|Photographs from the collection of SMU's DeGolyer Library.|
By Nancy George
David Haynes begins each fiction-writing class by reading a poem to his class. "I like to get some language out into the room," says the associate professor of English and director of the creative writing program at SMU.
The room soon fills with language as 15 students arrange their chairs in a circle for the workshop-style class that is much more of a conversation than a lecture. "We have discussions about craft, characterization, and plot," Haynes says. The faculty also focuses on exposing students to excellent models of fiction and poetry, especially from contemporary writers. In addition, students discuss their own work with their classmates.
Discussing one's writing is as important as the process of writing, says Joshua Weber ('03), who received a Bachelor's degree in English with a creative writing specialization in December. "We are writing for readers, so class feedback is part of the process."
SMU was one of the first universities in the United States to offer English majors a creative writing specialization when the program began in 1970. Marshall Terry, Lilly Professor of English, designed the 12-hour program with fiction and poetry tracks and became its first director.
Terry was influenced by the creative writing programs at Harvard and Brown and spent a semester at Stanford studying its creative writing program led by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner
Today more than 330 universities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom offer creative writing programs according to David Fenza, executive director of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Directors of the first academic creative writing programs, including Terry, argued that appreciation of literature could be enhanced by having practitioners of the art teach the art, Fenza says.
"Some of the old guard in the department didn't think creative writing should be a specialization," Terry says. "But teaching creative writing is a very legitimate way of teaching literature from the inside out."
Creative writing students at SMU learn from professors who are as much writers as teachers. Marshall Terry is the author of seven novels, a short story collection, and a history of SMU. Novelist and professor C.W. Smith has written seven novels, a collection of short stories, and a memoir. Professor and poet Jack Myers is the author of seven books of poetry and seven poetry texts and anthologies. Associate professor David Haynes will spend the spring on book tour for his sixth novel. In addition, he has written three children's books and edited an anthology.
"It's very important to learn about writing under a writer," Joshua Weber says. "It's helped me get rid of the preconceived notions that writers should sound a certain way. I've realized that telling a story is more important than trying to 'sound like a writer.'"
The creative writing program has produced a number of published novelists and poets, including Joe Coomer, Tracy Daugherty, and Lewis Shiner, a group Marshall Terry calls the "SMU Novel Squad." But the program also is attractive to students who are not aspiring novelists or poets.
Theatre and film students study creative writing to learn how to tell a story, Haynes says. Business majors study writing and poetry as a way to add something creative to their degrees. "Many of our students are pursuing nonwriting careers, but they want to keep writing as part of their lives. They will continue to be readers and will continue to support good literature," he says.
From SMU's Dedman College newsletter and used with permission. To read short stories and poems by current creative writing students, visit the SMU English Department Web site.