Archive for the ‘writing jobs’ Category

Jeff Minton: Save the Essays

May 26, 2014

I mean this in 2 ways:

1) to save the essays from the dumpster:

Roughly 12 million essays are written every year by college freshman comp students, and, by my educated guess, roughly 12 million of them are eventually trashed, in one way or another. Once graded, they’re eternally stored away in folders, on backup discs, in the dusty closets of hard drives, they’re cheerfully deleted, or thrown away. As a recent MFA grad entering into my first instructional position, the inevitable doom of my students’ papers made me question the point of it all. Here I am preaching audience audience audience, know your audience, and they’re thinking dumpster dumpster dumpster, what’s the quickest route to the dumpster.p12608

2) to save the essays from becoming worthy of the dumpster:

What’s even sadder is that many—if not most—freshman papers deserve their wasteful fate. If they were written for the dumpster to begin with, then the dumpster can have ‘em—who’d want to read them? To “save the essays” we need first to inspire essays that are worth saving.

I do not mean to say that all college freshman writing is bad. Certainly, there are a few exceptions in every comp class—self-motivated students with a predilection for writing. Ask any English prof, though, and you’ll hear a dismal testament of the student majority. Comp students just don’t care that much. And why should they? No one’s ever going to read their writing, right? Except the instructor, who is paid to be sympathetic to shitty work and polite in criticizing it. If they can get past the instructor, then they’re golden, and they know it.

In his article English Compositionism as Fraud and Failure, veteran instructor Jeffrey Zorn describes the field of composition pedagogy as his “adrift, embarrassing, infuriating, failing profession.” I agree.

Many experts blame the students: a spoiled, lazy, inept generation. Seriously? Take a look on YouTube—the greatest showcase of talent anywhere ever. Read the quippish genius happening all over Facebook and Twitter and in the captions of memes. People are brilliant . . . when they care—the same ones texting in the back of class and citing Wikipedia on their research papers.

Perhaps the predominant view is to blame lackadaisical and feeble professors for skirting extensive feedback because it’s either too much work or they don’t want to upset students and face grade disputes, that instructors need to push harder, be tougher. I used to share this outlook, before I experienced how poorly it works.

You can drill students until their typing-fingers blister, but they won’t learn until they want to. To an unreceptive student, intensive line editing and heavy-handed feedback teaches only how to imitate your correctness. So yes, you can improve a student’s writing by telling them what they did wrong and how to fix it. They’ll fix it, and it will be better, just like a patient takes pills to get better. You gave the student a fish. If they don’t care, all your brilliant advice goes into the dumpster along with their papers the second they see their final grade. Try as you might, you cannot teach a student how to fish until s/he’s hungry enough to need to learn.

How hard is it, anyway, to learn active voice? Every writing text and a thousand websites explain it pretty clearly. If you don’t care, you’ll struggle with it all semester, and then you’ll use it (badly) in the future because your professor told you to and you assume it’s always best. If you care, you’ll look it up and teach it to yourself in an afternoon, and when you use it in the future it will be because you want an active agent in your sentence in lieu of stating existence or victimizing your subject. Yes, it’s vital to teach craft, but it’s futile to shout it into deaf ears.

In my (fairly virgin) view, issues of craft are secondary to the primary concern: saying something worth reading—eschewing vapid bullshit. I’ll get 20 papers on gay marriage rights, 30 on marijuana laws. Gay marriage should be illegal because it’s in the img_6025
Bible. Legalizing weed will stimulate the economy because of the tax surplus. Every round of papers amounts to a grand collection of other people’s ideas. The papers are so fluffed and formulaic and monotonous and trite that offering feedback is an often worthless endeavor. You can’t polish a turd, as the saying goes. More aptly, you can’t edit substance into a vacuous composition.

Editors won’t take the time to line edit unless the manuscript is worth the work. Why should teachers? We know how to teach grammar and logic. That’s the easy stuff; it’s concrete. Railing students on passive voice and semicolon use while ignoring the banality of the thesis at best churns out exceptionally active, grammatical writers who actively and grammatically say nothing. I see a greater challenge. How do we teach significance? Passion? Originality? A desire to express oneself, to seek information and self-improve?

Call me a hippy (I’m not), but I believe everyone loves writing, in some form. It’s one of the defining traits of being human. It’s tragic that so many people are growing to hate it. How do you effectively teach someone how to do something they hate? You don’t. Thus, first and foremost, I believe my role as a comp teacher is to tap my students’ natural love of writing to draw out substance. I don’t care if there are a hundred passive constructions. If the core is strong, we have something to work with, and the student will lead the charge if s/he actually wants to make it better.

So how do we teach caring?

I’m asking as much as I’m suggesting. In the past, I’ve tried provocative prompts, personalized assignments, peer evaluations, every manner of bonus offering (this at least gets a response), hard-ass threats (this doesn’t), public challenges, direct communication, the “you’re all geniuses” approach, sardonic humor, harsh criticism, all positive criticism, all negative criticism, extensive feedback, sparse feedback, and on and on. Some methods work better than others, but in the end the papers are compost, and who knows if anything stuck. The core of the problem remains. They’re writing for a grade, not for an audience.

Perhaps the solution, then, is to provide an audience?

