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Despite strain, writing course requirement to remain unchanged for the near future

in Around Campus/News by

As the class of 2019 completes the sophomore planning process, and students look ahead toward deciding their future courses, disparities in writing-intensive course offerings between departments has initiated few discussions of changes to the program by the Office of the Provost.

One of multiple requirements students have to complete before graduation, the writing course requirement prescribes students to complete three designated W courses. Those courses must also be completed in at least two divisions. Courses are determined to be writing courses after a professor applies through the college’s Curriculum Committee. Professors describe their course to the committee, submit the syllabus, and the committee determines if some modifications are needed before the registrar can mark the course as a W course. The Curriculum Committee consists of the four division chairs, the registrar, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, the Associate Provost for Educational Programs, three students, and the Provost.

Provost Tom Stephenson further elaborated on the Curriculum Committee’s process for determining writing courses.

“It’s not really a vote. We just talk about it and try to reach consensus. If there are serious objections raised, then those get fed back to the faculty member,” he said.

Courses that involve a lot of writing are not necessarily designated as official writing courses. That designation depends on a professor’s decision to apply through the Curriculum Committee. Furthermore, while writing courses do not necessarily have to include involvement of the college’s Writing Center and its Writing Associates, many do. Associate Professor of English literature and Director of the Writing Associate Program Jill Gladstein further explained the Writing Center’s role in helping professors provide writing courses to students.

“I am not directly responsible for the W courses. If a W course requests to have a WA, I will assign somebody, but as far as overseeing the implementation of W courses, that takes place more through the Curriculum Committee,” she said. “When the original proposal was written up for W courses, in there, I believe it said that writing courses would have priority over having WAs assigned. But, you didn’t have to.”

In regard to the demand for WAs over the years, Gladstein explained that there hasn’t been a decline.

“There are some classes like BIO 001 and BIO 002 that use WAs all the time. That predates me,” she said.

Gladstein also mentioned other large classes like PSYCH 025 and EDUC 014 that utilize multiple WAs.

“There are certain departments and courses that have utilized WAs since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here for around 15 years. And then there’s always a rotating faculty. Some new faculty come in and learn about the program and they decide to utilize WAs with their courses,” continued Gladstein.

While writing courses have been offered in every department at least once in the past, there are disparities in the distribution of writing courses across academic departments, especially in regard to departments that have undergone significant enrollment pressures in the past few years.

Since the fall of 2011, there has been one writing course offered in the economics department and 28 in the political science department. Compared to other departments that have experienced less enrollment pressure like the history department, there has been a more significant amount of writing courses offered. Over the same time period, 61 writing courses and sections of courses were offered in the history department. Some honors theses sections were marked W while others were not.

Stephenson offered an explanation for why this disparity exists.

“Part of the requirement for writing courses is there needs to be active mentoring of students in writing. Over the course there’s supposed to be a process of revision that may or may not involve WAs. And so, there’s a perception that it involves significant work and time investment by the faculty member. As a result, it is allowed but not required that faculty can cap enrollment of writing courses at 15,” he said.

Stephenson went on to say that departments that are under enrollment pressures like political science and economics don’t offer first year seminars or writing courses, leaving writing courses to be offered by smaller departments.

Professor of religion Steven Hopkins explained his reasoning for having his Patterns of East Asian Religions class be a writing course, despite the class exceeding more than 30 students.

“It is something that I’ve done since the beginning when I inherited this class. We’ve always done it in the department. Our intro courses have often been linked to writing courses, because writing is important to our department, particularly drafts and re-writes. And so, for the past years, I’ve kept it that way because I value the process,” he said. “It is difficult to deploy WAs. It takes time and energy from the professor. You have to have patience to deal with students that are scheduled and getting schedules on time. Logistically, I think maybe a lot of my peers think it’s a bit unwieldy if you have a large class, to manage WAs along with everything else.”

Professor of economics Mark Kuperberg also provided a similar explanation for why there is a significant lack of writing courses in some departments.

