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7th Annual Creative Writing Studies Conference Online

Innovations in Creative Writing Teaching, Research, and Service #CWSC22

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Thank you for your interest in our 2022 conference. Attendance is free for all members — no need to register! Simply join the CWSO here. All current members will receive the conference Zoom links (Rooms A and B) a few days before the conference. Below, you’ll find the schedule for our sessions.

Innovation involves new ideas, methods, outcomes or actions. The CWSC theme this year asks us to consider ways in which innovation is (or can be) part of creative writing teaching, research, or service to the world at large. Presentations might explore innovation from a cultural point of view, in terms of pedagogies, or in relation to topics that can be investigated through Creative Writing Studies. Presentations could also explore innovation in relation to the dynamics of identity, place or persons, or any number of other interpretations of what it means to present or explore new thoughts, activities, or results. 

Presenters with an asterisk beside their name will serve as session moderators.

Saturday, November 12

Morning Sessions

8:15-8:25 am EST (Room A): WELCOME with Graeme Harper

8:30-9:30 am EST, Session 1A: Theories of Narrative

The Species-Centric, Biocultural Lens—an Innovative Way Of Looking at the Importance Of Narrative in Fiction Writing, Mitchell R. James*

Narrative might be the most important human invention. Without it, language loses its primary function, fiction doesn’t exist, and a person becomes merely physical, their socio-cultural being relegated to a tabula rasa. This interdisciplinary project employs a species-centric, biocultural approach to explore narrative’s role in the development of humanity within four categories: inclusive fitness, socialization, natural and cultural environments, and human cooperation. Though the research in this project is from several fields other than creative writing studies, this project argues future work must also be conducted by the stewards of narrative itself—the creative writers of the world.

Challenging Power: Breaking the Rules of Fiction, Elizabeth Hall Magill

The act of reading fiction is facilitated by grounding the reader in time, place, perspective, plot, and language. Some authors break these grounding “rules” to shift our perspective and bring us gifts of truth, discovery, and beauty. Their objectives shape their narrative choices, which in turn shape our experience of their novels. Some authors also break rules to question power structures. Alice Walker, in Meridian, and Ocean Vuong, in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, challenge racism, colonialism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. By studying these novels, we can learn how to break the literary rules—and challenge power—ourselves.

Narrative Design Methods for a Prochange Culture, Christy Dena

With the need for more environmental and social actions, many are turning to storytelling as a transformative device. Irrespective of whether they’re fiction or nonfiction, with environmentally and socially conscious storylines or not, what is common is the default use of dramatic norms. But these norms are about forcing and fighting change: an inciting incident forces the protagonist to change, rather than the protagonist deciding to make a change; a protagonist refuses the call to change, rather than stepping up. Come for narrative design interventions to facilitate prochange structures, as developed in creative works, research, consultations, classroom and industry workshops.

8:30-9:30 am EST, Session 1B: The State of the Field

What we talk about when we talk about… just kidding: New directions in CWS Research, Jon Udelson*

This presentation argues that CWS must more consciously shape its disciplinary identity within the larger discipline of Writing Studies.

Beyond the Iowa Precedent: The Evolving Landscape of the Creative Writing MFA Program, James Morris

The MFA in Creative Writing (MFA-CW) is a program closely tied to its landmark example, drawing the connection between the structure itself and one of its most prominent forebears: The Iowa Writers Workshop. This presentation explores the current landscape of MFA-CW programs, exploring the three distinct modalities: Full-Residency, Low-Residency, and Fully Online (or “No-Residency”). Comparing these modalities to one another and to the original landmark example of an MFA-CW program, this presentation will look at the features of each type of program and how they exist within the still-expanding landscape of the Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts program.

Five Frontier Issues in Changing Creative Writing Studies in China (2020-2022), Weidong Liu

Chinese creative writing studies has experienced a decade of rapid development since 2009. This article will introduce the latest trends and issues of creative writing studies in China from five aspects: Zen, general education, writing healing, workshop pedagogy, and community writing.

