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Creative Writing Courses' Demand Exceeds Supply

By Sarah J. Schaffer

About half the students who applied this spring to the English department's 13 creative writing seminars were accepted, Director of the Creative Writing Program Jill McCorkle said yesterday.

The rest were not so lucky.

"We have many, many disappointed students," McCorkle said. "It is the hardest part of the semester for us. If we had our druthers, there would be room for more people."

McCorkle said she plans to write a letter to English department chair Leo Damrosch this week telling him the percentage of students accepted and asking for more creative writing courses.

"The popularity of these courses just continues to go up, and the number of courses offered has not grown with the demand of the students," McCorkle said.

Although McCorkle did not have exact figures yesterday, she said that about 400 people applied and about 200 were accepted to the program's four nonfiction classes, four poetry classes and five fiction classes.

The creative writing program held an information session last week for those interested in applying to the seminars. The list of those chosen was posted Saturday.

Damrosch said yesterday that he did not think the program would expand in the short run.

"It's simply the demand is so great, and we can't satisfy all that," Damrosch said. "If we provide as many seminars as students would be willing to take, we'd have to stop teaching Shakespeare or something."

It would be possible to add more part-time lecturers in creative writing but not to create new professorial positions in the department, Damrosch said.

Student Perspectives

One first-year student turned down for a poetry seminar taught by Louise Gluck, a visiting lecturer from Williams College, said she was unhappy to have missed out on an unusual opportunity.

"I was bummed because the professor I wanted, Louise Gluck, is this really incredible teacher from Williams and [this semester] is the only time she's teaching at Harvard," said Erica A. Silverstein '98.

Silverstein said that she might visit the creative writing department at some point and talk to someone about what to do if she applies again.

She said she will probably concentrate in English and has thought some point and talk to someone about what to doif she applies again.

She said she will probably concentrate inEnglish and has thought about focusing on creativewriting, "but if I never get into [a] creativewriting [seminar], that might not happen."

Jonathan H. Liu '98, who applied toBriggs-Copeland Lecturer on English and AmericanLiterature and Language Henri Cole's poetryseminar but did not get in, said he wasdisappointed but undaunted.

"I want to keep applying until I do get in"said Liu, who also applied to Cole's seminar fallsemester.

Cecelia Chang '98, who was lucky enough to getinto one of Gluck's two seminars, said that she ispleased.

"I was hoping to talk to someone who did makethe decision to become a poet," said Chang, who istrying to decide between English or Literature andEconomics for her concentration.

She noted, however, that it was difficult toget in because of the limited creative writingofferings.

"There are only two introductory poetryseminars offered and there are only four poetryseminars offered," Chang said. "I think it wouldbe a good idea for them to offer a sort of random[creative writing class], where anyone who wantsto can take it."

The creative writing classes must stay small,however, because individual attention is crucialto their success, said one lecturer in theprogram.

"I happen to teach in a way which limits me to12, because I break the group into three groupseach," said Jayne Anne Phillips, visiting lectureron English and American Literature and Language.

When students ask her why they were notaccepted into her course, she tells them to go toa higher source, Phillips said.

"I tell them that they should really express tothe administration that they'd like to have abigger variety of writing courses available tothem," Phillips said. "I think it really puts theonus on the individuals who are teaching, becausewe're the ones who have to limit the classes."

Phillips added that the seminars are not justabout writing.

"I would just really emphasize that the writingcourses aren't really about teaching anyone towrite," Phillips said. "They're about providing acommunity for writers as they work."

She added that she makes her decisions basedalmost solely on the students' writtensubmissions.

McCorkle, however, said that repeatedapplications can help an applicant's chances.

"If I come down to a choice between anupperclassman who has applied many times and nevergotten in and someone who has never appliedbefore, I will lean toward the person who hasapplied many times," McCorkle said. "I almostnever accept freshmen for that reason.

She said she will probably concentrate inEnglish and has thought about focusing on creativewriting, "but if I never get into [a] creativewriting [seminar], that might not happen."

Jonathan H. Liu '98, who applied toBriggs-Copeland Lecturer on English and AmericanLiterature and Language Henri Cole's poetryseminar but did not get in, said he wasdisappointed but undaunted.

"I want to keep applying until I do get in"said Liu, who also applied to Cole's seminar fallsemester.

Cecelia Chang '98, who was lucky enough to getinto one of Gluck's two seminars, said that she ispleased.

"I was hoping to talk to someone who did makethe decision to become a poet," said Chang, who istrying to decide between English or Literature andEconomics for her concentration.

She noted, however, that it was difficult toget in because of the limited creative writingofferings.

"There are only two introductory poetryseminars offered and there are only four poetryseminars offered," Chang said. "I think it wouldbe a good idea for them to offer a sort of random[creative writing class], where anyone who wantsto can take it."

The creative writing classes must stay small,however, because individual attention is crucialto their success, said one lecturer in theprogram.

"I happen to teach in a way which limits me to12, because I break the group into three groupseach," said Jayne Anne Phillips, visiting lectureron English and American Literature and Language.

When students ask her why they were notaccepted into her course, she tells them to go toa higher source, Phillips said.

"I tell them that they should really express tothe administration that they'd like to have abigger variety of writing courses available tothem," Phillips said. "I think it really puts theonus on the individuals who are teaching, becausewe're the ones who have to limit the classes."

Phillips added that the seminars are not justabout writing.

"I would just really emphasize that the writingcourses aren't really about teaching anyone towrite," Phillips said. "They're about providing acommunity for writers as they work."

She added that she makes her decisions basedalmost solely on the students' writtensubmissions.

McCorkle, however, said that repeatedapplications can help an applicant's chances.

"If I come down to a choice between anupperclassman who has applied many times and nevergotten in and someone who has never appliedbefore, I will lean toward the person who hasapplied many times," McCorkle said. "I almostnever accept freshmen for that reason.

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