Academic journal article College English

EMERGING VOICES: Shared Frequency: Expressivism, Social Constructionism, and the Linked Creative Writing-Composition Class

Academic journal article College English

EMERGING VOICES: Shared Frequency: Expressivism, Social Constructionism, and the Linked Creative Writing-Composition Class

Article excerpt

Though both fields focus on textual production, creative writing and composition function for all intents and purposes as separate pedagogical entities. As Tim Mayers notes in his book (Re)Writing Craft, this schism has coincided with the two taking a back seat to the "place of privilege" enjoyed by interpretive studies such as literature and theory, leading to "theories of textual production that are reductive, misleading, and detrimental to pedagogy" (xv, 96). Not only, then, does the schism between creative writing and composition weaken the position of textual production within the department, it also hinders the ability of the two fields themselves to educate in an optimally thoughtful and well-researched way.

Most of all, perhaps, that lack of unity has harmed creative writing pedagogy, turning it into what Mayers, in "Figuring the Future," calls "an almost anti-academic endeavor." And that anti-academic attitude has a price. The lack of reflectiveness about what, how, and why one teaches creative writing does not simply result in one mediocre class for a few students but in a gradual accrual of underinformed praxis, a phenomenon most clearly seen in "the continual reproduction of the workshop model and the devaluation of pedagogy" (8). And the composition classroom, while characterized by a greater dedication to informed pedagogy, suffers as well: often lacking a means to thoroughly teach writers aesthetic techniques and the tools with which to manipulate language's rhythm, pace, sound, and appearance.

The questions then present themselves: What brought us here? What do we do about it? How does knowing what brought us here help us with those decisions? In response to those questions, my project is to trace the major developments in the relationship between creative writing and composition from the English department's early days to the present, examining how the two fields have spoken to each other in the past and questioning the degree to which those dialogical models are still useful. To facilitate this process, I use two bodies of theory taken from composition studies: expressivism and social constructionism. While their origins in composition studies might suggest I am using a biased lens, I believe these two theories address such encompassing questions about the role of the teacher, the student, the author, the text, and social criticism within the writing classroom, and they each address these questions in such complex ways, that they can be used as dual metrics for the intellectual history of both fields. Furthermore, using these theories helps classify the undertheorized intellectual and pedagogical tendencies of creative writing teachers in a way that makes their connections to and departures from composition pedagogy more apparent. Expressivism and social constructionism, then, function as the frequency creative writing and composition pedagogies might share.

Additionally, I show how applying these theories from composition studies to creative writing pedagogy provides a way to reconsider the theories themselves. Because the creative writing classroom distinguishes itself from the composition classroom in its history, instructor/student expectations, and aesthetic and social goals, expressivist and social-constructionist theories must flex in order to successfully inform creative writing praxis. Thus, just as expressivism and social constructionism deepen an understanding of current, under-theorized creative writing pedagogy, so too does creative writing pedagogy further illuminate what expressivism and social constructionism might mean and imply. In the end, this dialogue between fields of English study leads me to advocate for first-year creative writing and composition classrooms that are at once more extreme and more nuanced versions of their current selves. I argue for a tandem course in which first-year students take an expressivistinfluenced creative writing class and a social-constructionist-influenced composition course simultaneously, with each course's pedagogy being inflected by the strengths of the other. …

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