Summer School

My students this past semester rocked. Nine very different, very talented undergrads at the University of Iowa who enrolled in my evening Creative Nonfiction course. Their fields of study ranged across journalism, creative writing, music, and film so, lucky me, right? Right.


I tried to center the course around author Christopher Higgs‘s notion of intellectual polyamory and included this excerpt from an interview with him on the first page of the syllabus:

Become intellectually polyamorous, cultivate an insatiable curiosity for knowledge and experience in as many different guises as you possibly can, question everything, always challenge, learn that failure and rejection are positive things, subscribe to at least three non-literary magazines in three completely different fields (for me, right now, it’s National Geographic, Juxtapose, and Wine Enthusiast – last year it was Seed, Esquire, and Art in America), forget politics: it has nothing to do with you and any time or energy you invest in it is wasted time and energy you could be using productively to learn and experience and create, do not choose sides, do not agree or disagree, embrace contradiction, watch cinema from as many different countries and time periods as you possibly can, seek out unclassifiable music, spend time in unfamiliar locations, expose yourself to new activities, go to the opera, go to the ballet, go to the planetarium, travel a lot, observe as much as you can, pay attention to the way people talk and the way people listen, eat strange food, watch at least one sporting event but instead of thinking about it as entertainment think about it as narrative, ABR = Always Be Researching, carry a notebook and pen at all times, remember it is more important to ask questions than give or receive answers, seek to open up and never close down, seek to seek, do not seek to find, fall in love with language, think obsessively about language, about words, about sentences, about paragraphs, about the sound of words, the weight of words, the shape of words, the look of words, the feel of words, the placement of words, and most importantly be your biggest advocate, think of yourself as a genius, think of yourself as an artist, think of yourself as a creator, do not despair, do not listen to criticism, do not believe naysayers, they are wrong, you are right, they are death and you are life, they destroy and you create, the world needs what you have to say.

I love this quote so much, especially for writers of creative nonfiction, because it encourages curiosity, questioning rather than answering, and an assimilation of all things lived into the act of writing and creating. We can move beyond ourselves. We can wonder. We can take risks. We can believe in our writing. We can assert things. We can embrace this improbable human experience we improbably get to experience. We can be amazed. We can rolic and bitch and sob and scream and then be very very quiet. There is so much we can do on the page.

And so this semester my students brought in Youtube clips of cellists and slam poets and Justin Bieber. We watched some kung fu. We watched bald eagle cam. We discussed fashion and Italian neorealism. We defined, once and for all, the quintessential qualities of a “bro.” And, of course, they wrote, about everything from binge drinking to family dramas to simultagnosia. They wrote hazy lyric essay songs and dialogues with computers and rambling breathless love letters to the universe and, okay, let’s be honest, sometimes they wrote really farty sentences, or paragraphs of repetitive exposition, or directionless scenes. But the work of writing is writing both the bad and the good, of course, and the topic of this blog is drafting so I had to get to this somehow.

And my point here is that this past semester was all so great, frankly, I didn’t want it to end, so I asked my students to share their thoughts on drafting, revision, and writing for the draft blog. They have brilliantly agreed to do so (okay, I assigned it for the final portfolio) and I’ll be sharing what they wrote over the next couple of weeks my Summer School posts. First up will be a post from Journalism major Catie Malooly about procrastination, workshop, and revising. It’s really good, so you should probably check back here tomorrow. Ok. The End.

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