“Writing courses are a supply and demand thing. From the supply side, there’s this whole issue of freeing up professors and what other professors will have to teach in terms of total amount of students. On the demand side is whether a professor even wants to teach a writing course,” he said.

Kuperberg also predicted that this lack of writing courses would not change in the future. According to him, the college’s plans to increase the student body, increase the amount of faculty, and decrease the amount of courses professors must teach from five to four per year give a net effect of increasing the amount of students professors must teach in the department. This would further decrease the possibility of the economics department offering more writing courses in the future.

However, Kuperberg did not necessarily see a lower amount of writing courses in high enrollment departments as a bad thing.

“The writing course is also a clever way of incentivizing students to take courses in under enrolled departments. The highly enrolled departments are going to be less willing to offer writing courses, the lower enrolled departments are more willing to offer writing courses. Writing is something dependent on the subject. But, good writing is good writing, I believe. Wherever you take a writing course, it should improve your writing. It does have the side effect of pushing students into less enrolled departments. That’s not a bad thing necessarily,” he said.

Hopkins also agreed that the writing course requirement has been useful in exposing more students to the department.

However, some students like Sam Wallach Hanson ’18 wished that writing courses would have been useful in the economics department.

“I would have loved to learn more about writing for economics before jumping into some of the higher level courses. I’m also now about to enter my senior year with only two of my three writing requirements completed, as neither my major nor my minor offers any writing courses. I’ve enjoyed the writing courses I’ve taken in other departments, but I wish I could have taken W courses that were a bit more applicable to my areas of study,” said Hanson.

Ava Shafiei ’19, a WA, also shared her critique of the current writing course requirement.

“It’s not necessarily the amount of W courses that’s a problem. I think it’s that they’re distributed unevenly across departments, and that different professors and different departments treat WA courses with different levels of not only rigor but different pedagogical styles, and I think that makes a difficult for students to really gain the writing skills they need for want at college,” she said.

For other students, like Mohammad Boozarjohmehri ’19,  fulfilling the writing course requirement did not provide any difficulty.

“I met all my requirements, and I didn’t even know I met them all,” he quipped.

Despite the disparity in the amount of writing courses between departments, Stephenson signaled that there would not be concrete changes to the writing course requirement in the near future. He did mention, however, that the college’s Council on Educational Policy has been in the process of re-thinking graduation requirements.

“CEP, responsible for more broad-range curricular planning, is looking more generally at graduation requirements as a whole. And the writing course requirement is a big graduation requirement topic. One of the issues on our agenda is to think more holistically about graduation requirements. That work has been underway for a while, and we haven’t reached any conclusions. We’ve collected some data about the writing requirement, but haven’t really had the opportunity to digest it,” said Stephenson.

That data concerns polling departments about what sort of writing they do in their curriculum that is designated in writing courses versus non writing courses. According to Stephenson, one of the main criticisms of the writing course requirement learned so far is that there are very writing intensive courses that do not carry the W designation.

If the CEP does come up with a policy proposal to change the writing course requirement, the proposal would be voted on by faculty and need to be passed by a simple majority after public discussions. Also, the new policy change would only affect future students, and not ones currently enrolled. However, Stephenson noted that he does not see a policy change happening for a long time.  

News editor Ryan Stanton also contributed to this article.

Despite strain writing course requirement to remain unchanged for the near future

in News by

As the class of 2019 completes the sophomore planning process, and students look ahead toward deciding their future courses, disparities in writing-intensive course offerings between departments has initiated few discussions of changes to the program by the Office of the Provost.

One of multiple requirements students have to complete before graduation, the writing course requirement prescribes students to complete three designated W courses. Those courses must also be completed in at least two divisions. Courses are determined to be writing courses after a professor applies through the college’s Curriculum Committee. Professors describe their course to the committee, submit the syllabus, and the committee determines if some modifications are needed before the registrar can mark the course as a W course. The Curriculum Committee consists of the four division chairs, the registrar, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, the Associate Provost for Educational Programs, three students, and the Provost.

