The Story Workshop method drew out the best of me on both creative and personal levels; the department engaged me completely—not just as a student but as a very active participant in a shared vision of what writing and life expressed through writing was all about. Columbia's Fiction Writing Department made me feel like I was part of something unique and challenging and profoundly energizing.
Chelsea Laine Wells—BA
I cannot overstate how much I gained from my experience with the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia, how much I learned, how much I changed, and how my decision to attend this program will continue to echo throughout my life.
The faculty, the staff, the Story Workshop method, the completely supportive environment—for me it was a perfect storm that came together and brought forth the best in me. I feel so lucky to have been there when I was and to have received such individual and caring support from everyone.
I was never a good student in high school. In college, in the Fiction Writing department, that completely changed. I experienced success and accomplishment unlike any other time in my life. I was a Hair Trigger editor two years in a row, and was published in Hair Trigger every year that I attended the college, as well as Reservoir and The Story Week Reader. I was a recipient of the David Friedman Memorial Award. I achieved two Columbia Scholastic Press Association Awards. I was selected for two one-on-one conferences with small-press editors. I was a tutor every year I was a student, and then a year after I graduated as well. I served as a judge, and still do this many years after graduating, for the yearly Young Author's competition. And finally, I was salutatorian of my graduating class, culminating in a speech—a video of which, as far as I know, is still running on Columbia's website—that convinced a donor to start a scholarship in my name for Fiction Writing students—the Chelsea Laine Wells Scholarship Fund. Since graduating, I have achieved success in many other ways, including a nomination for a 2011 Pushcart Prize.
I'm listing my successes not to stroke my own ego but to show you what Columbia's Fiction Department did for someone who always hated school and did literally no more than the minimum required to get by. You have to understand, all of these accomplishments would shock my high school teachers. It all still blows my mind.
When I transferred to Columbia and began taking classes in the Fiction Writing Department, I instantly realized that I had found something very special.
The classes offered a unique way to approach writing and the culmination of ideas. And the teachers! How do I even begin to describe how blessed I have felt to have all these talented professionals rooting me on, inspiring me, and above all making me believe that I too could succeed? Not only do the fiction classes train students in the craft of writing, but the departmental resources, such as Hair Trigger, Story Week, The Story Week Reader, Fictionary, F Magazine, give students a chance to actually apply what they are learning. This is such a unique and rewarding thing. This department has made me feel validated as an emerging writer. It has armed me with motivation, passion, and most importantly, the confidence in myself to keep at it even when I fail.
Ira Brooker—March 1, 2012
I've seen a lot of media coverage lately about spoiled liberal arts students complaining because they can't find decent jobs. I'm always confused by these reports. Conventional wisdom says my Fiction Writing MFA should make me thoroughly unemployable, yet for the past five years I've been working well-paid, respectable jobs that make direct use of my creative writing skills. I give a huge amount of credit to Columbia College in general and the Fiction Writing curriculum in particular.
The education I received in the Fiction Writing Department struck a unique balance between artistic development and career training. Not only did I hone my natural talent, I learned how to apply it in real-life, honest-to-god, money-making situations. Fiction Writing at Columbia College is one of the most important educational experiences in America right now.
Jenny Seay—BA, MFA
Today, I continue to develop the novel that I began as my master's thesis, and I am employed in a position that allows me to put the writing skills I honed in my classes to use raising money for undergraduate students at the University of Chicago.
This department and its intimate approach caused me to bloom.
I owe so much to my time there, where I was encouraged to be the master of my own story. As a current children's librarian, I use many of the same principles I learned in my time at Columbia when I teach in my young adult and youth writing groups. My kids have been published nationally and sponsored to travel to New York for TeenInk's competitive summer writing program. This community's love is what I share with them, and it's helped at-risk teens stay on track.
Columbia was my third college; I hated the English departments at the previous schools. I heard about how Columbia went about their classes, the wide range of classes they offered, and the dedication to fiction attracted me.
