Pictured: Associate Professor of English Kevin Wilson. Photo courtesy of Buck Butler (C’89).
By Katherine LeClair
For a school with such a well-renowned English department, it comes as a shock to many that Sewanee lacks a fully formed creative writing major. Currently, Sewanee only offers the creative writing certificate, which allows students from different academic disciplines to study the craft.
The English department determined that a creative writing major would benefit the department, and they are exploring ways to turn this into a reality. But so far, the resources required to achieve this goal have prevented the completion of the major.
Associate Professor of English Kevin Wilson has led this project in its beginning stages. The department is focused on creating a program that genuinely benefits students, rather than taking advantage of the popularity of the courses. “We’re making progress and we’re being as deliberate as possible,” he said.
In correspondence with The Sewanee Purple, Wilson emphasized the importance of established creative writing endeavors on campus, such as The Sewanee Review and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. However, he remarked that, “even as we work to provide opportunities for students within those institutions, it’s not nearly the same as actually focusing on the study of creative writing.”
With a creative writing major, students could invest more time into their preferred genre while still exploring other forms. For example, students who focus in creative nonfiction could additionally examine poetry or playwriting, allowing students to connect concepts between genres, enhancing their work as a whole.
The creative writing department has a small but invested faculty. This semester, four professors teach creative writing, and this number remains a concern as the department considers upgrading to a major.
As it stands, there are not enough introductory classes to meet the demands of interested students. Because of this, students are often delayed entry until their junior or senior years, preventing them from fully exploring the craft.
Additionally, the department wishes to maintain its small class sizes, which complicates the issue of expanding the program. Wilson stated that the “intimacy of the workshop is a key element” to any creative writing class. Writing workshops are most successful amongst a small group of writers, where each student can receive detailed feedback from every member in the class.
According to Lilly Moore (C’21), an English major and creative writing certificate student, “There’s so much value in creative writing that isn’t really present in literary analysis based classes.” With her studies in playwriting, she feels better suited to analyze the plays of famous playwrights, like Shakespeare.
When asked about the prospect of a major, she stated, “My only wish for the creative writing program is that it grows.”
Isabelle Speed (C’19), asserted, “Writing is such a huge component of being a student at Sewanee, whether that’s academically or creatively.” From the creative writing classes she has taken as an undergraduate student, she believes that creative writing is “hugely undervalued” and looks forward to the possibility of a major.
Though complications exist, the demand for the program is still clear.
“I think we have to admit that it’s time to create a well-defined creative writing major that exists alongside the English major,” said Wilson.
“We’re rightfully proud of our literary history,” Wilson continued, “but it’s more important to me that we help create the next generation of writers, of expanding the identity of creative writing within the university, the South, and the larger world.”