This question echoes back to my previous life as a music teacher, where I faced a similar problem. Kids would come into my little guitar closet and genuinely want to learn, but weeks of practicing at home and playing for me and practicing at home and playing for me would gradually suffocate the students’ fire and they’d often quit halfway through. Then I joined the faculty of a progressive school of rock (www.musichouseschool.com, ftr). They held end-of-semester performances, which gave a stage to the students. The same kids who took months to learn half a song were suddenly learning full songs in a week, perfecting them in a few. The difference was staggering.

This past semester, I reflected heavily on my past student rock stars. I wanted to offer a “stage” to my writing students, so I tried something entirely new. I published my students’ writing—like for real (contracts and all). I aimed to kill the arbitrariness of my assignments by providing a real outlet. We worked together toward a common goal. I needed them to write well because their papers would be in a publication associated with my name. They needed to write well if they wanted to get their name in the publication, and to be proud to have other people read it, which gave them an incentive to write beyond the grade. The focus remained on the writing and the publication as much as possible and shifted to grading only when the college demanded it.admin_1-asset-5036304298008

Aside from the lectures, which I viewed more like training seminars, class ran like a publication house. I was the editor. They were staff writers. Instead of requiring assignments and arbitrarily grading them, I gave prompts and payouts for those who responded. They chose which prompts they wanted to respond to. The payouts came in the form of “class cash,” which accumulated to determine their final grade (a bit corny, I know, but it gave the realistic feeling that I was paying them for their work, which essentially I was). When they submitted papers, instead of line editing, I played editor and either accepted or rejected their papers. If rejected, I would give a paragraph or two detailing the reason and offer them the chance to resubmit for the next revision period.

Some of the papers I read 3 or 4 times before accepting, and they vastly improved throughout the process. Often, in narrative writing, students would interpret their experiences through sentimental, vague, clichéd language in their early drafts and then gradually comb out the mawkishness in trade for original expression that conveyed their significant and inimitable human plight. Many students clearly learned something about themselves through revising: that they weren’t just “a broken heart” or “an ordinary kid”—they saw that they were distinct and complex people living complex lives and that personal writing is a process of unraveling and understanding who they are and what made them. I’ll take that over active voice any day.

At the end of the semester, the students took roles as editors to address the minutia—at the point where it’s actually appropriate to deal with such issues. The entire class came together to edit and produce all the accepted papers into journal form, which now has its own website (www.thefreshmanreview.com) and is available in print through lulu.com.

The semester was not without its problems (I have many tweaks planned next time around), but for the first time, on a large scale, I saw students take genuine interest in their work—especially during the production process. When I turned the responsibility over to them, they took off. Apparently, real responsibility incites real effort.

My publication, however, is a temporary fix. It’s absurd for me to create an external publication company just to get my students to care. If everyone did this, there’d be 100,000 new publications just to cover freshman writing, and the overabundance of publications would become another type of dumpster. I believe firmly, now, that students need a real audience to develop writing skills, and I think colleges should be the ones to provide it. They could run a freshman publication within the college for the best papers—perhaps through the school paper or university press. Or, professors from different fields could commission papers from freshman students: allow them to provide real-world, needed research. Freshman writers are a valuable untapped resource. Use them. Save them.

Let their 12,000,000 papers count for something.

 

Jeff Minton Photo

Photo by Shauna Yorty

Jeff Minton lives in Camp Hill, PA, where he divides his time between his wife and three boys, his writing, composing music, disc golf, and teaching English at Elizabethtown College and Harrisburg Area Community College. Recently, his fiction won finalist for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award and he presented a panel titled “Orchestration for Writers 101” at the 2014 AWP Conference. He holds an MFA in Creative writing from Wilkes University.

The Girl Who Loved Books and Emdashes

January 29, 2014
The Girl Who Loved Books and Emdashes
Thoughts on the Wilkes Publishing Internship
By Kim Loomis-Bennett
 

I am a reader and being a reader made me a writer. I have loved books forever and they have loved me back. Grammar and punctuation did not love me and I pretended we would never meet again—until a few years ago when I entered the Wilkes M.A./M.F.A. program and began teaching part-time in Washington State.

One of my first gigs was a grammar review class. Learning theories acknowledge that students learn more when they teach a new skill to a classmate. When I had twenty-five students counting on me and I was hired to be the “expert,” I knew that I would never have a better occasion to learn the twenty different ways to use a comma or how sometimes subordination adds a touch of elegance to stale syntax.

As the time to intern with Etruscan Press approached, I was direct and told Phil Brady and Managing Editor Jackie Fowler that I wanted to experience the duties of a proofreader and editor. With a green light, Jackie sent me home with books to read and consider reviewing. A few weeks after residency, my first proofreading task arrived in my Gmail inbox.

editCertainly, proofreading led me down roads I had never planned to go, but I loved each fresh challenge. My main technical question concerned the endash (–) so named because it is the length of the letter n and it is often used between numbers: such as, 3:00–6:00, and the emdash (—) which is defined by the length of an m, and can be used in place of a colon, and commas or parentheses that are placed around nonessential information—or to indicate a long pause. Dashes are entirely optional. When I went through James McCorkle’s poetry manuscript, The Subtle Bodies, I was in love with the language, but had to shut down the content reading part of my brain and look at the mechanics. What I found were endashes and emdashes employed inconsistently. This happens when files are transferred from laptops to desktop pcs. Mr. McCorkle loves his dashes, as do I, so my job as a proofreader for a dash-user just happened to be a good fit. And just a few weeks ago, McCorkle’s uncorrected proof appeared in my mailbox. I saw how what is often unacknowledged work bear fruit in McCorkle’s close-to-publication manuscript; I appreciated that background work is a good fit for me. During the internship, I took an additional brief editorial course and found that I want to go even farther and seek a professional certificate. Eventually, I would love to work as a book editor and shape a manuscript from submission to publication. For now, the unexpected offer to continue with Etruscan Press as a poetry manuscript consultant is satisfying.