Break 9:30 – 9:45 am EST

9:45-10:45 am EST Session 2A: Experiments in Restorative Work

“The wholeness of holes”: Archival experiments in Craig Santos Perez’s from unincorporated territory, Carlina Duan

This paper explores a poet’s relationship to non-linearity and opacity when working with historical records. What kinds of readerly demands might poets be resisting or responding to by lingering in the non-linear? What might be the possibilities or affordances of poems designed to disrupt traditional Westernized hierarchies of reading? How might the non-linear and opaque work as decolonial methods for engaging with source texts? This paper will examine such questions through discussing the place-based archival practices of contemporary indigenous poet Craig Santos Perez, and his poetic series from unincorporated territory. What kinds of pedagogical possibilities might be found within reading poets such as Perez, who are engaging intentionally with the non-linear, using archival documents, and writing explicitly about historical moments?

Re-Writing the Prison Environment, Angela Sorby

American prisons are steel-and-concrete industrial spaces that work to deprive incarcerated people of what Joshua Bennett calls “entire life-worlds, entire communities and landscapes and alternative forms of knowledge.” In this presentation, I will discuss my evolving approach to teaching creative writing in criminal justice contexts, focusing on how eco-conscious pedagogies can help student poets re-negotiate their kinship bonds with the natural (human and more-than-human) environment.

Teaching against impostor feelings in creative writers: A case study of an enactive online learning ecosystem, Cael Cohen*

This case study-based presentation argues that it is possible to teach creative writing in a manner that diminishes impostor feelings in authors. Three conditions that make possible creative writing learning environments that reduce impostor feelings are discussed. First, a viable understanding of impostor feelings as enacted and emergent, not personal, interpersonal, or environmental. Second, enactive, dynamic, creative writing pedagogy ecosystems that are neither exclusively self-active, nor inter-active. Third, teaching and learning against the inherited problem space of higher education in North America characterized by aggressive competitiveness, isolation, lack of mentoring, valuing product over process, and the banking model of education.

9:45-10:45 am EST, Session 2B: Pedagogical Innovation

Toward a Project-Based Creative Writing Classroom (and Program), Joseph Rein

Writing instruction at all levels has been dominated in recent decades by a process-based instruction (PBI) approach. However, I argue that our discipline should consider a project-based learning (PBL) model, which may be better suited for our students, especially those in upper-division courses. Much has been written about PBL in English language learning and acquisition; creative writing studies scholarship, though, has rarely addressed it. This model contains potential to simultaneously hone writing skill while also enriching the classroom experience for students, strengthening their understanding of key creative concepts, and giving them a tangible product with which to showcase their learning and skill. Implementing these concepts at the classroom and programmatic level can lead to fruitful interdisciplinary opportunities as well.

Ungagging the Creative Writing Classroom: Love, Generosity, and Wonder in the Portrait of the Artist Workshop, Florence Gonsalvez

Rather than critically dissecting a single piece of writing while the student remains silent, the “Portrait of the Artist” (POTA) workshop creates an opportunity to look at the writer holistically, identifying patterns and obsessions, while expanding the radius of self-understanding that is crucial to a writer’s growth. In this inventive, imaginative, alternative workshop style, students are experts of their work, obsessions, and influences, presenting a more comprehensive picture of the complex identities of the artist being workshopped. POTA is an act of caring for one’s writerly self and those present in the workshop, while promoting love, generosity, curiosity, and wonder.

What do undergraduate creative-writing students perceive to be “good” workshop feedback, and why? A stimulated-recall study, C. Connor Syrewicz*

Despite its popularity, few studies have attempted to study the workshop, and it stands to reason that improvements can be made. To this end, I conducted an interview-based, stimulated-recall study with six undergraduate creative-writing students in order to explore what they perceived to be “good” feedback and why. Results indicate that participants liked feedback that they perceived to be “optimally innovative”: they liked feedback that contained recommendations that could be used to improve their work, but didn’t like when these recommendations strayed too far from their existing story and/or their existing plans and intentions for it. Pedagogical implications are explored.

