Having taught in both large and small, public and private university settings with diverse student populations, I strive to build a classroom community of writers and critics who are comfortable discussing, laughing, disagreeing, and questioning what they learn; who respect one another and themselves; who value the writing process; and who treat each other's work with the same care and concern as they do their own. I believe that the ideology of the writing classroom should be oriented not just toward self-betterment, but toward community improvement as well. To this end, I undertake play and collaboration, agency and process, and meaningful inquiry in my curriculum.
The creative writing classroom affords a unique opportunity for play and collaboration. When I teach literary comparisons (simile, metaphor) I encourage students to think about the importance of strangeness and surprise. I lead an activity that asks students to come up with a noun, which they then share with a partner. Together, students list everything their two nouns have in common, and are then challenged to turn these interesting, often bizarre, comparisons into lines of poetry, and to write a poem that employs this metaphor or simile as its central concern. Not only does this activity encourage an awareness of the writing process (invention, drafting, revision), but it also asks students to leave behind what is familiar to them, which ultimately leads them to substantially re-envision and re-imagine their work and the many places it can begin and end.
I encourage agency and an awareness of process in the writing classroom through the workshop model. Because I firmly advocate and require revision, I use myself as an example to remind my students that there is no such thing as a perfect first draft. Before asking them to workshop each other’s assignments, I show early drafts of writing I did in college. I lead a whole class workshop in which I request my students’ suggestions for improvement. By simultaneously playing the roles of both teacher and student, I aim to decentralize the authority of the classroom by allowing everyone to play these roles, with the further intention of guiding students toward a consensus of acceptable feedback for peer response. In doing so, I hope to remind them that every writer must be willing to put his or her work through multiple revisions in order to create a final, polished product.
In all of the classes I teach, I aim to orient class discussions toward relevant social issues. Whether asking students to identify and make recommendations for a problem they observe in their local community, or assigning the Preface to Lyrical Ballads alongside Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, I provoke my students to ask: What is the writer’s role in society? How can writers make arguments that lead to social change? By pairing technical documents with salient local issues, or older texts with more contemporary ones, I aspire to show students how their writing assignments need not exist in a vacuum, but rather, that they can begin to see themselves as writers and critics responsibly engaged in the conversations that lead to a deepening understanding of humanity.
My teaching is moreover informed by the many writers I have had the privilege of working with over the years. Studying with Charles Bernstein as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania taught me the importance of experiment and play, not only for establishing a fun and collaborative atmosphere, but for liberating my work from the trappings of what I thought poetry had to be. I learned to see that my work did not just belong to me, but to a larger conversation and community of writers outside my textbook or classroom. The more traditional workshops I’ve taken as a graduate student with Angela Ball and Rebecca Morgan Frank have challenged me to revise my work in ways that meaningfully recreate, question, laugh at, doubt, hope for, and imagine the world. I now encourage my students to use their writing to do the same: to see a poem, a grant proposal, or a literary analysis as a way of engaging in arguments, offering explanations, or making meaning.