Investigative Creative Writing: Teaching and Practice

By Valeri, Laura | College Composition and Communication, September 2020 | Go to article overview

Investigative Creative Writing: Teaching and Practice


Valeri, Laura, College Composition and Communication


Investigative Creative Writing: Teaching and Practice Mark Spitzer Equinox, 2020. 258 pp.

Investigative Creative Writing: Teaching and Practice is a treatise on creative writing pedagogy by author Mark Spitzer composed of previously published essays and conference proceedings revised, updated, and reorganized into a guide for teachers of creative writing. Investigative Creative Writing is the 2020 addition to the Frameworks for Writing book series edited by Martha C. Pennington and Birkbeck University of London and published by Equinox Press.

Mark Spitzer has authored thirty books in fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and translation and has taught a variety of subjects in the humanities at universities across the country. The collection is intended as "a guidebook for student writers and those who teach or aspire to teach creative writing" (p. 2). Spitzer's rich career background as an ecologist, journalist, and editor leads to a teaching philosophy and methods that are versatile and can easily be adapted for subjects beyond creative writing.

The book is organized into an introduction by the author and five sections, respectively titled "Part 1: Discovery-Oriented Basics," on teaching the fundamentals of creative writing craft; "Part 2: Investigative Theatrics," on methods for engaging students with assigned reading; "Part 3: Programmatic Discoveries," on challenges affecting graduate MFA writing programs; "Part 4: Eco-Investigations," on advocating for environmental issues through creative writing; and "Part 5: Experiential Exercises," on specific class activities and assignments.

In the introduction, Spitzer describes his "investigative creative writing" teaching philosophy. He styles it after a form of poetry known as "investigative poetry," a collage of passages from research journals or newspaper clips interspersed with the poet's original work. In creative nonfiction, the corresponding form is the lyric essay, a unified narrative that emerges from self-contained fragments, some made up of research or other textual artifacts, some original to the author. From these, Spitzer derives a philosophy of teaching that emphasizes informed interdisciplinary connections and playful discovery. His assignments and class activities are designed to encourage students to tap into multiple subjects and to integrate facts with personal insights. Spitzer also underscores the importance of research immersion: "This getting-out-there-and-doing-it approach ensures that writers have more of a stake in the research focus than if they were just sitting at their desks making stuff up" (p. 6).

Where Spitzer is less clear is where he positions his methods in context with current practices. He admits that his methods are a combination of existing schools that he borrows and mixes "with minimal attention to what theories are trending or what those who've invested themselves in other writing pedagogies might think of my trespasses" (p. 5). He asserts that "a revolution needs to take place in education and particularly in the teaching of writing" (p. 8), but he fails to define what he wishes to revolutionize. Spitzer promotes a "progressive education," an educational philosophy that has dominated academic practices since the late 1800s, and his proposed methods are aligned with the active-learner and inquiry-driven approaches that make up the bulk of what is standard in academia.

Spitzer does criticize the craft-based focus still dominating creative writing textbooks, a practice that, at least for the last decade or so, has come under scrutiny for its orthodoxy. (See, for instance, Kelly Ritters and Stephanie Vanderslice's Can It Really Be Taught?) Though he agrees that the "lore" of craft-focused methods is dogmatic and uninterrogated, he avoids discussing white-centric approaches, and rather emphasizes that he will not "discount or ignore" traditional pedagogy, leaving readers unclear on what to expect in future sections. …

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