I committed to Columbia before I ever saw the campus, before I had ever been to Chicago or had any clue about the other things the school did outside of fiction. I stayed, because I love how Columbia's Fiction Writing Department is structured and how they go about teaching and showcasing fiction. The school is far from cheap, and far from my home, but I stay because I love fiction.
As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I must shed light on the therapeutic value of the Columbia College fiction writing approach.
While attending as a grad student, I watched a diverse population of students develop their own voices as they simultaneously worked through their own painful experiences, creating art. This was possible through fostering of a safe space that allowed for and emphasized PROCESS over criticism. When story is approached from that point of view, rather than the rush to present a finished product, there is a space opened up that allows not only for therapeutic healing, but for therapeutic healing that leads to art that resonates with the larger human condition.
Because of what I experienced at Columbia, I not only improved my writing enough to be accepted (despite mediocre undergraduate grades) and thrive at the University of Chicago's graduate program in Social Work, I also learned to adapt the listening skills necessary for clinical work into the creation of my own safe space where clients can tell their STORIES, and thus I found and fostered my own "clinical voice" just as Columbia students find their "writing voice." I would imagine that there are countless other Fiction Writing alumni who successfully adapt its methods to diverse practices as well as related arts. It would be tragic if these vast spaces, where true healing takes place in our society, were shrunken to meet the desires of the few vs. the needs of the many.
Kevin Freese—BA, MFA
I sit behind a desk as editor-in-chief of a monthly magazine, 800 miles away from Columbia College Chicago.
I would not be sitting behind this editor's desk if it were not for the profound impact the Fiction Writing Department's use of the Story Workshop approach made on my life. This view is shared by countless others in professional settings across the country that use the unique skills acquired in the Fiction Writing Department on a daily basis—writers of fiction and nonfiction, other educators, public servants, lawyers, bankers, media professionals…individuals from fields of all types.
The Story Workshop approach to the teaching of writing developed by Professor Emeritus John Schultz has a proven track record decades long complete with meaningful credentials and both qualitative and quantitative evidence of effectiveness. It is an all-at-once approach that teaches students how to write at their highest capabilities and dramatically heightens the overall communication skills and creative-problem solving skills of students. And it does this in a way that is quickly noticeable to students as well as prospective students—prospective students that have heard of the Story Workshop approach used in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago and want to attend because of it.
For nearly as long as the Story Workshop approach has recorded its success, the Fiction Writing Department has played a significant role in the growth and reputation of Columbia College Chicago. Its presence is vital to the lifeblood of the Chicago literary community as well as the city's arts-at-large community, which Columbia College Chicago is a part of and relies upon for support.
The Fiction Writing Department's reputation extends far beyond Chicago. It is recognized by the Associated Writing Programs and other organizations for its curriculum and the consistent work produced by its students.
For me—for many of us given the opportunity to teach in the Fiction Writing Department—Columbia is about the students reading their stories aloud, and the rest of the class exploding in gut laughter or holding back tears.
Columbia is about students who slipped through the cracks of the American school system for any number of reasons and first get their voice on the page, and hearing from a teacher the validation they so desperately needed. In terms of my own writing, yes, I was one of those kids—through elementary, middle, high school, and even as an undergraduate.
The exact reason I choose Columbia over all other schools in the country, and the reason I relocated from Colchester, CT to Chicago, IL, was the Fiction Writing Program.
No other school in the nation offered an undergraduate degree in fiction. No other school in the country allowed me to start studying my major from day one, thereby providing me with four full years of instruction, while other students were forced to complete general education first. No other school in the country had classes taught by published authors—not just teachers but genuine industry role models. Every other program I looked at offered watered-down creative writing under the umbrella of an English degree. Columbia offered so much more.
