Iowa undergrad Workshop in the works?

The University of Iowa is apparently planning to create an undergrad creative writing major, and Bret Anthony Johnston is among those interviewing to head it up (I have no personal knowledge of the other two candidates -- anyone?). This would be cool in a way. It would further strengthen Iowa City as a great place to go if you want to be a writer. It would bring even more great used books to local bookstores. And it would increase by some small percentage the likelihood of striking up an interesting conversation with one of the hordes of young people that rule the town nine months a year, many of whom are fabulous. However, I'm not convinced creative writing is the smartest plan for a writer's undergraduate education, and for entirely predictable reasons. Given the presumed writing courseload and the goodly assortment of lit courses that should be taken alongside them, does that leave room for much else in this kind of college education? Then again, maybe I'm just jealous I can't go back and do this.


Pete said...

As an undergrad I did creative writing as a concentration within English, and I hope that's how they do it. The large portion of my required classes were lit, and then instead of electives I took workshops and I wrote a creative thesis. I assume this is how most liberal arts colleges do it, give or take.

But I also did a History major, and I'm glad for that. I looked at Creative Writing as this fun thing I did (I hadn't yet committed my life to it, of course), almost in addition to school rather than as part of it. I'm not sure I would have let myself do it any other way, which may or may not be too bad. I can't decide.

On the rare occasions that college students do mistake me for a source of legitimate advice, this is what I tell them: go ahead and do the creative writing major, but do something else, too, if you can. And for god's sake, take all the lit classes you can take. There's not much point to writing done in the absence of reading. In that pointlessness, it's all actually rather similar. You want to be original, the best way to do that is to read and to think about what you read.

SER said...

I heard that one of the other people is also a recent-ish IWW grad with the initials of JF. But I heard this, like, fourth-hand, so I can't confirm.

I can't speak to the validity of the undergraduate writing major, but let me say that all I want for my undergrads (who are business majors) is that they should have to write a very long paper at some point during their college careers.

cj said...

If the students have a major they can be enthused about and invested in, they'll be doing better than most of their peers. I'd be more worried that an undergraduate major in creative writing will suck the life out of the subject entirely. After thirteen years of the way literature is treated in school, followed by four years of a creative writing major, will these students ever get to experience a direct relationship with literature, unfiltered by institutional ideas of what it's for and how it should be done?

HGF said...

Since ye olde Creative Writing isn't a discipline along the lines of other liberal arts departments, what should a major in creative writing impart to a student? Should the degree awarded be a BFA? It it's a BA, how does the course of study feather and clash with other forms of teaching literature?

I don't have any answers, of course. I was an undergrad in philosophy--go, interrogative mode!

I do know that the UI has undergrads it has to serve. Between the Young Writers Studio, a Learning Community for freshman writers, and the prominence of the IWW in the Iowa image, there's been a passive promotion of the UI as a place for aspirants. And each year dozens of them matriculate on the assumption that they'll be able to make creative writing the focus of their studies. (Why wouldn't they assume there was a major? Who would mention there wasn't?)

Personally, I think it's been a favor that they haven't had the major available before now (and even after this hire, it may be a year before the major becomes available); but, institutionally, to meet those implied promises, I think it needs to be something the UI offers.

Best case scenario, the future director and the undergrad faculty will start imagining some watershed answers to the big questions surrounding this major.

Antoine said...

JF = Josh Sessions

Slippery little bugger, two names and all that.

kclou said...

What relationship will the IWW have on this new program? Based on the relative autonomy of the Workshop, I'm guessing little. And who will teach these classes beyond the person Iowa hires?

HGF said...

On other faculty: time will tell. Director hires can come with other hires guaranteed as part of the package, but I don't know if that's the case with this one. I have assumed some other teaching lines will have to be created as the major takes shape. As we all know, most (but not all) of the current IWW offerings for undergrads are taught by IWW students, which is to say, GA's. How heavily can a major depend on courses taught by GA's?

PJKM said...

At Tu.lane, we offer a concentration in creative writing - ie four out of the ten classes required for the English major can be creative writing. Some students take more than that, of course. Some students take four or more classes but can't claim the concentration because their major is in Philosophy or French, etc.

I tell students not to worry if they don't get the official stamp of the concentration. The main thing is that they take classes that interest and engage them. The world is not holding its breath: a concentration or major in creative writing isn't going to help you get into a grad program, or get you a job. (This semester, in fact, I've set up a lit.erary event mana.gement internship for 15 creative writing students, who are working promoting/running events at the local literary festival and on campus, so they can get some useful work experience.)

El Gordo de Amore said...

In case someone we know is in charge, I thought I would offer this helpful, if obvious advice -- from Tax Prof blog, a blog for law professors:

Students Prefer Easy Courses and "Hot" Professors

James Felton (Central Michigan University, Department of Finance & Law), Peter T. Koper (Central Michigan University, Department of English Language & Literature), John Mitchell (Central Michigan University, Department of Finance & Law) & Michael Stinson (Central Michigan University, Department of Computer Science) have published Attractiveness, Easiness and Other Issues: Student Evaluations of Professors on Ratemyprofessors.com, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 45-61, Feb. 2008, on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Felton et al. (2004) reported that web-based student evaluations of teaching (SET) demonstrated a student preference for course easiness and instructor sexiness. This study explores these same relationships with a larger and improved database. Results indicate even stronger relationships than previously reported. In addition, this study demonstrates significant cultural differences by institution and discipline in the relationships between Quality, Easiness, and 'Hotness' in web-based SET.

On the day this came out, I was offered a new class. Coincidence?

Trevor Jackson said...

Huh. I always went for Course Sexiness and Instructor Easiness. Kids these days have got it all mixed up.