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 genres.

"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 Griffin '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

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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 4 November, 2003