do our best writing when we trust our readers. If we’re afraid they’ll eviscerate us, we hold back. We pull punches. Or we can’t write at all. Ball State’s faculty members create an environment where young writers feel comfortable taking risks—and that’s really important.
Personally, I think we have the best undergraduate creative writing program in the state of Indiana.
I tell people this all the time.