Distinguished Visiting Writer Series Takes a New Form

The Department of Writing Distinguished Visiting Writers series has a long and successful history of bringing strong, recognizable writers to the College campus. During their visits, the writers not only offer public presentations and readings but also meet with writing students in a master class. In years past, Professor Katharyn Machan coordinated the program, but in January the torch was passed to Jack Wang, an assistant professor who brought a new structure to the longstanding program.

Wang arrived in the Department of Writing in the fall of 2006 after receiving his Ph.D. in English (creative writing, fiction) from Florida State University. At Ithaca College, Wang teaches mainly fiction writing. His first step as director of the series was to take a fresh look at the traditional single-author master class format, and decided to experiment with a different, multi-genre format. 

“I don’t think that young writers should necessarily decide when they are 18, 19, 20, that they want to be a poet,” he said. “They should leave themselves open to the possibilities of exploring a talent that hasn’t fully been explored.” 

The new master class format launched this spring and brought fiction writer Robert Olen Butler, poet Yusef Komunyakaa (both Pulitzer Prize winners), and acclaimed critic and essayist Vivian Gornick to campus for a semester-long series of master classes and public readings.

Students enjoyed the new format. “It’s a wonderful opportunity not only to work in different genres but also to learn from vastly different teaching and writing styles,” said Evan Perriello ’08. “Having Gornick read through my writing one week and Yusef another, I could make improvements that I feel reflect my real style by processing the different perspectives together.”

The public readings offered by the authors were well attended and enthusiastically received by students and faculty alike. Wang commented that “the readings showcased not only the talents of three major American writers but also the enthusiasm for writing and literature on the campus of Ithaca College.” In fact, the response was so positive that the Department of Writing has decided to adopt the format for another three years, beginning in the spring of 2009.