Tearing down the walls: engaging the imagination

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Creative writing as an academic discipline has been contested since the very beginning of its existence at the American universities, and "backlash against it is always in full blood" (Burroway, 61). To critics, it seems to be softer, and less rigorous discipline, in comparison to other English studies (Elliott 100). Other critics describe it as the most undertheorized and in that respect the most anachronistic [field] in the entire constellation of English study (Haake, 83). Even some faculty members at English departments expressed mockery and sarcasm when the universities began recruiting creative writers to teach creative writing. For instance, a professor of English at Cornell University, who when told of the proposal to hire the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, said to do so would be like the Department of Zoology hiring an elephant (Dibble & Van Loon. April 2000). In examining critics' negative stand, one may assume that it basically stems from two different misconceptions: first, critics seem unable or possibly unwilling to digest the idea that creative writing is a process-led, process-based discipline and its nature decrees different set of conventions and teaching techniques; second, it is more possibly that critics' adverse stand is based chiefly upon the performances of some incompetent instructors whose ineffective performances are taken as ground for criticism. Against all odds, creative writing has continued growing and expanding incessantly and has always received strength from its popularity and ability to recruit, and all attempts to marginalize it would be doomed to failure. Unfair and rather groundless attitudes persist regardless of the acknowledged popularity. The current study is designed to show the highlights of teaching creative writing at the American universities, and then to fairly discuss this peculiar experience and gauge its validation. After surveying the current state of this ever-blooming discipline and the negative stand held by some critics, the study examines the commonalties, the shared conventions, and the ground rules of fiction writing workshops. A considerable number of essentials would be tackled such as the layout, the setting of workshop, the number of enrolled students, the requirements of completion and success, the portfolio and its contents, the role of instructor, the conduct of student author, and of student critic, and the response to peer work. The rules that govern class discussion, the instructors' theoretical assumptions, and the methods of assessing and grading student work are also examined. The careful scrutiny of the aforementioned essentials may hone the idea that creative writing is like other disciplines, if not better; it is neither softer, nor less rigorous discipline; actually it is more demanding, more rigorous, and more orderly in comparison to other English studies. Furthermore, the study would show that every activity in the workshop stems from unspoken theoretical assumptions about whether or not writers used conventions and generic expectations. Besides, this study would spotlight the effective means and methods used by competent instructors to nurture the promising, yet still unborn, talents of young writers. In brief, this study has two goals in mind: first to bring to light the shared conventions and ground rules prevalent in organized fiction writing workshops, and second to deflate the ever-blowing adverse criticism and to show the futility and groundlessness of it.
Over the last decade, American scholars have produced books, essay collections and articles utilising the disciplinary knowledge of rhetoric and composition to produce creative writing pedagogies. Such theorising, for example, refigures belletristic composition as a social, rather than personal enterprise and critiques and displaces the writing workshop, the workhorse of conventional creative-writing pedagogy, with more collaborative approaches. This article argues that despite the growth of this scholarly field, the discourse has had no significant impact on the teaching or staffing of creative writing courses in American universities; the deconstruction of the creative writing/composition binary remains a largely theoretical rather than practical matter. The author shows that this new discourse mostly fails to address, let alone reconcile, underlying material Á structural issues that continue to divide composition and creative writing in most institutional settings: the radically different approaches to training MFAs versus PhDs; differing standards for market-able expertise defined by most hiring institutions ('creative' versus 'scholarly' publications); and bifurcated expectations for promotion and tenure. Perhaps most important, this discourse ignores the fierce desire for independence from scholarly community that ironically binds many who teach creative writing. The evolution of rhetoric and composition Á the scholarly apparatus that grew up around the teaching of first-year composition in the American university Á has been animated by the consistent push and pull of competing impulses: (1) the desire to claim new intellectual territory, typically grounded in an expansive definition of rhetoric and intended to subordinate multiple discursive domains under a master umbrella; and (2) the tendency to separate into smaller, specialised camps with more clearly defined objects of study. The former impulse is largely a theoretical matter, made possible by the remarkably free space of scholarly publication, the academic equivalent of the computer game, SimCity. The latter tendency, to separate, is the perhaps inevitable result of the material demands of location, administration, training, ambition and reward. As those pursuing scholarly achievement in rhetoric and composition have been propelled further from the first-year classroom by the discipline's emergent discourse, they have rubbed up against critical theories of all sorts, philosophy of the mind, social-science heuristics, and empirical observation and design. Where compositionists have found rich and productive bodies of scholarship already erected to explain and influence practical activities, they have mostly borrowed for the purpose of enriching their own field.
Collaborative digital tools, online communities, and the evolution of literacy create opportunities in which writing for an English class and writing for the “real” world no longer have to be two separate activities. Seizing such opportunities requires rethinking the desire to teach writing—a move toward what has been termed postpedagogy. We align the interactive and collaborative affordances of web writing with a postpedagogical model of learning focused on inventive practices grounded in kairotic interactions. We also detail our candid experiences working with students who are writing for real world audiences, as well as the productive risks and anxieties such an approach produces.
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