Provost Tom Stephenson further elaborated on the Curriculum Committee’s process for determining writing courses.

“It’s not really a vote. We just talk about it and try to reach consensus. If there are serious objections raised, then those get fed back to the faculty member,” he said.

Courses that involve a lot of writing are not necessarily designated as official writing courses. That designation depends on a professor’s decision to apply through the Curriculum Committee. Furthermore, while writing courses do not necessarily have to include involvement of the college’s Writing Center and its Writing Associates, many do. Associate Professor of English literature and Director of the Writing Associate Program Jill Gladstein further explained the Writing Center’s role in helping professors provide writing courses to students.

“I am not directly responsible for the W courses. If a W course requests to have a WA, I will assign somebody, but as far as overseeing the implementation of W courses, that takes place more through the Curriculum Committee,” she said. “When the original proposal was written up for W courses, in there, I believe it said that writing courses would have priority over having WAs assigned. But, you didn’t have to.”

In regard to the demand for WAs over the years, Gladstein explained that there hasn’t been a decline.

“There are some classes like BIO 001 and BIO 002 that use WAs all the time. That predates me,” she said.

Gladstein also mentioned other large classes like PSYCH 025 and EDUC 014 that utilize multiple WAs.

“There are certain departments and courses that have utilized WAs since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here for around 15 years. And then there’s always a rotating faculty. Some new faculty come in and learn about the program and they decide to utilize WAs with their courses,” continued Gladstein.

While writing courses have been offered in every department at least once in the past, there are disparities in the distribution of writing courses across academic departments, especially in regard to departments that have undergone significant enrollment pressures in the past few years.

Since the fall of 2011, there has been one writing course offered in the economics department and 28 in the political science department. Compared to other departments that have experienced less enrollment pressure like the history department, there has been a more significant amount of writing courses offered. Over the same time period, 61 writing courses and sections of courses were offered in the history department. Some honors theses sections were marked W while others were not.

Stephenson offered an explanation for why this disparity exists.

“Part of the requirement for writing courses is there needs to be active mentoring of students in writing. Over the course there’s supposed to be a process of revision that may or may not involve WAs. And so, there’s a perception that it involves significant work and time investment by the faculty member. As a result, it is allowed but not required that faculty can cap enrollment of writing courses at 15,” he said.

Stephenson went on to say that departments that are under enrollment pressures like political science and economics don’t offer first year seminars or writing courses, leaving writing courses to be offered by smaller departments.

Professor of religion Steven Hopkins explained his reasoning for having his Patterns of East Asian Religions class be a writing course, despite the class exceeding more than 30 students.

“It is something that I’ve done since the beginning when I inherited this class. We’ve always done it in the department. Our intro courses have often been linked to writing courses, because writing is important to our department, particularly drafts and re-writes. And so, for the past years, I’ve kept it that way because I value the process,” he said. “It is difficult to deploy WAs. It takes time and energy from the professor. You have to have patience to deal with students that are scheduled and getting schedules on time. Logistically, I think maybe a lot of my peers think it’s a bit unwieldy if you have a large class, to manage WAs along with everything else.”

Professor of economics Mark Kuperberg also provided a similar explanation for why there is a significant lack of writing courses in some departments.

“Writing courses are a supply and demand thing. From the supply side, there’s this whole issue of freeing up professors and what other professors will have to teach in terms of total amount of students. On the demand side is whether a professor even wants to teach a writing course,” he said.

Kuperberg also predicted that this lack of writing courses would not change in the future. According to him, the college’s plans to increase the student body, increase the amount of faculty, and decrease the amount of courses professors must teach from five to four per year give a net effect of increasing the amount of students professors must teach in the department. This would further decrease the possibility of the economics department offering more writing courses in the future.

However, Kuperberg did not necessarily see a lower amount of writing courses in high enrollment departments as a bad thing.

