CW and The Art of Living
My essay, "Creative Writing in the Academy," which appeared in Profession 1999, provoked a strong reaction which caught me totally off guard. I said in the essay that I perceived the teaching of creative writing to be at an important crossroads, given the collapse of traditional literary publishing and the globalization of popular culture and the Internet.
As Joe Amato and Kassia Fleisher suggest, I believe that those of us who teach creative writing have a profound responsibility to empower our students to find themselves in their world through writing and thinking and being in communion.
I have a profound mistrust of the dictates of the marketplace. For one thing, the trends of commercial culture all too often amount to "dictates" which do not reflect the full range of human experience. Nearly all the great writers were unsuccessful commercially (many still are). I don't want to be subject to such dictates myself, nor do I want my students to be. Great writing (and great thinking) empowers and liberates; the marketplace follows other gods. If my students subsequently receive awards or recognition for their writing, so much the better; however, I value others just as much who do not receive such awards.
In any case, when teaching creative writing, I try to keep the following principles in mind:
1) Very few creative writing students will ever achieve worldly success, let alone stardom, with their writing.
2) Therefore, my goal as a teacher of all my students, to the best of my (and their) ability, is to nurture, educate, enlighten, and stimulate the whole person - mind, body, and spirit - through the practice of writing and being together.
3) Creative writing cannot stop at expressing the individual self. While individual awareness is good, the arts succeed only when they build and nurture and operate within community.
4) Given our desire to educate the whole person, we need to encourage our students to also explore science, history, art and music, politics, sociology, religion, and other fields, in order to enrich their awareness and their writing.
5) As a professor at a regional comprehensive university, I seek to educate my creative writing students to be active participants in community who can communicate meaningfully to and about themselves and the larger world.
In the long run, literature will merely be sustained on life-support systems unless writers take on a larger social consciousness and responsibility. Ideally, I would like my students, whatever walk of life they ultimately find themselves in, to graduate with a deeper understanding of self and other, nature, world, and spirit. As Bertolt Brecht put it so aptly, "All the arts contribute to the greatest of all arts - the art of living."
Creative writing is a means, not an end; we would do well to remember and embrace that.