ROCK ISLAND -- The curly brunette mounted the stage, drew in a deep breath and slowly recited the words on her manuscript.|
Her voice grew stronger, more confident, as she held her audience's attention. When she was done, she saw tears in some of their eyes.
She sighed in relief. They got her message. The butterflies could settle down in her stomach. She took her place in the audience.
Writing and reading your own work, whether prose, poetry or story, are important parts of the writing experience at Augustana College, said Ann Boaden and Kelly Daniels, two of Augustana's English/writing professors and published writers.
They are among the college faculty who guide the creative-writing majors in finding their voice, their style and their passion to communicate with words what they feel in their hearts.
One of their first lessons is that writing is work and discipline, they said. Writers cannot be satisfied with their first draft. Writers need courage and grit and energy. They must begin again and "tear down those bearing walls," Ms. Boaden said.
Creative writing is Augustana's newest major in the English Department. After starting in fall 2010, the first two creative writing majors will graduate this May. The college has 11 creative writing majors, 11 English majors with a writing emphasis and 65 English majors, based on department data.
Creative writing is an increasingly marketable major in today's economy, according to the Harvard Business Review.
Before there was a major in creative writing, Augustana students typically majored in English with a writing emphasis. Students in the new program continue to read a variety of literature and practice writing until they perfect their own text, Ms. Boaden said.
As they progress, the students' writing experience becomes more intimate, the faculty said. The students write about their passions and obsessions, into the darkness of their experiences, Mr. Daniels said. "Even as you plumb the depths of your soul, you figure out how to convey that message," he said.
The college campus offers a variety of experiences beyond the classroom for fledgling writers. There are student and faculty writing groups, workshops and conferences, internships with local agencies, student-led Saga art and literary magazine and East Hall Press. The fact that Augustana had so many supportive elements in place was a major selling point for winning approval for the creative writing major, said Mr. Daniels, who led the initiative.
The mentor-professors try to balance encouragement with the need for revision. Ms. Boaden said she tries to "negotiate a solution" to a writer's problem by pointing out what's working and what's not. Sometimes the classroom's response to a student's work is the telling factor, especially when the class laughs, but the words weren't meant to be funny.
The current student body displays a broad range of writing talent, everything from someone who could be the next big star to those who struggle for clarity, Mr. Daniels said. Ms. Boaden said their jobs are about the best there is.
The instructors said they resist the urge to rewrite or fix their students' stories. Mr. Daniels' technique is to read the student's story back to him and describe what he believes was the main point. The student then can hear how the re-telling matches his or her intention.
Ms. Boaden uses a group method. She asks what the story is about and if three or four students in a group disagree with one another, then that's problematic, she said. The writer then knows what the assignment needs for clarification. Ms. Boaden also uses "a lot of narrative" in her written feedback so the student-writer can make the appropriate changes, she said.
Nicola Trumbull, 21, of Lake Zurich, Ill., is one of the creative writing students and a college senior who is working one-on-one with Ms. Boaden on writing her first book, a biography of an accident victim with a severe head injury and the resulting recovery. Each week, Ms. Trumbull brings in her newest work and talks with her professor about content and the direction she should pursue. It's an ambitious project, Ms. Trumbull said. She's writing in first person. She's been told her book "has a lot of potential," and she said she hopes to have the manuscript ready to present to a publisher this summer.
Ashley Higuchi, 21, of Aurora, Colo., an English and philosophy major, benefited from some workshops beyond the classroom in 2010, when she submitted some of her prose writings at a fiction workshop in Prague. Her goal was to improve her writing and editing skills and gain some world travel experience. She also received some basic writing tips on prose writing and plot structure from a Japanese-American guest writer on campus. She and some others attended the arranged workshop orchestrated by Mr. Daniels.
Ms. Higuchi said she used to hate the editing process before working with these prose editors. The other difficulty with the workshops was learning how to trust people, she said. She credits the Augustana faculty for exposing her to the best writers and encouraging her to keep working on her skills. She has submitted a short story for publication to an off-campus publishing house and is waiting to see what happens. Although she plans to teach someday, she wants to keep writing in her future.
Ms. Higuchi and classmate Nathaniel McDowell, also 21, are this year's co-editors-in-chief of Saga, Augustana's arts and literature quarterly magazine. Mr. McDowell, of Rock Island, has immersed himself in the writing community, although he didn't come to campus with that expectation. He writes poetry, and he and some of his fellow writers started their own writing group. They also get feedback from the faculty group, After Hours.
The campus interaction has inspired him, given him a sense of responsibility to his subject matter and the need to speak the truth, he said. Through Saga, he also has honed his editing and layout skills and would consider future work in publishing.
Supporting the dream
Who: Ann Boaden and Kelly Daniels, Augustana College faculty who guide students in the school's new creative-writing major
Quote: "Even as you plumb the depths of your soul, you figure out how to convey that message." -- Kelly Daniels
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