“The writing course is also a clever way of incentivizing students to take courses in under enrolled departments. The highly enrolled departments are going to be less willing to offer writing courses, the lower enrolled departments are more willing to offer writing courses. Writing is something dependent on the subject. But, good writing is good writing, I believe. Wherever you take a writing course, it should improve your writing. It does have the side effect of pushing students into less enrolled departments. That’s not a bad thing necessarily,” he said.

Hopkins also agreed that the writing course requirement has been useful in exposing more students to the department.

However, some students like Sam Wallach Hanson ’18 wished that writing courses would have been useful in the economics department.

“I would have loved to learn more about writing for economics before jumping into some of the higher level courses. I’m also now about to enter my senior year with only two of my three writing requirements completed, as neither my major nor my minor offers any writing courses. I’ve enjoyed the writing courses I’ve taken in other departments, but I wish I could have taken W courses that were a bit more applicable to my areas of study,” said Hanson.

Ava Shafiei ’19, a WA, also shared her critique of the current writing course requirement.

“It’s not necessarily the amount of W courses that’s a problem. I think it’s that they’re distributed unevenly across departments, and that different professors and different departments treat WA courses with different levels of not only rigor but different pedagogical styles, and I think that makes a difficult for students to really gain the writing skills they need for want at college,” she said.

For other students, like Mohammad Boozarjohmehri ’19,  fulfilling the writing course requirement did not provide any difficulty.

“I met all my requirements, and I didn’t even know I met them all,” he quipped.

Despite the disparity in the amount of writing courses between departments, Stephenson signaled that there would not be concrete changes to the writing course requirement in the near future. He did mention, however, that the college’s Council on Educational Policy has been in the process of re-thinking graduation requirements.

“CEP, responsible for more broad-range curricular planning, is looking more generally at graduation requirements as a whole. And the writing course requirement is a big graduation requirement topic. One of the issues on our agenda is to think more holistically about graduation requirements. That work has been underway for a while, and we haven’t reached any conclusions. We’ve collected some data about the writing requirement, but haven’t really had the opportunity to digest it,” said Stephenson.

That data concerns polling departments about what sort of writing they do in their curriculum that is designated in writing courses versus non writing courses. According to Stephenson, one of the main criticisms of the writing course requirement learned so far is that there are very writing intensive courses that do not carry the W designation.

If the CEP does come up with a policy proposal to change the writing course requirement, the proposal would be voted on by faculty and need to be passed by a simple majority after public discussions. Also, the new policy change would only affect future students, and not ones currently enrolled. However, Stephenson noted that he does not see a policy change happening for a long time.  

News editor Ryan Stanton also contributed to this article.

Acclaimed writer returns to campus for reading

in Arts by

As part of a larger series on “Sensuous Thinking and the Artistic Process,” fiction author and Swarthmore alumnus Adam Haslett ’92 treated a small audience to a reading of two of his short works. The event opened with a short introduction by Haslett’s former professor and friend, Richard Eldridge. Eldridge opened with a recollection of what he called “public information” ― information about Haslett’s work and its many critical accolades. He transitioned quickly into his own thoughts on his former student’s fiction, prefaced by a warning that his insight had yet been unapproved by the author, and that he “might be completely wrong” in his interpretation.

Eldridge entered a complicated and thought-provoking explanation of the philosophy of literature applied to Haslett’s work, talking about how the characters in his fiction have “not quite developed.” Then he ceded the stage to Haslett, who thanked him and began his the reading.

“I’m going to sit down,” he began, “so that I can focus more on the fiction and less on standing still.”

In his opening statement, Haslett’s speech was both polished and casual. He told an evocative story about his time being back on campus, about his challenges connecting the “felt place” of his present experience to the rose-tinted glasses of selective memory and how he strives to represent this divide in his fiction. A central idea of his speech and, in a sense, his fiction, was the related notion of “attending the experience,” something that he said was necessary to sharing and really “having” the experience. He moved forward to talk more specifically about his fiction, explaining the importance of the sound of language and the rhythm in prose. Mastering these things is, according to Haslett, both a common difficulty and crucial boundary to overcome for writers.

