At the beginning of the spring 2019 semester, the Harvard Creative Writing program moved into a new space on the fourth floor of Lamont Library. Most of the faculty have moved into their new offices, and Lamont has slowly begun to become a hub for the college creative writing community.
Construction for the new space began on September 17, 2018 and finished January 31. The project began amid a period of expansion for the creative writing program. This year, for the second year running, interest and enrollment in the English department’s creative writing workshops was at an all time high. Speaking to the Crimson earlier this year, creative writing program director Darcy Frey said 477 students applied to at least one creative writing workshop, each of which contains a maximum of 12 students. Of the applicants, creative writing staff admitted approximately 60 percent this year.
This relative accessibility of classes marks a new chapter in the history of a program that has in the past faced criticism for its exclusivity. In 2008, the program offered only 14 workshops. Four years later, many students told the Crimson they felt discouraged after being rejected from them several semesters in a row. Other students complained that the fact that Harvard does not offer a dedicated creative writing concentration left them unable to secure one of the English department’s creative thesis slots.
Now that the Creative Writing Center has moved to Lamont, the number of workshops the creative writing program offers has almost doubled. This year, the program sorted students into 24 workshops—a group which included screenwriting classes taught by Musa Syeed, one of four professors the department recently hired. Also new to the department are courses in science writing and “Journalism in the Age of Trump.”
Several creative writing professors said that they are excited about the new space and the changes to the program it reflects. Laura van den Berg, author of Find Me and The Third Hotel, was enthusiastic about the effects of the new space on the student and faculty creative writing communities.
“There is wonderful light in the new spaces in Lamont, given that the offices are on the fourth floor. While I was very fond of my office in Barker, I feel a bit more energized by the light and the views in Lamont,” van den Berg said. “Also, my new office has more space to meet with students,” she added. “The creative writing faculty tend to conference with their students quite a bit, so the improved meeting space has been a great asset.”
When asked how the space has affected students in the creative writing program, van den Berg claimed to have seen a positive impact. “The students also seem energized by the light and the views — in addition to the expanded space for conferences,” she said.
She was also optimistic the new location’s effect on the future of the program. “In the future, I think the Lamont offices also have terrific potential for community-building gatherings,” she said.
Some students in the creative writing program said they shared van den Berg’s excitement. Emma E. Choi ’22, who is enrolled in a fiction workshop with van den Berg, praised the beauty and symbolic significance of the new space.
“It’s a really beautiful space,” she said, “clean and airy without being sterile or impersonal.” Choi also noted that she is grateful that Harvard is acknowledging the creative writing department’s “distinct identity” from the broader English department.
“A big part of writing and writing well is having a space in which you feel comfortable,” she added.
But the transition to the new space is not yet complete. Several creative writing faculty members — including poets Josh Bell and Jorie Graham — have opted to remain in the Barker Center, and some students have had only limited contact with the new department offices.
“I haven’t really seen any effects on the community yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing how things change in the upcoming semesters,” Choi said.
Ezra Lebovitz ’22, who is enrolled in a poetry workshop with Josh Bell, reacted with confusion when asked about the space. “Huh? Who knew,” he said.
— Staff writer Tadhg G. Larabee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.