I received my M.F.A in 2010 and hung around New York for a few years, adjuncting and working to get some of my fiction published. It was during this time of teaching multiple classes for multiple colleges and universities that I developed an appreciation for writing pedagogy. It was also around this time, however, I started having these weird panic attacks in the middle of the night when thinking about how part-time teaching—as much as I loved the work taking place inside the classroom—was not a long-term, tenable option for me. And yes, I am talking material concerns here: paying the bills, providing for a family-to-be, planning how I could afford a future that could make room for my writing, etc. And as I think we all know, the adjunct shuffle is a tough dance to master and can put all sorts of financial and emotional pressure on the individual who attempts it, pressures that can have negative and immediate affects on one’s writing and teaching practices. So I came to the Ph.D program at U of L for a few reasons: to continue doing what I love; to learn more about writing and teaching; and to start working on ways to assist the particular demographic of contingent laborers of which I was a part by helping reconceptualize the institutional view of their contributions to writing programs.
It seems to me that many creative writers are attracted to teaching (which usually means teaching composition) because it offers them two things: time to work on their writing projects, and a way to work with language in their professional lives. Fiction writers, poets, dramatists—these individuals have a vested interest in language: how it is used creatively no matter the medium, and how we use it to speak toward what it means to be a living, breathing human being in this world. (A recent conversation with Professor Horner helped to clarify some of those things for me.) “Why not,” I thought, “see what creative writers are bringing into the composition classroom?”
At first I thought the idea was a bit silly—not because it wasn’t important to me but because I thought this must be something scholars have investigated to death already. But they haven’t. Sure, the influence of Creative Writing has been theorized, and compositionists have called for further investigations into the role that creative writing practices may play in the composition classroom. But even with the reinvigoration of Style studies and Writing Studies’ flirtation with theories of creative writing for the last decade or so, a surprisingly small amount of scholarship has been dedicated to investigating what practices those who first and foremost identify as creative writers enact in composition classrooms. And not only that, but also what they’ve already been bringing into these classrooms for a while now. There are so many ways to interrogate the world, so many ways to write ourselves into a knowledge about it, so many ways to write our ways into an understanding of our relationships to it—I’m interested in investigating some of the methods that find root in practices of overt creativity, and I look forward to what I’ll discover.
So right now I am in the first phase of my research. I’m interviewing those I call “CWCIs” (Creative-Writing Composition Instructors) about their writing and teaching practices. The next phases of my research will include: reading their creative works; reading their comments to students; observing them while writing, teaching, and/or participating in workshops of their own; interviewing their peers and colleagues who are familiar with their writing and/or teaching practices; and, of course, engaging the CWCIs in conversations about all these next phases and offer them an opportunity to co-construct these analytical narratives.
I’ve known too many wonderful writers, with multiple wonderful works published, who struggle way too much with feeling their expertise in writing is not legitimized by the institutions that have tasked them with teaching writing. Further, the discipline of composition is itself losing out by marginalizing this population of knowledge-makers and influencers. As I think about what additional issues I’ll take up to turn this study into first a dissertation and, next, a book, I feel I’ll need to investigate hiring practices of institutions that rely on members of the creative writing population to teach composition. Chairs and WPAs alike are okaying these practices, and I think I’d like to know what some of their thoughts are about this population and its contributions to Composition. But, you know, first things first.
Jon Udelson is a 2nd-year Ph.D student and university fellow. He is currently finishing up coursework and is the Assistant Director of Creative Writing for AY 2015-16.