burroway and teaching creative writing

Just a week shy of the end of the Fall term. A completion of around 5 semesters in a row of teaching creative writing–I think if I am doing the math correctly–here at Lincoln Land Community College. As it stands right now I don’t believe there will be a 6th since the enrollment is too low for the class to “make”. But I’m hopeful. And in those semesters I have taught Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction 7th edition. And D tells me the class focuses on form and story in a satisfying way though I constantly question my effectiveness in teaching. Anyway, I began with this book because of memories from several creative writing classes I have taken and I do like this book very much. I think the chapters are practical and less abstract as sometimes John Gardner’s Art of Fiction can be. I think the chapters work well for intro to fiction level students. And I rely on the book on my own shelf–specifically the pages on filtering. Invaluable.

But I have had such a problem this last term teaching the 8th edition–and perhaps it is my fault. The bookstore at my school’s fault. Perhaps mostly my fault. My syllabus and tentative schedule were all ready to go for this Fall based upon the 7th edition. The readings and the chapters and the page numbers based on the 7th edition. The bookstore couldn’t order 7th edition and didn’t contact me early enough and so on the first day everyone has the 8th edition and I have the 7th. Logistical problems aside–I got the book in a week and reorganized the schedule–but over the term I have failed in utilizing the book. For some reason I am reacting to the text-book nature of the text. The chapters reading very dry for my students. And in this edition I find so many of the readings have changed I was quite disappointed in the revision of the text. But I’ve given more handouts and photocopies to compensate. But I do think it is time for a change. And if I am lucky and receive a sabbatical this Fall I will spend the time researching other texts. And I hate to say this about the Burroway text.

Perhaps I will choose the text Bringing the Devil to His Knees: the Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life by Charles Baxter and Peter Turchi. This is less of a text-book in feel and more of a collection of essays from writers and teachers. And perhaps selfishly I am simply tired of the old text and want to mix up the course. I want to hae students read creative non-fiction concerning creative writing along with short stories. Especially since I teach creative non-fiction as assignment and also as a part of a creative literacy. I feel students should write about their world before they extrapolate from their world. Our lives inform our fiction and so I want my students to see differences/contrast between creative non-fiction and fiction. The book illustrates this.  It replaces text-book feel for upper level inquiry feel. Sorry Janet Burroway. But I am sure I will come back to Burroway’s text soon but I do want to mix up my teaching strategy.

I also want to include the books So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell and also Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. Maxwell’s book bridges auto biography and autobiographical fiction in a way I would like my students to bring fiction and non-fiction writing together–also mostly because I am tired of genre stories and I just feel it is that important to creative writers. Didion’s work I feel is important because her work is so much more weighted and it becomes journalism and advanced essay as the idea in new journalism. So final thought is that it looks like I will have quite a bit of reworking of my course syllabus and tentative schedule.

More thoughts perhaps on this to come…

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

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