Writing Grows by Leaps
Sean Hyson '03 is an editorial assistant at Men's Fitness.
When the Department of Writing inaugurated
its new major in fall 2000, says chair Marian MacCurdy, "we planned
for a measured, gradual enrollment --- about 20 new students
each year. We hoped to have 80 majors in the program eventually."
But things have not gone exactly as planned.
This past school year there were more than 130 declared writing
majors --- making it the fourth-largest major in H&S. The
variety of the curriculum might partly explain this exploding
enrollment, as majors can choose from several concentrations
--- creative writing, fiction, poetry, personal narrative, feature
journalism, professional and technical writing, and other expository
"I felt that more than any other major, writing gave me the opportunity
to prepare myself for a number of different careers," says Sean
Hyson '03, whose concentration was in magazine writing. "It gave
me experience in a range of writing styles and the ability to become
proficient in one or two." Now an editorial assistant at Men's
Fitness magazine, Hyson says, "My feature and magazine classes
have already come into play."
Interns Seth Geller '03 (Spring, O'Brien)
and Jessica Chase '04 (Tor Publishing) in New York last summer
This fall the department welcomed into the
major 33 first-year students and 6 external transfers, as well
as several internal transfers, swelling the total major count
to more than 150. In May the department (itself expanded to 34
faculty, from 25 in 1999) graduated its largest class yet ---
23 seniors. To celebrate
this milestone the seniors produced a faculty roast. Hoping to
start an annual tradition, they presented skits demonstrating "memorable
moments" in their professors' classes. Faculty were, as promised, "sizzled,
sautéed, and grilled lean and mean" while being assured
that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
Before the major was instituted, students interested
in careers in writing gravitated to the writing minor, which,
as the College's largest, has now been running strong for 27
years. This year 49 seniors
representing all five schools graduated as writing minors. Many
minors from previous years have developed careers in writing and
publishing --- for example, Abby Ellin '89, a magazine journalist
and columnist for the New York Times, who was the keynote speaker
at Alumni Weekend this June (see page 26); Dan Amrich '93, a senior
editor at GamePro magazine; and Jeffrey Selingo '95, a senior
editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Even though the major has been around such
a short time, recent grads have been fostering writing careers.
The very first major to declare, Gregory Tebbano '01, a fiction
writer and onetime member of the School of H&S Honors Program,
won second place in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Contest
shortly after graduating. Emily Colangelo '03 had a post-graduation
internship with Berkshire Publishing Group, and David Puretz
'03 completed the book publishing program at New York University.
Writing students receive direct inspiration
from celebrated authors through a special departmental feature,
the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series. Inaugurated in fall
1999, the series offers weeklong workshops for advanced writing
students and lectures and readings for the public. Guests have
included Barbara Ehrenreich, Donald Hall, William Kennedy, William
Kinsella, and Adrienne Rich; the past academic year featured
poet Carolyn Forché and essayist
Phillip Lopate. "This fall," says series director and associate
professor Katharyn Howd Machan, "we are fortunate to welcome to
campus two widely revered writers --- poet Maxine Kumin and novelist
Joyce Carol Oates."
Professional experience is encouraged through
the department's internship program in writing and publishing,
now in its second year. Selected students receive training in
writing cover letters and résumés and developing interviewing and job skills. "Last
summer," says program director and assistant professor Barbara
Adams, "interns worked at Billboard Magazine, Lincoln Center
Film Society, Four
Walls Eight Windows publishers, and Theatre Communications Group/ American
Theatre magazine." This summer, interns worked at Tor Publishing and at
Spring, O'Brien, and Company marketing in New York; at Hudson Valley Review in
Poughkeepsie; and at the Ithaca College Quarterly. "Interning at Billboard was
not only a personal goal achieved," says Jeremy
'03 on his New York
stint last summer, "but also an irreplaceable crash course in magazine production."
Faculty members have been active professionally in New York City
as well. Adams, MacCurdy, and associate professor Catherine Penner
offered two workshops on writing pedagogy for Frederick Douglass
Academy English department faculty, and Adams and assistant professor
Marlene Kobre and their student tutors presented a workshop on
developing a writing center for FDA faculty and students.
The department continues to flourish, and faculty
members are excited at its new robustness three years after the
institution of the major. "Recent articles, both popular and academic, have
reinforced what we already knew --- that college graduates need
strong writing skills if they're to succeed in fields such as law,
publishing, and business," says MacCurdy. "This helps account for
the burgeoning interest in studying writing. Our program, we believe,
is distinctive for its comprehensive curriculum, dedicated faculty,
and engaged students."
Photos by Barbara Adams