My internship duties were primarily divided between proofreading and book reviewing. Before I approached Phil and Jackie about writing book reviews, I brought book review skills that I had begun to hone during my M.A. while reviewing memoirs for alumni Donna Talarico-Beerman’s Hippocampus Magazine, and a poetry review in [PANK] that I landed via another alum, Amye Barrese Archer. I wanted to offer Etruscan Press something in exchange for the chance to experience proofreading.

I worked harder on the book reviews than I expected to. While polishing them, I found my reviewer’s voice: a reader/writer that writes for readers/writers. Silly to say, but before the internship, I hadn’t considered my published book reviews as publishing credits. I followed up venues for book reviewing online sites that were in the Internship course packet. I was excited to see my reviews appear in Founding Editor Lori A. May’s Poet’s Quarterly and The Small Press Book Review.  As I heard back from gracious authors who appreciated the time I took to review their books, I realized that the more I submit my work, and the more conversations that I have with writers, an intimate and reciprocal writing community exists. I may have never considered writing book reviews as a regular goal, but because of breaks given to me by Wilkes alumni and the internship, I will continue reviewing. On February 1st, I am launching a book review blog to feature my wide-range of reading interests and books that I choose, instead of my editors. I can be indulgent and celebrate exceptional writing talent at the same time. I am not saying goodbye to the Wilkes Creative Writing Program as I had expected to. I forged and fostered relationships that weren’t forced but are authentic. One of my writing mentors, Neil Shepard often said to me, “Onward!” and that’s the plan.

Kim Loomis-Bennett is a life-long resident of Washington State, besides a detour into Oregon where she met her husband. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in The November 3rd Club, The Copperfield Review, Poet’s Quarterly, and Hippocampus Magazine. Recent work is included in The Prose-Poem Project and The Far Field. She has served as poetry editor for River and South Review. Kim also teaches part-time at Centralia College. She has an M.A. and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her work, Soiled Doves: A Poetic Sequence, published in 2011, is available as an e-book.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Lessons from the Teaching Internship

December 18, 2013

by Michael J. Soloway, M.A., M.F.A.

Teacher in Storage

Teaching is in my blood.

Michael Soloway and daughter

Michael Soloway and daughter

Both my mother and grandmother were schoolteachers. “Nana” taught grade school for decades as well as English to “night school” students. And although my mother could have chosen a life in the arts as a dancer, actress, or singer—after all, she went to Emerson College with Henry Winkler, aka “The Fonz”—instead, she decided to study speech therapy, and spent nearly thirty years helping kids conquer their lisps and Lambda Ls. I know Mom’s devotion to her profession, and the hundreds of students who took “speech” increased their self-esteem and restored their inspiration to dream. That’s what a calling can do—change your direction, change your life. Hopefully, it can change another person’s life in the process. Like the blood doing laps in all of us, these simple actions often go unnoticed. As students, we simply called it “getting an education,” but today, as burgeoning educators, or those who aspire to be, you know it is much more tangible than that.

I remember teachers—the exceptional, adequate, and unsatisfactory—those inspired by their chosen professions and those worn out by it. Those clichéd figures who encouraged me and promised that I could “do anything I set my mind to,” as well as that second grade teacher who had a habit of closing those old-fashioned window panes that reminded me of air vents, just so she could belittle and shout at us without the principal hearing our cries or her awful knack for extracting them. Today, with a two-year-old daughter who will start school in a few years, this reminds me of the movie Monsters, Inc. This teacher, who was eventually removed from the classroom, was known as the screamer as well as the scream extractor all molded into one. But I knew, even at seven, this behavior was the exception, not the rule.

Until high school, I could name all of my teachers—from Mathews to Hilliard to Osta to Freeman to Cantwell to Spruell to Preston. These were my emulations, and sometimes my detesters. But no matter their motivation or teaching style, they all served to cast my future. After all, school was as much one of my talents as it was an escape. I could memorize and, although I was often labeled the “class clown,” teachers attracted me to the profession with their smiles, textbooks, and nurturing ways. Even when my self-control was nothing near “controlled,” and a beloved teacher had me write sentences one hundred times in the hall, I found pleasure in the repetition: “I will not stand at my desk while the teacher is talking. I will not stand at my desk while the teacher is talking. I will not stand….” Punishment backfired. I was hooked on school and the portraits teachers made of themselves without their knowledge, or even mine.

In June, during my final residency at Wilkes, I was faced with a decision. Not life threatening, but potentially life-altering. All creative writing students at Wilkes, when they move on from the M.A. and choose to pursue the M.F.A., will complete an internship in either teaching or publishing. Many of you will have an idea of what direction suits your personal or professional goals, or even personalities. Perhaps you’re already teaching where you live—a local high school, community workshop, university, or community college—and want to gain real-world experience in something new. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to teach, to share knowledge, and feel now is the time to figure out if a classroom’s four walls ultimately feel claustrophobic or freeing to you. Or, like me, you could be confused, even though you’ve known exactly what is coming, what is required, and still have no idea what direction to take. You could find yourself drawn to both, paralyzed, torn between your love of books and your passion for sharing that love with others.

