A needed change is coming

The English department is finally getting the overhaul that it deserves

 

When I first came to this school, not a whole lot was being offered in terms of the English program when it came to creative writing.

Back when I was a first-year student getting lost on my way to the library even though I was in the CCIT Building, I wanted to join a creative writing program. I came from York University after a week of studying psychology. It didn’t take even seven days before I realized that the program wasn’t for me. I was too busy daydreaming about the books I wasn’t reading, and when I wasn’t thinking about books, I was thinking about writing (shut up, I’m an English nerd).

I haven’t been a creative writer my whole life. In retrospect, I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid, but I never actually considered myself a writer until high school. I had to read Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland in grade 11, for reasons that have since slipped my mind. As soon as I was done the novel, I knew that I wanted to start writing and dedicating my life to it. So, I did.

Naturally, when I came to U of T, I was expecting there to be some kind of a creative writing program. Or, at the very least, for there to be a course or two offering writing. But there was barely any creative writing here. It took until I was in my second year to find out about the professional writing and communications program. I took Expressive Writing with Laurel Waterman, and knew then that I wanted that program to be my second major.

The problem, though, is that these courses weren’t available in the English program. I’m not saying that the university should merge PWC with English, because both offer a significantly different array of courses. However, to have barely any creative writing in the English program was a shock to me.

I took as many English courses as I could in my first year. Any that sounded interesting to me wound up on my timetable. I read a lot of great books and re-read some of my favourites. I met some wonderful professors. They taught me a lot about the coursework, always made time in the office hours, and made university a better experience. Their kindness, however, didn’t negate the fact that English majors were never really given license to be creative with our work.

Countless essays, tests, and exams took up whatever time wasn’t spent reading. It’s not like I expected to walk into a class about David Foster Wallace and be given the opportunity to write a short story in Wallace’s style in lieu of a test. But, the entire program was lacking creative writing, which in my opinion was unacceptable.

The Medium published an article this week where we talked to Alexandra Gillespie about the changes that are coming to the English department. She said that a creative writing minor was on its way, in addition to a third minor being in fan-fiction.

I fear that a lot of people (maybe even English majors) will see these changes as unnecessary, or even pointless. Up until now, there has been this evident belief that creative work didn’t really have too much of a place in the English program.

I honestly can’t allow myself an entire page to talk about how important writing is to the English department. I don’t have that kind of time, and honestly, I would need more than a page. What I can say is that if writing wasn’t important, we wouldn’t have an English department. Creative writing holds such an important place in English. Any book we read, any play we study, any poem we decipher—they’re all part of the creative process. Why has UTM ceased to understand the importance of this by not offering students the chance to create their own work?

Essays, projects, presentations, and even exams did offer students some sort of opportunity to be creative with their answers. But to sit down and pump out a short fiction piece or a ghost chapter to an assigned book was the kind of creative work I was looking for. For some reason, this was the kind of work that was never allowed into the syllabus.

My next best bet would naturally be to turn to the writing program that UTM did have. But PWC didn’t offer these things either. PWC crams it down your throat to write non-fiction pieces (at least, in the courses that I take), to write in first-person, and to avoid “to be” verbs, like a tumor would form if I even thought about using them.

The PWC program has helped me tremendously with my writing, though, don’t get me wrong. And rules in writing are to be expected anywhere. Nevertheless, the chance to write creative fiction pieces, poetry, screenplays, fan-fiction, or even pieces of a graphic novel were nowhere to be seen.

Where was I to go? I didn’t even know about the creative writing course in the English program until I was in my penultimate year of university. A big reason behind that is because I don’t think anyone knew about it. The course was never advertised as a crucial part of the English program, which it is. Rather, it was shown off as the fun course to be a part of if you have a lackadaisical attitude and need to spill their creative juices onto your keyboard for a while.

It’s a shame that creative work has been suppressed by the department up until now. I’m not sure why a call for creative work wasn’t brought up sooner. Maybe it was. Nothing was done about it until now, though, and students have suffered for years because of it.

I also feel cheated in knowing that a creative writing minor will probably only come into the department after I’ve left this place. I hope that these students know how lucky they are in being able to study creative writing, a field that hasn’t received nearly enough attention at UTM.

I have to hand it to professors like Daniela Janes and Chris Koenig-Woodyard, though. It was because of professors like them that students (myself included) were given the chance to express themselves through creative writing assignments. When I was taking Romantic Poetry and Prose, I was given the opportunity to write a poetry postcard and reflect on it in lieu of one essay. With Canadian Short Story, I had the chance to write a ghost chapter and attach that to a comparative essay between my text and the text we read. Yes, this was more work than just writing your average essay, but it was also something I had been craving for since I arrived here.

I was so jealous when I heard that The Medium’s managing editor was in The Graphic Novel course with Koenig-Woodyard, and was allowed to construct a comic of his own and submit his thought processes while making it. These are the kinds of projects that make the English program much more interactive, interesting, and thought-provoking. Creative work has a place in the English program.

I don’t believe that every English class should have a creative option; I don’t think it’s necessary that every class do this. However, I do think it’s vital for students to be given the option for creative work in some courses. For those of us who have impatiently waited for more creative writing options on campus, this is the release I think we’ve been waiting for.

YOURS,
MARIA CRUZ