Then finally, after two explanations of his work and an acclimation of both audience and storyteller to the weird layout of the Scheuer room (someone forgot to move the chairs, as pictured), Haslett began to read his fiction.

He started with a story titled “Siebert,” chronicling a brief date and sexual encounter between a man ― named Siebert, of course ― and the story’s female protagonist. That’s a little reductive, though, and of course there’s more to the very moving and delicately written and rightfully praised (by real reviewers at real publications) story than just that. But it’s more interesting, in a piece like this, to consider Haslett as he read and the added significance of his reading out loud.

People would react to some lines with laughter or unvoiced shock, and sometimes he would make commentary; on his own voice, on his own complexion as he describes his character’s paleness. During his second story, “The Act,” he even stopped himself halfway, realizing he had made a mistake.

“That should have been Cleveland, at the beginning,” he said, “not Cincinatti.”

“The Act” was markedly different from and just as beautiful as “Siebert,” featuring tighter prose and further removal from romance.

The sharp contrast between the pieces that he read was clarified during the brief Q and A session following the reading. While he acknowledges “The Act” as different from the rest of his work ― the piece, which deals with the deaths of two fathers, was written in what Haslett called “a moment of political despair” ― it deals with the same theme of “vulnerability.” He quoted James Baldwin referring to the artistic imperative to “vomit up” the anguish within the writer through the work. All of his characters are vulnerable by necessity as much as all people are vulnerable by necessity, whether it be through sex or familial relation or connection to their cell phones. It’s a sense of vulnerability that came across as he read, “focused on the fiction” in a way that made it seem like he was constantly being caught unaware by new discoveries in his own words.

After the reading and the questions, Haslett relinquished control of the audience back to Eldridge, who thanked everyone for coming and offered refreshments.

“There are cookies in the back,” he said to conclude, in a tone suggesting that the cookies were news to him, too.

The dissonant muse of academic writing

in Columns/Opinions/Periscope by

My recent consumption of deficient print media inspired the following opinion, which will address the verbose nature of contemporary stylistic tendencies in academic literature. Perhaps I’ll start again: after reading some awful prose, I’ve decided to talk about wordy academic writing.

We’ve all encountered this type of writing. History students like me have it bad, although my literary friends are uniquely victimized. Every reading assignment, it seems, is replete with convoluted text. I’m sure most of us have asked ourselves at one time or another, “Why does it have to be so thick? Why can’t these writers just say what they mean?” First of all, complexity might be the author’s only choice. In the sciences, philosophy, and linguistics, jargon is unavoidable. Even in cultural analysis, thorny topics need thorny terms. But the poor writing I’m referring to is totally avoidable and totally widespread. The disciplines it has most damaged reside, sadly, in the humanities. The rich traditions of literary and cultural theory have been almost incurably corrupted.

The offending authors exhaust every possible variation of “conception,” “tendency,” “empirical,” “framework,” “objective,” “phenomenon,” “hegemonic,” “relative,” “structure,” “social,” “culture,” and the words whose absurd overuse makes me cringe every time, “contemporary” and “institution.” What’s most frustrating is that these aren’t bad words at all. “Hegemonic” is one of my favorites. But in academia they usually muddle rather than clarify.

Why is the situation so dire? Here are some possibilities: it’s a habit academics have been taught and can’t break; they’re not thinking clearly (but want to sound smart), so they hide behind indecipherable verbal sorcery; and they want to make unscientific disciplines sound scientific.

First let’s look at two examples. When I open my comparative politics textbook at random, here’s what I find: “While we are sympathetic to the arguments that students of democratization have been biased as a result of their selective attention to indicators of democratic development and their pronounced tendency to ignore alternative interpretations, we think that the decision to counter these problems by focusing on the many ways authoritarian leaders are strong, creative, resilient and the like suffers from serious biases as well.” This is one of many mouthfuls on that page. The author could easily have written: “Some are too quick to interpret as a seed of democracy what could be another sign. However, we think that the response to this problem — studying dictators’ strength, creativity and resilience—is also biased.” Still, the original isn’t horrendous. It’s about average — comprehensible, if you read it two or three times, but boring and thick.