I admit publishing was an attractive and exciting draw. I love the industry, and in its own way, much like teaching, is also one of the noblest of pursuits. Publishing satisfies more of the senses—the tangibility of touch, whether it be a hardback book or the selection of the paper inside, to the visual cues of the cover or printing font chosen, to the echo of a narrator’s voice of a book on tape, to the smell of all that cotton and ink and pulp. Except for the distinct odor of dry erase markers, teaching is much more intangible—filled more with moments of enlightenment and discovery, which draw out strong emotions but lacks the clear saleable product that is born from publishing a book made for a shelf. But teaching was in my blood, right? Without the silent running of Type O negative blood making its “Michael Orbit” from my heart to head to toe, there would be no other senses to rely on. If it all just stopped, then so would I. Still, I wavered between my need to satisfy all of my five senses, and the urge to sustain my own survival.

In teaching, ultimately, I felt as though I was able to choose both. Having recently accepted the managing editor position of Split Lip online literary magazine, I could have taken the easier path to my M.F.A. But, after switching tracts twice (sorry, Bonnie), I finally settled on the teaching internship. Like hanging in deep freeze in a blood bank, inside what reminded me of a CapriSun juice pouch, I felt I was a teacher in storage, who had finally been called into duty to help sustain a life—this was the greatest way for me to be of use. Now, all I needed was a class of students, a curriculum, and a classroom.

‘The Narrative Arcs’ Set Sail

I’d like to say the idea came to me in a dream, but I seldom remember them. In the end, I chose a topic that I thought would interest most writers, a topic that leant itself to all styles, genres, and formats, and one that I needed a bit of help with myself—examining the narrative arc in fiction and nonfiction. Per former students’ suggestions, I established a Group on Meetup.com, paid the Organizer fee, and waited. Here is how the description of my class read:

Calling all writers! Ever wonder how to build an effective arc? (Not Noah’s) Come learn narrative arc building with me as we discuss beginning, middle and end, as well as Nigel Watts’ 8-point story arc: Stasis, Trigger, The Quest, Surprise, Critical choice, Climax, Reversal, and Resolution. We’ll start with the six-word story, which has become a popular genre. We’ll spend a lot of time covering that discipline before moving on. Narrative Magazine has tons of examples and offers a weekly prize for the best. Hemingway has perhaps the most well-known six-word story: “For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” Then we’ll tackle flash fiction, or iStory (150 words), and the short short story (500 words or less). Finally, we’ll move on to the short story/essay (1,500-3,000 words), and discuss the possibility of stories that would lend themselves to a longer story arc. Fiction and nonfiction will be covered. It would be interesting to me to see how to develop the same story in each format. Reading aloud in class will definitely be emphasized. I find reading my work out loud is so telling. It’s a perfect editing exercise, in and of itself. We’ll meet in the evening once a week this fall at one of the local venues TBD. Hope to see you there! By the way, I have my MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University, have been published in nine literary journals, have a new play being produced in Pittsburgh this month, and am managing editor of Split Lip literary magazine. Blah, blah, blah. Just come write with us!

And they did. Nervous, anxious, eager, eleven people initially signed up for my writing workshop via Meetup.com. Eleven more than I thought ever would. I had given the Group a name, “The Narrative Arcs,” and made puns about Noah, boats, and surviving the literary floods that can sink a project. I wanted to think of myself as a teacher, but also as a brand. (I thought about ‘Narrative Arc’ T-Shirts, but decided against it.) The curriculum was set. The readings were germinating. The structure was taking shape. And nerves were forming. I was prepared for ten weeks of literary bliss.

And they did. Nervous, anxious, eager, eleven people initially signed up for my writing workshop via Meetup.com. Eleven more than I thought ever would. I had given the Group a name, “The Narrative Arcs,” and made puns about Noah, boats, and surviving the literary floods that can sink a project. I wanted to think of myself as a teacher, but also as a brand. (I thought about ‘Narrative Arc’ T-Shirts, but decided against it.) The curriculum was set. The readings were germinating. The structure was taking shape. And nerves were forming. I was prepared for ten weeks of literary bliss.

Drip Dry

I waited for the sweat to come.

And it would. No amount of role-playing can prepare you for reality. We’d meet in the back room of a local coffee shop, used on weekends as a daycare and for boys and girl’s Sunday school class. Tiny tables. Tiny chairs. Crayons in the cabinet. Toys set aside between French doors and an exterior brick wall. For a moment, I hoped adults were showing up. I wasn’t prepared to teach First Graders.

The first night I arrived more than an hour early. There were chairs to set up, tables to move, and notes to go over in my head. Introductions. The syllabus. Markers to unwrap. A writing prompt to gather. I finished thirty minutes prior to class—enough time to dab my damp forehead, take my arms out of my suit coat for a few minutes, grab a sugar cookie the size of a tire, along with a large bottle of water.

Then, to my surprise (yes, still) the people whose pictures I’d seen on Meetup.com began staggering in and introducing themselves—one, two, three, then five, seven, ten, etc. I wondered: like wild animals, were they more scared of me than I was of them?

