Creative writing workshops offered

Creative writing lecturers John Crowley, center, and Emily Barton push the Yale community to seek creative writing opportunities out of the classroom.
Creative writing lecturers John Crowley, center, and Emily Barton push the Yale community to seek creative writing opportunities out of the classroom. Photo by Vivienne Zhang.

Two members of the English Department are bringing creative writing workshops to the broader Yale community with a new program that facilitates independent writing groups across campus.

Emily Barton and John Crowley, two creative writing lecturers, teamed up to launch the Yale Community Self-Led Fiction Workshops, which are designed to encourage writers to form groups where they can share their work and recieve feedback. Barton and Crowley held their first meeting on Monday night to provide attendees with advice about ways to form and structure the workshop groups — though the workshops themselves will be led entirely by their participants without the guidance of a faculty member.

Barton, who created the program, said she conceived of the idea for the workshops as a response to the high demand for the creative writing courses offered by the English Department, since each class can only accommodate roughly 12 undergraduate students despite interest from others in the Yale community.

“They are all serious writers interested in taking these classes,” she said. “But we are an undergraduate department and our duty is to the undergraduates, so it would be unfair to admit an auditor from the outside.”

Barton said the program aims to teach members of the campus community ways to run their own creative writing workshop and introduce them to other writers with whom they may not otherwise come into contact. After Monday’s meeting, the members must take the initiative to form their own workshops, she said, adding that she encourages the writers to contact members of the creative writing faculty at Yale to invite them to one of the group’s workshops.

At the meeting — which was attended by a mix of nearly 30 undergrads, graduate students, faculty and other community members — Barton and Crowley also gave attendees a proposed syllabus and reading list.

English professors often receive 90 applications for 12 spots in creative writing courses, Barton said, adding that she often receives a few inquiries each semester from faculty spouses, law students, graduate students and others outside of Yale College. Crowley said he wishes he could accommodate more students in his classes but thinks maintaining small classes is essential to creating an environment in which all students can have their writing critiqued effectively.

Anne Fadiman, an English professor who teaches creative non-fiction classes, said she thinks self-led workshops would be a good supplement to the University’s existing resources for aspiring writers, such as the opportunity to write for undergraduate publications. Fadiman, who teaches “Writing About Oneself” during the spring, said she received 125 applications for 12 spots for her class this semester. She usually receives a few inquiries from graduate students, she added.

Christina Baik DIV ’13 said she applied to Barton’s class this fall, and though she was not admitted because she is not a member of Yale College, Barton contacted her to invite her to participate in the self-led workshops this semester.

“I went to Swarthmore, and with my coursework there I ended up not being able to take a lot of creative writing courses and I regret that,” Baik said.

Nimal Eames-Scott ’14 said he thinks the program “expands what a workshop can be in the context of an undergraduate education.” With the limited number of seats in creative writing courses, he added, getting a spot can be competitive and disheartening for those who are not admitted.

“It’s difficult because the process [of getting into a creative writing course] can be cyclical,” Eames-Scott said. “If you don’t get in a workshop one year and have the chance to work on your writing, it’s hard to get in the next year.”

Helen Wang ’14 said that she sees the self-led workshops as a great way to bring together people who would not otherwise meet in fiction workshops.

The English Department is offering 13 creative writing courses this semester.

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