Then I set foot in the semi-circle and was reborn as a writer. I am a professional writer now. I have published dozens of articles in newspapers, magazines and other publications. I have had front page stories. I won an award for one of my articles. I publish short stories and have just finished my first novel. I worked as an editor at two publishing companies (Pearson Education & McGraw Hill). Currently I work as a copy writer for a fundraising social entrepreneur organization and am applying to grad programs in Environmental Studies and Communications. My employers value my ability to take raw information and mold it into engaging and eloquent pieces of writing. I have been told that my creative approaches to sensitive topics and my skill at painting pictures with my words set me apart from other writers they have worked with. I learned it all at Columbia. It is no exaggeration to say that the Fiction Writing Department made me the writer I am today.
The Story Workshop program manifests an intoxicating environment of permission and creativity that is not found anywhere else on Earth. Its tenants: "Use Your Voice," "Be Aware of your Audience," and "See it in your Mind" are the foundation for every piece of writing I have ever written. Each time I took my seat and was asked to "give a word," each time I was asked to "take a place"—magic occurred. There is just no other way to describe it. Images and ideas would start to form in my mind along with snatches of dialog and sensory details. Each question and prompt lead me further and further into the story unfolding before I had even lifted my pen. And then the command: "Write. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, backstory, just keep the pen moving." Forty minutes or more would go by so quickly as the story leaked from my brain and onto the page. When it was done I would have something of value in front of me, a story start or a continuation of a story I had started another day. Then we would go around and read out loud and listen carefully to each person's piece. We'd ask each other questions and recall bits that moved us—instant feedback and satisfaction—incentive to go home and finish it, polish it, and share it again.
I had the distinct privilege of participating in the teacher training program which meant I was enabled to take the semi-circle to students young and old and see the magic happen from another perspective. Let me tell you now, if you think it is impossible to get a second grader to write a full story with a beginning, middle, and end, problems, solutions, character development, action, and dialog. You are mistaken. Story Workshop is magic—plain and simple.
Donna Seaman—Senior Editor
As a senior editor for Booklist, published by the American Library Association, I've had the wonderful good fortune to consult with students and teach classes at a number of college and university writing departments, including the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago [where] I've been impressed over and over again by the intensity, specificity, and productivity of the teacher-student relationships.
The creative success of the Fiction Writing Department's faculty and alumni is recognized, admired, even envied the world over. The excellence and vitality of the department's publications have been celebrated with awards. And the tremendous scope, diversity, liveliness, and revelations of Story Week make for a unique literary festival with international resonance.
Virginia Baker—BFA candidate
The Fiction Writing Department has become a home for me.
Since I first set my heart on becoming a writer, I have been searching for a community that would be accepting and fostering. Over the years I've tried out a few different programs, but none of them really fit me the way Columbia's Fiction Writing Department has.
The Fiction Writing Department is a community where writers come together from across the country (I came here all the way from Jersey) to indulge themselves in their passion. Throughout my life, I've been scoffed at for admitting my dream of becoming a writer. There is no scoffing on the 12th floor of 624 S. Michigan. For the past two years I have only been encouraged and challenged. The Story Workshop approach focuses on the process, on the brainwork before you even put pen to paper. It fosters the craftsman, instead of searching for the genius.
Chris DeGuire—BA, MFA
I believe the way reading and writing are taught together in the Fiction Writing Department are marketable oral and written communication skills that can be applied to almost any job or career path.
I am a parent of a graduated Fiction Writing student.
My daughter, Emily Schultze, has seen her talents and her ambition blossom at Columbia, and it is all thanks to the fantastic Fiction Writing Department. I truly feel that this department is such a unique place, where students can not only feel at home and comfortable, but have the opportunity to utilize so many resources that are there for them. My daughter is constantly calling to tell me about all the new things she's become involved with: Hair Trigger, The Story Week Reader, Story Week, etc. She has become passionate about hard work. She has come to believe that she can succeed in this field of work, as a writer. She has been given so many wonderful opportunities through the department. All of these factors lead me to full heartedly believe that every penny we had to spend, and every loan we have had to take out was all worth it.
Taylor Rockhill—Double Major BA candidate Fiction Writing and Playwriting
The Fiction Writing department and its wonderful atmosphere here at Columbia have given me purpose and drive unlike any other academic institution has ever given me.