Vol. 19, No. 1, Spring 2006
Reading Series Is the Latest Chapter in Creative Writing Offerings
To Hofstra's resident novelists, poets and playwrights, the University's Great Writers, Great Readings series is many things.
It is a source of inspiration for students and a way to highlight and improve an already strong creative writing program. It has helped to foster a campus community of writers and those who care about good writing, and it is a means to give back to the larger community. In the past two years, students, staff, faculty and the public have had the chance to listen to authors Jamaica Kincaid, Cynthia Ozick and Haruki Murakami, poets Louise Gluck, William S. Mervin and Charles Simic, and playwrights Kenneth Lonergan and Donald Margulies.
As wonderful as it is to sit back and hear the words of a poem or play or novel written as the writer fashioned them, the series, now in its second year, is much more than that. An important component is the interaction between the writers and Hofstra students, particularly during smaller classroom sessions when students have the opportunity to ask questions.
"It is in that give and take that you get a chance to see the humanity, the fallibility of the writers, their own struggles. Their responses tend to be very candid and the process of writing becomes demystified," said Hofstra English professor and essayist Phillip Lopate, who coordinates and helped to create the series. "The students see that the writers are struggling just as they are."
Many attribute the series' success to the administration's drive to build a strong creative writing program by bringing to the University a number of established writers, including playwright Erik Brogger, poet Phillis Levin, novelists Julia Markus and Martha McPhee, and Phillip Lopate. They, in turn, helped bring to Hofstra the participants in Great Writers, Great Readings.
"We realized that if we were ever to build a notable graduate series we needed to have people coming in who were important writers," Dr. Lopate said. "And also we wanted to establish that link for all our students that writing wasn't just something that occurred in the canon; that it was a daily practice. It was a living. There is only so much you can do by getting students to read Melville and Emily Dickinson. We wanted real live writers to come in and model the writing life."
The series, which received wide support from faculty and staff, has continued this year with National Book Award winner and poet Jean Valentine; short story author Edward P. Jones, whose first novel, The Known World, won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction; and novelist Jonathan Franzen.
"I didn't know what to expect, but I could see by the first reading, and it was confirmed by the second and third, that this was such a gift to students and also to the community," said Professor Levin, who requires her students to attend the readings. "It makes an already strong creative writing series that much more excellent."
The series has also had a ripple effect all across the University. "It creates communities on campus not only for students who want to be writers but for students and faculty who care about literature," she said. "To be present and hear living voices of great writers; I've seen the energy and I believe in it."
Professor Levin said it is through their questions to the writers, particularly in the more intimate master classes, that the students come to realize that there is no one formula for success as a writer. "To hear the differences in the way people work and to be able to have courage to ask them questions I think makes the experience of writing much more accessible," she said... | more |