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Creative Writing Program Hopes for Capital Campaign Support in Continued Expansion

By Jill E. Steinman, Crimson Staff Writer

With the addition of two new creative writing instructors this academic year, the English Department is looking to continue the program’s expansion, hopefully with the help of Harvard’s ongoing capital campaign, the department’s interim chair said last week.

The desire to expand the program comes as creative writing courses—from screenwriting to creative non-fiction—have seen a dramatic increase in popularity over the past few years.

Interim English Department Chair Nicholas J. Watson said that in recent years, the department has received twice the number of applications than they have seats to fill for any given semester.

“The number of lecturers teaching has somewhat increased, but we haven’t reached a number close to capacity,” Watson said. “Over the last five to 10 years we have had about a 30 percent increase in applicants."

He attributed the excess in applications to small class sizes and a relatively small teaching staff for the size of the demand. While each course has a maximum enrollment of 14 students, the program only currently employs nine instructors, the majority of whom are non-tenure track lecturers within the English Department.

In addition to the two recent hires, as well as the return of African and African American Studies professor and creative writing instructor Jamaica Kincaid, Watson said that the department has requested permission from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to hire another creative non-fiction instructor this year.

“From our point of view, I am hoping that the capital campaign might result in some extra resources for our program,” he said. “We certainly indicated having a larger number of people. We put these requests into the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. I think that the general understanding is that this is something that needs to be grown.”

English professor Jorie Graham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who teaches creative writing, made a similar argument before administrators and faculty members at FAS’s monthly meeting in October.

The English Department is not the only body that wishes to see the program grow. Undergraduates have long expressed frustration over the difficulty in getting into creative writing courses and lobbied for additional offerings. And, according to Watson, the University backs an expansion of the program.

“The University is very interested in having people trained to think of themselves as writing for a general audience, a general public of some sort,” he said. “I think creative non-fiction is an extremely good route to learning how to do that and I think that is certainly what the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is interested in in relation to it.”

Though much of the program’s growth is being driven by creative non-fiction, which Watson said draws non-concentrators, program instructor Sam Marks attributes the increased popularity of all of the courses to student’s desire to create.

“I think students today are as interested in creating things as much as they are analyzing them,” said Marks, one of the most recent department hires.

Another of those new instructors, Mark J. Poirier echoed the sentiment. He said he believes that many students have not had the time to be creative before arriving at Harvard and that the program offers a chance to do so.

“Part of the issue with creative writing is that that to get into Harvard, you have to take all of these AP classes and all of that, and you don’t have much time in high school to be creative,” he said. “I think that is why Harvard students are so attracted to these creative writing classes.”

Launched in October, the Campaign for Arts and Sciences—FAS’s portion of the capital campaign—will seek to raise $600 million for “Faculty and Our Scholarly Enterprise.” The University has not said how that money will be distributed.

—Staff writer Jill E. Steinman can be reached at jill.steinman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jillsteinman.

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Humanities DivisionEnglishFaculty News