10:45 – 11:00 am EST Break

11:00 am – 12:00 pm EST, Session 3A: Genre Studies

The Genre Factor: Situating Genres in Historical Context in the Creative Writing Classroom, Hayli Cox

As Octavia Butler once said, “Good stories are good stories, no matter how they’re categorized.” This session considers pedagogical strategies which situate genres in their historical context—as well as within the contemporary creative writing community—in order to help students deconstruct commonly-held cultural valuations of fiction subgenres. We will consider assignments and exercises which help students understand the possibilities and constraints that exist within the fiction genre, as well as the importance of students’ agency over their own writing goals, all with an eye toward practical implementation in the fiction writing classroom.

Genre Theory as a Tool for Social Justice Pedagogy in the Fiction Writing Classroom, Amanda Bales [Cancelled]

Bales presents a process by which fiction writing instructors can use the areas of Genre Theory which focus on mapping the systems that create and perpetuate genre conventions in order to motivate students to think more critically of the harmful genre tropes they wish to perpetuate.

11:00 am – 12:00 pm EST, Session 3B: Creative Writing & Care

Some Lessons from Playing in Class, Rachel Haley Himmelheber

This paper will discuss how I conceptualized a writing-intensive course I am currently teaching called “Practicing Playfulness.” The research on playful pedagogies in higher education is limited but clear: students enjoy increased levels of community, joy, motivation, and wellness in these courses. I was curious about whether the teacher also enjoys these benefits, and this paper will include some of my thinking on that question as well.

Beyond the Trigger Warning: Applying Best Practices from Trauma-Informed Journalism to the Creative Writing Classroom, Kelly K. Ferguson*

Journalism as a discipline studies the ethics and effects of trauma—trauma involving the subjects, readership, and reporters. Creative writing, however, tends to operate on the assumption that problems can be solved through language. Can they, though?

This presentation will examine how best practices from the field of journalism and trauma can be applied to the creative writing nonfiction classroom. Topics addressed will include retraumatization, contagion, aftermath, and post-traumatic stress, as well as how these factors affect writers, interview subjects, and instructors.

How to Heal a Fragmented Culture: The Role of Creative Writing Workshops in an Era of Trauma and Change, Jennifer Case

This presentation will build off of the most recent trauma-informed work in psychology (citing Gabor Maté’s just-published book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture) to explore how creative writing workshops, when handled with care, are already contributing to the kind of community-building that many mental health experts and social justice activists are saying is necessary to creating a healthier culture. In doing so, this presentation offers listeners an innovative opportunity to broaden their lens and reflect on why we do this work—and why it matters to our students and their communities.

12:00 – 1:00 pm EST: Optional Social Lunch (Room B)

1:15-2:00 pm EST Conference Plenary Session: Innovation in Creative Writing Teaching, Service and Research Workshop with open discussion following

2:00-2:15 pm EST Break

2:15-3:15 pm EST, Session 4A: Creative Collaborations

Using constraint to worldbuild effectively, Beatrix Livesey-Stephens

This session examines how constraining possibility within a (critical) worldbuilding framework can allow for the creative process to flourish under the scope of micro-worldbuilding. Often, creating a fictional world can feel daunting because the blank slate and abundance of possibility is simply overwhelming. Safety tool concepts such as lines and veils, (used in role-playing games to veto a concept from a game, or ‘veil’ it in play) can be repurposed to eliminate an aspect of a world or creative piece, however small the aspect is, and help to hone how the world works.

Transforming Creative Writing into the Digital Story, Mary Leoson*

In Women and Words: Creative Writing and Digital Stories, a free creative writing course for college students, writer-artists transformed their creative writing pieces into 3-5-minute digital stories. Over the course of eight weeks, students learned to combine narrative, images, video clips, and sound to create powerful films that are a testament to their experiences as creative women. This session will provide an overview of the course, lessons learned from the experience, as well as sample student work.