The most gelatinous swamps of academic writing ooze from the fields of literary and cultural theory. Consider, for instance, the following passage from a 1997 article by Judith Butler: “The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.” I’m not going to try to translate this into a decent sentence, because frankly I haven’t the faintest idea what it means. I’ve studied structuralism; I’ve studied social relations; I’ve read some of Althusser’s work on structural Marxism, but no amount of background or education can rescue this morass from itself. Incidentally, this same specimen won Philosophy and Literature’s Bad Writing Contest in 1998.

Not everyone who writes badly has bad ideas. Often behind the mangled sentences lies real quality. But academics are taught by other academics, and thick prose is an old tradition. When I write essays, I find myself slipping into this style because professors react well to it. Unless you actively stop yourself, the vague phrases keep coming back, a “packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow” as Orwell called it. These writers have succumbed to the aspirins, overdosing every time they produce a sentence. For professors at Swarthmore as elsewhere, direct writing betrays a simple mind.

But sometimes writers don’t know exactly what they want to say, so they resort to complication. If you want your reader to understand your thoughts, you should try to express yourself as clearly and coherently as possible. A reader is not entitled to an immediate understanding of an idea, but he or she is entitled to a sincere effort from the author in conveying it. I’m no admirer of The Communist Manifesto, but it’s a masterful piece of prose. It’s written in a sharp manner that lucidly condenses difficult ideas. A single reading of the document is enough to provoke lively debate. People can easily with engage the Manifesto’s arguments because Marx and Engels don’t hide behind rhetorical smokescreens. On the other hand, take someone like Derrida, who has a special reputation for density. I don’t think that deconstruction is any more complicated a theory than historical materialism, but Derrida articulates the former so opaquely that even now it’s still shrouded in a nebulous mist shielding it from a really gritty debate.

On another note, I have a feeling dense writers in the humanities harbor a secret inferiority complex about the natural sciences. Culture, literature, and even sociology do not have iron laws like those of physics, but treatises in these fields habitually imitate scientific writing. Butler’s “structural totalities as theoretical objects” tries to compete with “resonance structures as part of valence bond theory.” Such phrases hope to equate the humanities with the sciences, not in essence but in appearance. I think this is a foolish effort. It’s arguable that history and linguistics are technical disciplines, but I find it unnatural and wrong to view culture and literature in such terms. The humanities aren’t inferior to the sciences, but they just aren’t the sciences. There’s no need to pretend otherwise. Everyone would laugh at a dog that meows.

Denis Dutton argues that readers have “natural humility” when reading: that is, if they don’t understand a text, they’ll assume it’s because they aren’t intelligent enough. So when you’re forced to sludge through some academic magician’s dissonant incantations — as we all do every day—don’t think that if you don’t understand, you’re stupid. You’re not stupid; you just want the writer to show a little gratitude for the time and energy you’ve spent wading through his or her thoughts. And just as you groan when you meet a particularly dull gem like “subjective considerations of institutional hegemony,” try your best not to inflict this suffering onto others. When we think in our minds “If a country wants to change for the better, its government and people have to work together,” we should resist the urge to write, “If a country wishes to fundamentally transform its social order, it must necessarily include both its citizenry and administrative institutions in the transformational process.”

English is beautiful and alluring. Borges thought that the English language is one of the world’s finest because of its euphony and rich vocabulary. I don’t object to long words or complicated sentences; these can be put to good use. But the aim of academic study is to discover truth and express it. If we put the “verbose nature of contemporary stylistic tendencies” on trial, we’ll see that it’s just wordy writing.

