Diversifying the Writer's Portfolio
“What’s changed in our field, and how should our curriculum reflect that?” asks Tony Trigilio, professor and interim chair of the Creative Writing Department. He posed this question to his full-time faculty as they collectively tackled the development of a newly proposed undergraduate curriculum—aimed at better preparing students for a creative field which increasingly demands flexibility and cross-genre expertise.
Currently, Creative Writing undergraduates receive either a BA in Fiction, Poetry or Nonfiction. Under the proposed curriculum, students study under a single Creative Writing major and choose one of the three genres as a concentration. This allows students to specialize in one field while developing skills and versatility in the others. The proposed curriculum, recently passed by the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee, the Academic Affairs Committee and Faculty Senate, will now make its way to the Office of the Provost for review.
Joe Meno, associate chair and professor in the department, stresses the importance of adaptability in writing. “Seeing the connections between prose, poetry and creative nonfiction helps students graduate with a much broader sense of possibilities.” A student with a poetry concentration, for example, might take a fiction workshop to expand their understanding of voice, persona or character. The new major would also allow students to easily move from one concentration to another, a change borne from the idea that shifting interests shouldn’t hinder a student’s ability to graduate on time.
The proposed curriculum is the product of a year-long discussion among full-time faculty throughout the department. “This isn’t theoretical,” says Meno. “It’s based on our experience, on writers who’ve published successfully, and it’s based on looking at other strong writing programs.” Though rooted in the strengths of the current curriculum, the changes were partly to align with the Universal Learning Outcomes developing through the Strategic Plan and recommendations from an external review by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).
In their first year, students would interact with poets, essayists and novelists in the Foundations in Creative Writing course, to experiment in a number of different genres and forms, regardless of what concentration they chose. The department is excited to see how the potential outcomes of a cross-genre environment continue to expand beyond the classroom. “The intangible, social aspect of a multi-genre curriculum was the seed to add Foundations as a requirement to the new major’s model,” says Trigilio, and notes the rise in cross-genre readings organized by students.
The proposed curriculum adds more Literature courses to the program, which the English Department is designing especially for Creative Writing majors. In addition, a mid-program, mixed-genre Writer’s Portfolio course that focuses on vocational opportunities and post-graduation preparedness (including applying to graduate school) will be required. In the student’s final coursework they’ll also complete a thesis manuscript.
The department, now in its fourth year, feels it’s the right time to take significant steps toward enhancing the curriculum. “It’s where we should be,” says Trigilio. “It’s been a lot of work, but it feels like it’s been the right amount of work.”
The department will host information sessions for students to discuss the new curriculum in the Spring 2017 semester.