I suppose teaching is a bit like having a child—you can practice, and read all the books, and listen to advice by “experts,” and be completely prepared, but until you haven’t slept for sixteen straight months or watched Toy Story three months in a row or tried to lure your two-year-old to sit on the potty using mini marshmallows meant for hot chocolate, then you truly don’t know what it’s like to command a classroom, and the pressure it takes to always have something interesting, exciting, fresh, or inspirational to say.

But teaching was in my blood.

I knew this that first night, and never doubted it, even until the last.  

From Buoy to Boat: Tips to Avoid Capsizing

  • Get a room: Book your space early! And check it out in person. Like a photograph (or book cover), looks can be deceiving. Don’t rely on a Web site thumbnail or someone else’s description. Visit the location and ask yourself: is the space truly big enough? Like a parent pressing on a child’s toe inside a new shoe, is there room to grow? Are there power outlets? What is the temperature of the room? Are there sufficient technological plug-ins, if projection or computer presentations are part of your plans? Does the venue offer food, or in the least, allow it to be brought in? If you’re planning an evening workshop, attendees will undoubtedly want a snack, water, or a cup of coffee, or perhaps all three. Because of this, coffee houses are logical places to start your search. If you end up in a local library, business conference room, or someplace like an Elks Lodge, make sure you find out if there’s a cleanup fee. At thirty dollars a night, abandoned coffee cups will cost you a fortune. And, most importantly, ask if the room is free of charge? Meaning, never pay for a space.
  • Start with a stretch: It’s unexpected, feels great, and relieves tension built up from the day. Remember, writing is an escape for people. Begin their “vacation” on a positive note. The ‘Narrative Arcs’ routine included arms, hands, wrists, neck, and back.
  • Be early: Personally, I often had to clean and set up the room every Tuesday night. Chairs had to be wheeled in from the back. Tables had to be moved. Posters of past lessons had to be put up. Handouts had to be organized. And a summary of the evening’s activities had to be written out. But before any of that, street parking had to be found. And depending on where you live, traffic might have to be overcome.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare—then have a backup plan: Don’t cram the night before. This isn’t a multiple choice undergraduate algebra class test. This is quite possibly your new career. You’re a professional. Whether you’re getting paid or not, treat assignments and lessons, and students, with the respect they deserve. That means, if your workshop is on a Tuesday evening, don’t wait until Monday night to formulate your lesson or print the necessary handouts or start your PowerPoint or Prezi. Aside from the actual class at 6 p.m., Tuesday was always my “off day” in fact. And always print out more handouts than you actually need for each class. Even if a class member doesn’t show up as planned, they’re going to ask for a copy of last week’s handouts, so you might as well have extras ready.
  • Fall into a routine: I bought poster-sized Post-It Notes and was able to reattach the sheets to the walls for each class. This not only reinforced the syllabus, but helped me, as an instructor, when I needed to return to a point I made the previous week, or even three weeks prior. It also served as a timeline and reminder of how far we had come together.
  • Have water nearby: Enough said.
  • Be funny, when appropriate: No one expects a standup routine (or wants one) but everyone loves to laugh. Find ways to interject yourself into your lessons. I often told stories about my two-year-old daughter. If people can relate to you, oftentimes they’re more apt to respect and listen to you as well.
  • Take a break: Even adults have short attention spans. Depending on the length of your class, take one or two short breaks to use the restroom, refresh drinks, or simply allow open conversation for everyone to bond.
  • Read aloud: Don’t simply “workshop” new pieces. Have your students read their work aloud in class. In fact, at times I had students read their own work, then allowed another student to read the same piece aloud for its author. This gives the student several perspectives on what’s working, or where the prose, or dialogue, might be getting stuck.
  • Trust your instincts: Go with your gut. Whatever you want to call it. You’ll be able to “feel” if an exercise or lecture is headed in the wrong direction. Just be prepared to shift gears and be flexible, if that happens. Have alternate writing prompts students can complete or be willing to go “off-script.” Just because my course was designed to cover and examine the 8-point narrative arc, I often talked about other relevant topics, including dialogue, imagery, and voice. I also related each lesson back to the publishing industry, making sure every piece my students wrote in class could be submitted for publication.
  • Leave time: Obviously students will have questions throughout the night, but also plan to give them more than a minute or two to ask questions at the end. Most people, with limited time left in class, are ready to go home or know instinctively that their classmates are ready to go. Most will hold their question, fearing they’ll be a “bother.” Don’t force your students to have to choose. Give them time. Three minutes could mean the difference between helping a student succeed or having them never return to class again.
  • Say “Thank You”: Always thank your students for being there. Always. Unless you are teaching a required class in a university or college setting, remember, your students could be anyplace else but with you at that very moment. They’ve chosen you and your class. Most people are away from their families at night or need to wake up early for work the next day. Some of my students even drove in from neighboring towns and cities. Make them feel welcome and always appreciated. Not only did I thank students in person, but I made sure that I thanked each and every participant on Meetup.com within twenty-four hours of each class. Remember, in a workshop setting, you’re also marketing yourself, your personality, and your expertise. Answer each email and respond to every student. Always.

The Universal Donor

In the end, it doesn’t matter what your blood type is. If teaching is in your blood you’ll know it as soon as you step into the classroom. Although you might not feel it racing through your entire body, you’ll most likely feel it in your heart. That ever-beating heart. And that alone, will make you feel alive, perhaps even for the first time. I’d coached before—high school tennis—but, aside from the occasional forehand or backhand breakthrough, disciplinarian was my true title. I’d never taught in a classroom before, with a syllabus, and curriculum requirements. For me, it was more freeing, more liberating than being outdoors on a tennis court—those four walls offering a level of comfort and not distress.