 

New “Clay Bird Review” to Debut

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

Jacob Oet ‘16 and Cara Ehlenfeldt ‘16 are a busy couple. Together, they single-handedly edit Clay Bird Review, the only literary magazine at Swarthmore which accepts English entries from anyone, anywhere in the world. The journal, which intends to publish a print issue biannually, is gearing up to release its first issue next semester, which will contain a mixture of poetry, short fiction and visual art. By remaining open to international submissions while still contained in and representative of the college, Clay Bird Review models itself after publications like The Kenyon Review and Oberlin College’s Field.

Despite its relatively new status on campus, submissions have streamed into Clay Bird Review, with its editors having to sort through almost four hundred poems for the Fall 2013 issue, themed “Enter, Ghost!”

“I related the theme to the stage directions from Hamlet, but most people sent in horror-related material,” explained Oet. “We ended up building an issue that dealt with the subject in a really unexpected way. The nice thing about having a theme is that some of the unique pieces get to stand out.”

For the Spring 2013 issue, the editors are looking for pieces which have a descriptive and interpretive relationship with other works, based on the theme “Ekphrasis and Reappropriation.” Ekphrasis is traditionally a dramatic or graphic description of a work of visual art, reminiscent of Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn.” Oet and Ehlenfeldt, however, want to put a more modern spin on this idea.

“We’re looking for more liberal interpretations of the theme. You can really write ekphrasis about music, movies and video games — or you could even take an existing character and work it into something else,” said Ehlenfeldt. “We want something that’s not purely derivative, something that takes us to a really unexpected place.”

Dealing with the unexpected is something that this publication seems to welcome, and it is clear that Clay Bird Review does not seek to couch itself in certainty. The editors embrace moments of questioning, and want readers to do so too. They are looking for poems that are skilled in unexpected ways, that challenge readers and force them to question their aesthetics. However, the unusual themes do not define the magazine, which is also composed of some works that are unrelated to the subject at hand.

Starting a new publication has been a daunting venture, and both editors have been confronted by both the challenges of running a literary magazine, as well as the administrative difficulties of starting something new on campus. For Ehlenfeldt, it was hard to learn to trust her own judgement while reading submissions, and Oet found it equally difficult to keep up with the sheer number of submissions he had to read through.

Funding remained another significant challenge that the duo confronted. While Clay Bird Review is currently funded through the President’s Office, the editors both faced considerable budget restraints that impeded printing and distribution, as well as the larger goals that they aspire towards.

“Our intention is to have the magazine be really active at Swarthmore despite functioning as an international magazine outside the college,” explained Oet. “It’s still far away, but we would like Clay Bird Review to function as a counterpart to Oasis, hosting readings from each issue.”

Clay Bird Review is looking for helping hands with editing and design, as well as more submissions from Swarthmore students. Contact them at claybirdreview@gmail.com to submit work or get involved.

A community of campus writers steadily grows

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

Swarthmore writers come in all forms and draw inspiration from a variety of sources. They all, however, are linked by their passion for writing and a shared enthusiasm for written expression, from poetry to prose.  Many Swarthmore writers, from renowned, published alumni to current students incorporate what they learn in the classroom as well as from the more general school  environment to bring their talent to their communities and the world at large.

College is often a transformative time for a writer. As poet Josh Gregory ’15 explained, in his experience, “I think you need to grow up as a writer as a leave high school and enter a college environment where you mature by interacting with new people.” While this transition often comes organically, writers also benefit from creative writing classes. The English Department offers writing workshops which provide students with an environment geared towards improve their creative writing. These workshops, offered in beginning and advanced poetry and short fiction courses, provide participants with a setting to work on pieces while receiving input from their peers in small, focused groups.

At their most basic level, workshops help students to improve their writing and focus on helpful elements of writing craft. Kimaya Diggs ’15 is a short story writer who has taken both writing workshops.  Diggs said, “I’ve acquired this bag of tricks that I can pull out whenever I’m stuck and that can be very helpful.”

Poet Sara Blazevic ’15 has taken both poetry workshops and is currently working on an independent creative writing project with professor Nathalie Anderson, who directs the creative writing program. “[The workshops] have really shaped my relationship to poetry and exposed me to a ton of wonderful writers, styles, forms, spaces, and exercises,” Blazevic said.