2:15-3:15 pm EST, Session 4B: Rethinking the Creative Writing Curriculum

Toward a Postcolonial Creative Writing Workshop: Mbari as a Case Study in Finding Diverse Models for Arts Education, James Ryan* 

How do we find decolonial models for the creative writing workshop and how can we make use of these models respectfully? To answer these questions, this presentation turns to the history of a sacred indigenous arts ritual that was later appropriated for a workshop pedagogy. This presentation will examine the successes and failures of Georgina and Ulli Beier’s attempt to adopt the Owerri Igbo practice of mbari into their visual arts workshop. In the process, we will tease out cautionary lessons for instructors seeking new models for creative writing education.

She Would’ve Been a Good Woman: Flannery O’Connor in an Antiracist Classroom?, Brent House

This presentation will explore my introduction of Flannery O’Connor to a rising generation of creative writers. After reflecting on interviews of student who either critiqued or advocated for a continued examination of O’Connor’s writing, I’ll consider innovations in antiracist pedagogies that might inform future practices, broadly in the works of Ibram X. Kendi and Koritha Mitchell, then specifically in Matthew Salesses’s Craft in the Real World and Felicia Rose Chavez’s The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop. As I conclude, I’ll examine my position in this conversation through the lens provided by George Lipsitz’s The Possessive Investment in Whiteness.

When Scientists and Astronauts Dare to Write Poetry: A Reflection on Teaching Creativity at a STEM University, Danita Berg 

At STEM and career colleges, the emphasis is often on vocation. So how does creativity fit in? The advisor for a literary magazine at a top-tier STEM institute, who also teaches composition and creative writing, reflects on the challenges and triumphs of supporting students who want to balance their education with liberal studies. We will talk about ways of tying creativity to the paths of career-focused students so that they have a strong background and balance in the liberal arts.

3:15-3:30 pm EST Break

3:30-4:30 pm EST, Session 5A: Embodied Writing Practices

Cultivating Sustainable Creative Writing Practice, Audrey T. Heffers*

Instructors have an opportunity to incorporate rest into the classroom, framing rest as 1) a requirement of the body, and 2) a necessary element of creating art. If the creative writing classroom has the potential to model creative habit, then, in order to foster sustainable writing practice outside of academic settings, it becomes important to model not only product-centered phases of creation, but also phases of rest. This pedagogical approach innovates toward recognizing the human reality (and needs) of the writer. This paper will enumerate practical possibilities for incorporating rest into the design of creative writing classrooms.

Looking at the teaching of Maria Irene Fornes as a model for teaching writing, Daniela Thome

As writers we often live in our heads, while working in isolation. By learning from the playwrights who directly studied with Maria Irene Fornes, we can learn new ways of creating work that incorporate our own bodies energy and the energy in the room. 

Social Action Innovation in Creative Writing: How Volunteering Leads to Opportunities in Nature Writing, Jen Hirt

Innovative creative writing can double as service to the larger world when writers opt to become active volunteers in the recent trend “citizen scientists” meets “literary citizens.” This paper will look at Jen Hirt’s experience volunteering with a forest advocacy group and how it lead to her re-thinking her social action approaches to writing and teaching nature writing.

3:30-4:30 pm EST, Session 5B: Work with me: Cultivating Connections in Creative Writing and Writing Center Pedagogy, Erika Luckert*, Emma Catherine Perry, Jessica Poli

In this panel, three creative writer-teachers with experience as both workshop leaders and writing center practitioners will share strategies for partnering with university writing centers to foster a student-centered ecology of writing instruction. This ecological approach not only ensures students receive ample opportunities for feedback on their writing, it also seeks to counteract traditionally oppressive creative writing pedagogies. By working with writing centers, college instructors can ensure that students will be supported as they learn to integrate that feedback into their writing process and as they learn to talk about their work as confident, agential authors.

4:35-5:00 pm EST Closing Remarks & Discussion (Room A)