As I write this, last night was the last night. Our final class. Those who were able to make the date, and had committed to the full 10-week workshop, or “found it” late and dropped in the middle, brought homemade pastries and a card for me. Their generosity and true thanks brought me to tears. But I was the one who owed them the warmest “thank you.” The gifts were unexpected; I can only imagine that my students felt I had added a “sweetness” to their Tuesday nights and wanted to return the favor. So, I say, “thank you,” to Bryan, Carol, Deb, Denise, DeWayne, DiAnn, Gina, Grace, Karen, Larry, Mary, Mollie, Rex, Richard, and Shelley.

Teaching is in my blood for good. Silently, it travels along the same canals that keep me alive. I cannot feel it. I cannot touch it. Yet, I know it’s there, because here I am typing away, living proof that you can still make a difference. It might even be in my daughter’s blood now. Whenever I leave the house alone she says, “Daddy teaches class.” In classical Greek medicine, blood was associated with air, with springtime, and with a merry and sanguine personality. Perhaps teaching is in your blood as well. Just don’t go looking for it. Although all blood is made of the same basic elements, not all blood is alike. It’s inherited. Like eye color, blood type is passed genetically from your parents. My blood type just happens to be O negative—the Universal Donor. If you need blood, I can offer it without medical consequence. In that vein, we are the same. But I can only share so much of it before growing too weak to go on.

So, the rest you’ll have to discover for yourself, and in your own time. My hope is that your own M.F.A. internship fills you with a sense of purpose. Whether you choose Teaching or Publishing, I trust you’ll find a way to build a better boat. It doesn’t have to be an arc. Just don’t expect to do this with a full set of instructions, or without the joy that can so often come from knowing your blood, sweat, and tears were worth spilling for those who choose to listen.

*Special Acknowledgement: Thank you to Dr. Nancy KcKinley. Your endless support and advice throughout the semester was beyond invaluable. You are a treasure who cares professionally, but more importantly, personally about each student, their needs, and futures. Thanks, Nancy, for being such a nurturing soul as we all reenter the “real world” as teachers. I know none of us at Wilkes could call ourselves that without you.

Michael Soloway writes fiction and screenplays, but nowadays focuses on essays, memoir, and playwriting. He has served as managing editor of more than a dozen nonprofit magazines and just finished his first memoir, Share the Chameleon, about attempting to break his family’s cycle of abuse, as he becomes a father for the first time in his 40s.

Hippocampus Magazine seeks editors & readers

June 19, 2013

HM-logo-banner-21

Hippocampus Magazine, founded by Wilkes alum Donna Talarico, is looking for a few additional volunteer readers and copy editors to join their staff. These are unpaid volunteer positions, but the experience is great for resumes! Reading submissions is a fantastic way to improve your own writing, while also helping shape future issues of a thriving creative nonfiction magazine.

Visit Hippocampus Magazine online for more details and contact Donna Talarico if you are interested in volunteering.

 

 

New Program Tracks in Publishing and Film

May 29, 2013

Ever thought you wanted to start your own press, e-zine, or literary journal? Thanks to the initiative of Akashic Books editor Johnny Temple and Etruscan Press founding editor Phil Brady, alums and current students now have the option of pursuing a Master of Arts in Publishing! This new track will open at the June 2013 residency. Wilkes alums will take only an additional 18 credits to earn the M.A. in publishing.

Have you found the world of documentary film fascinating? The Wilkes low-residency program has also added a Master of Arts in documentary film, which will begin in January, 2014. Like the new publishing degree, alums need only take an additional 18 credits to earn this degree. The curriculum is being developed now working with Robert May and SenArt Films and other to be named companies.

For more information or to apply to any of the newly revised program tracks, please email or call Dr. Culver or Ms. Dawn Leas. Deadline to apply is May 31, 2013. Visit the Wilkes writing program website for updates.

Dr. Bonnie Culver, Director: bonnie.culver@wilkes.edu
Ms. Dawn Leas, Associate Program Director: dawn.leas@wilkes.edu
570.408.4527
570.408.4534

Wilkes panels, readings, and more at AWP

March 6, 2013

Boston2013

It’s conference time!

If you plan on attending the annual AWP Conference and Bookfair, taking place in Boston MA, March 6-9, 2013, you’ll find ample Wilkes representation. Also, Jim Warner, alum and former assistant program director, will once again host the All-Collegiate Poetry Slam and Open Mic every night of the Boston conference.

Bonnie Culver, program director, is on the AWP national Board of Trustees and was a member of the Boston Conference committee. She noted, “There are more presentations this year than any other year in AWP history. It promises to be another fantastic conference.”

The following panel discussions include members from the Wilkes community:

“The Ten-Minute Play: the Essential Ingredients”
Panelists: Gregory Fletcher, Jean Klein, and L. Elizabeth Powers

For both playwrights and non-playwrights who may want to try their hand at a shorter genre, the ingredients of the ten-minute play will be compared and contrasted to the full-length play and sketch writing. Also, exploration will be given to finding the right size of a story and cast, as well as to the art of economy, how it looks on paper, and the production and publishing opportunities that could follow.