Poet Yena Purmasir has also benefited from the poetry workshops at Swarthmore.  “In my first workshop, I had my first real struggle with someone who didn’t like the way I wrote. The professor didn’t like specific elements of my writing style,” she said. “It was good to have someone challenge me and to be able to grow from that by learning to take criticism but not take it personally or allow it to completely change me.”

Students who have taken the workshops agree that the environment is a helpful and safe space for students to express themselves and learn not only from the professor but from their peers. Here, students are able to form a community of writers and meet people with whom they can share their writing with.

Most Swarthmore writers agreed that it’s possible to find students outside of workshops as well. Blazevic said she feels she has found a niche of students “who are excited about trading and sharing on-page writing, doing little living room readings together, giving each other feedback, That has been really nourishing, but I’m always looking for more opportunities for that.”

Students  also find outlets through Nacht and Small Craft, the two campus literary magazines, or other publications off campus, and through clubs such as OASIS, the spoken word group on campus. Writers all said that they network with other students through these groups and make connections with other students with whom they can share their writing, gain exposure, and find inspiration.

Purmasir stays in contact with several writers from both of the poetry workshops she has taken. “It’s nice to have a community so I can share something that’s pretty raw and unfinished so I can just run this idea that’s pretty bizarre past another human being,” she said.

Recently, Purmasir  submitted a collection of poems she wrote in her Advanced Poetry Workshop from last semester to a contest held by Where Are You Press. Purmasir’s chapbook will be published in the press’ magazine and she will be a regular writer for the publication. She heard about the competition online through Tumblr and is thrilled to be recognized. “I’ve submitted my work to other competitions though the winner were always significantly older and more accomplished,” she said. “It’s nice because all of the other writers for the magazine are around my age.”

Purmasir has been writing since about the age of eight and, though she has dabbled in prose and fiction, primarily writes poetry, which, she said, “has always felt much more like me.” Purmasir gains inspiration from her own life and likes to draw on not only things that make her sad but on another level which she feels everyone can connect to by writing about fundamental aspects of life such as family, love, and oppression. During her first week at Swarthmore, she said she felt her perspective shift. Purmasir had previously tried to write only from the perspective of other people. “I’ve learned to not be afraid and realize that our own personal lives are, in a way, big enough,” she said.

Gregory had a similarly transformative experience and said that he now sounds different as a writer, as he has grown during his time at school. While he has evolved as a writer, though, his point of view has not necessarily shifted, unlike Purmasir’s. “I had trouble writing from perspective of others,” he said. “Most of the poetry I end up writing is about internal things from the perspective of the self or how I suspect other people view things.”

As Diggs, Blazevic and Gregory acknowledge, it is often difficult to carve out the time in their schedules to dedicate to writing. For Diggs, the writing workshops are a helpful time that she can dedicate solely to writing. “Because of the reality of school and grades, I find that I have to take classes to do creative things so I can objectively prioritize my writing,” she said. “The workshop is almost like a treat because it’s something I can do for myself even when I don’t have a lot of free time.”

This year, Blazevic is attempting to prioritize her own personal writing, working her independent creative writing project into her schedule. By giving her writing a space in her life as a fourth credit this semester, Blazevic said, “I feel like I at least have a shot of living up to my creative potential when I organize myself well instead of scampering to crank out a few lines once or twice a week.” Along with her independent study work, Blazevic will be releasing a zine or independently published chapbook at the end of this semester.

However difficult it may be to make time for writing, all writers contacted said that they hope to continue their work in the future, if not as a professional sense then for themselves. Purmasir explained, “I think if I could write as a career I would. I will never stop writing, and if this [chapbook] is the last thing that will be published, that would be very hard to take, but I would never stop, because writing becomes a part of who you are.”

Gregory compared writing to his major, religion: “As far as I can tell, writing is like religion in a sense that even when it’s hard and challenging and when you want to give up, it’s harder to live without it than to live with it.”

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