“Second Sex, Second Shelf? Women, Writing, and the Literary Marketplace”
Panelists: Christine Gelineau, Erin Belieu, Julia Glass, Tayari Jones, and Meg Wolitzer

Statistics suggest a gap still exits but is there a problem and if there is, what is its nature? What changes/ remedies/ metamorphoses can/ should be imagined? Do you think about this issue differently in terms of your writing vs. in terms of your career? Accomplished writers, who happen to be women, theorize and report out of their own experiences and analysis of the current literary scene.

“International Women’s Day Reading from Becoming: What Makes a Woman”
Panelists: Jill McCabe Johnson, Dinah Lenney, Nancy McKinley, Bibi Wein, Nadine Pinede

Authors read from what Dinty W. Moore describes as an astonishing array of gifted writers who explore intimacy, doubt, love, joy, and sorrow to form this exhilarating anthology. Edited by Jill McCabe Johnson, Becoming: What Makes a Woman (University of Nebraska Gender Programs, 2012) features essays of pivotal life experience.

For more information about AWP and the conference schedule, visit www.awpwriter.org. And, don’t forget to stop by Wilkes/ Etruscan Press booth in the Bookfair!

 

Wilkes featured in Low-Res MFA Handbook

February 6, 2013

wilkes-university-grad-logoDid you know the Wilkes Creative Writing MA/MFA programs are featured in a book that focuses exclusively on low-residency writing programs?

The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2011), by Lori A. May, includes more than 150 interviews with program directors, faculty, current students, and alumni from 49 different low-res programs.

Several voices represent the Wilkes program:

  • In Chapter 6: The Programs, six pages are dedicated to the programs at Wilkes. Interviewees include Bonnie Culver, J. Michael Lennon, Phil Brady, Kaylie Jones, Amye Archer, Brian Fanelli, and James Warner;
  • In Chapter 5: Funding, Bonnie Culver discusses the incredible assistantships and scholarships available at Wilkes;
  • In Chapter 8: Non-Residency Semesters, Jim Warner talks about working with a mentor online and how to manage time and organize one’s writing life.
The Low-Residency MFA Handbook

The Low-Residency MFA Handbook

Just a few days ago, alum Gale Martin interviewed Handbook author Lori A. May on the Scrivengale website.

Wilkes alum Amye Archer interviewed Lori about low-res programs back in 2011. Read the Q&A here.

Unlike other creative writing resources, The Low-Residency MFA Handbook focuses specifically on low-residency programs and aims to share useful tips and advice for low-res students. Wilkes is prominently featured throughout the book and, as such, offers an ‘insider look’ into what our program has to offer prospective students.

If you’re near campus, you can visit the Creative Writing office where a few copies of The Low-Residency MFA Handbook are on the bookshelf.  There is also a free preview of The Low-Residency MFA Handbook on Amazon.

About the Book

The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2011)
by Lori A. May
ISBN 978-1-4411984-4-0

Available @ Amazon, on Kindle, at Barnes & Noble, and @ Bloomsbury

Free preview on Amazon

More about the book and author at www.LoriAMay.com.

From the back cover: The Low-Residency MFA Handbook offers prospective graduate students an in-depth preview of low-residency creative writing MFA programs. Interviews with program directors, faculty, alumni, and current students answer many questions prospective graduates have, including: What happens during the non-residency semester? What are the residencies like? What community is established between faculty and fellow students? The guide also considers program structures, funding, and unique opportunities that extend beyond the degree. 

Contents

Preface
Chapter 1: An Introduction to Low-Residency MFAs
Chapter 2: Is the Low-Residency Model Right for Me?
Chapter 3: The Selection Process
Chapter 4: The Application Process
Chapter 5: Funding
Chapter 6: The Programs
Chapter 7: The Residency Experience
Chapter 8: Non-Residency Semesters
Chapter 9: Pedagogical Preparation
Chapter 10: Learning from Experience
Chapter 11: Life After the MFA
Chapter 12: AWP Membership & Services
Appendix A: Extended Interviews
Appendix B: Quick Reference
Appendix C: Additional Resources
Acknowledgements

 What People Are Saying

 “The Low-Residency MFA Handbook is a must for anyone trying to push their creative writing educational credentials to the next level.”   – Midwest Book Review

“What an invaluable handbook! Lori A. May has done her research, knows her stuff, and, what’s best, lets the programs speak for themselves through her extensive interviews. There’s a chorus of quotes from faculty, students, and graduates in The Low-Residency MFA Handbook. Anyone making the decision to apply for an MFA should consult this wise guide. May’s clarity and authority make it a gold standard.”   – Molly Peacock, author of The Second Blush

The Low-Residency MFA Handbook is an important book, not only for prospective students, but for program faculty and administrators as well. This guide will prove invaluable for students preparing to apply for low-residency MFA programs and will inform them of what to expect once they gain acceptance. The low-residency MFA in creative writing is increasingly popular, and there has been a lack of resources available to students, faculty and administrators. The Low-Residency MFA Handbook fills that void.”   – Derick Burleson, author of Melt

More Information

Visit www.LoriAMay.com or Amazon for more info.

Time to Register! Publishing Seminar Jan. 7-13

December 26, 2012

Wilkes University Creative Writing Program Offers Publishing Seminar, Jan. 7-13

By Vicki Mayk

The graduate creative writing program at Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA, will offer a one-week in-depth literary publishing seminar, The Art and Science of Literary Publishing, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7 through Friday, Jan. 13, 2013 on the Wilkes University campus.

wilkes-university-grad-logoThe Art and Science of Literary Publishing course includes information about the current publishing environment, from large to small presses, including corporate, independent, non-profit, university, multi-media and self-publishing models. There will be discussions about editorial policies, book design, distribution, business models, marketing, sales of manuscripts, legal issues, author events and much more.

Instructors are Phil Brady, who is the executive director of Etruscan Press, and Johnny Temple, who is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books.

Etruscan Press is an independent, nonprofit publisher that has produced more than forty books, including three that went on to become National Book Award finalists. Brady is a distinguished professor at Youngstown State University, where he directs the Poetry Center. Akashic Books is an award-winning Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction. Temple also is the cofounder of Brooklyn Wordsmiths, an editorial and consulting company. He also won the American Association of Publishers’ 2005 Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing, and the 2010 Jay and Dean Kogan Award for Excellence in Noir Literature.

The course is geared toward people interested in exploring career opportunities in the burgeoning field of literary publishing and production. It may be taken for four graduate credits in conjunction with Wilkes’ creative writing master of arts and master of fine arts degree programs. Those people not taking the course for graduate credit will receive a certificate of completion following receipt of their final portfolio of written work by the instructors.

Cost for the seminar is $2,488, with substantially discounted rates for Wilkes University alumni and current students ($1,244).

For more information, or to register, call the Wilkes University graduate creative writing program at (570) 408-4547 or email cwriting@wilkes.edu.

Job Opp: UC Denver lecturer

July 25, 2012

Here’s a great opportunity for MA and MFA grads!

Position Description: Creative Writing Lecturer

The Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Colorado Denver, seeks a lecturer of Creative Writing with a specialization in Fiction. An MFA or PhD in Creative Writing, and a demonstrable record of excellence in teaching is required (on campus and online). The position is for the fall term, beginning August 1st, 2012, and the lecturer is asked to teach two intermediate fiction courses: one online and one on campus.

The downtown campus is located in the heart of the city’s commercial, cultural and recreational district. Its location in downtown Denver attracts a diverse population, comprising primarily commuters, many of whom are non-traditional students. This diversity is enriched by our commitment to a philosophy of inclusion, embedded in all aspects of campus life from its community members, curriculum, research and community service, allowing for the creation of a learning environment that welcomes, embraces, sustains and celebrates the unique and shared experiences of faculty, staff and students.

Required Education/Experience/Skills (Minimum Qualifications): As a minimum requirement, the candidate must have an MA in the applicable field (or in a closely related field) and teaching experience.

Desired Qualifications: Preference will be given to those instructors whose qualification most fit the teaching area with attention to experience teaching in a public university.

Special Instructions to Applicants: Applications are available at http://www.jobsatcu.com. The posting number is 818343. Review of applications will continue until the position is filled.

Please include 1) a letter of intent that outlines qualifications; 2) CV that includes teaching experience; 3) names, addresses, daytime telephone numbers, and email addresses for three professional references; and 4) a sample syllabi (creative writing classes preferred).

The successful applicant must pass a background investigation prior to employment.

Any questions about the position should be directed to Brian Barker (brian.barker(at)ucdenver.edu).

Salary is commensurate with skills and experience. The University of Colorado offers a full benefits package. Information on University benefits programs, including eligibility, is located at http://www.cu.edu/pbs/.

The University of Colorado Denver is dedicated to ensuring a safe and secure environment for our faculty, staff, students and visitors. To assist in achieving that goal, we conduct background investigations for all prospective employees. Some positions may require a motor vehicle records check.

The University of Colorado is committed to diversity and equality in education and employment.

Application Information
Contact: University of Colorado
Online App. Form: https://www.jobsatcu.com/applicants/jsp/shared/position/JobDetails_css.jsp

Wilkes seeks low-res Associate Director

May 23, 2012

Wilkes University invites applicants for an Associate Director in the Graduate Writing Program beginning July 2012.

Wilkes University is an independent institution of higher education with approximately 2,400 undergraduate students & over 3,000 graduate students FTEs. The University is located in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a mid-sized city within two & one-half hours driving distance of New York City & Philadelphia. For more information about Wilkes University, please visit www.Wilkes.edu.

The Wilkes Graduate Creative Writing offers a Master of Arts & Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in the following areas: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, screenwriting, & playwriting. This low residency program is one of the largest in the country with students & faculty from 34 states. The office also hosts & supports Etruscan Press & SenArt Films projects.

The successful candidate is responsible for marketing, advising, fund-raising, program & curriculum development, recruiting, & program administration. A Master of Fine Arts or PhD with a creative dissertation is required. The ideal candidate will have prior experience in recruiting, program marketing, IT social media, online teaching, & course development experience. Salary is commensurate with qualifications & experience.

To apply send Curriculum Vitae, letter of interest, education philosophy statement, & references by May 20, 2012 to: Wilkes University, Associate Director Search, Reference # S00601, P.O. Box 3924, Scranton, PA 18505-0924. To apply by email, send application materials as listed above to: eapply@wilkes.edu. Include the reference # on the mailing envelope, or in the email subject line.

Indicate in your letter where you found out about the position vacancy. Please make sure to include the reference # or the application will not be processed. Wilkes University is constantly seeking to become a more diverse community & to enhance its capacity to value & capitalize on the cultural richness that diversity brings. The University strongly encourages applications from persons with diverse backgrounds.