Creative writing at Duke has found writers from diverse disciplines—despite a lack of awareness across campus, faculty and students claim.
A retreat at the King’s Daughters Inn next to East Campus was held Monday to promote creative writing on the National Day of Writing. Run by Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, director of outreach for the Thompson Writing Program, the retreat attracted 15 faculty members from multiple disciplines, who participated in timed writing sessions and came together in small groups to receive feedback. The retreat is part of a larger effort to expand creative writing at Duke.
“The whole goal is to help faculty take time out for their own writing and reconnect with each other,” Ahern-Dodson said. “As faculty we’re so immersed in our teaching and our own departments that we aren’t able to make connections.”
The retreat is part of the Faculty Write program—now in its second year—which Ahern-Dodson created to provide faculty easier access to a writing community.
After she started a writing group to help with her own writing, Ahern-Dodson found other faculty were interested and wanted to form groups of their own, she said. Faculty Write holds retreats and workshops for faculty, including a three-day retreat each May.
“A lot of times it helps sustain momentum when you’re writing side-by-side with other people,” Ahern-Dodson said.
Ahern-Dodson said that an overarching goal of the retreat is for participants to learn to think of themselves as writers in addition to teachers and researchers.
Since starting the program, Ahern-Dodson has encountered more faculty members who are interested in creative writing. Fiction Writers Anonymous, for example, brings in faculty from multiple disciplines to experiment in fiction writing.
“The Faculty Write program opened up a space to talk about creative writing when you’re not a creative writer,” Ahern-Dodson said.
This shift in the role of creative writing on campus can be seen among undergraduates as well, including the creation of the creative writing minor last Spring.
“Once you meet a student interested in creative writing, you realize the numerous opportunities available across campus, from visiting authors to creative writing workshops to publications,” sophomore Katie Fernelius, co-editor of Duke’s literary magazine The Archive wrote in an email on Sunday.
Senior Allison Shen, co-editor of The Archive, said that while she thinks the minor will eventually become more popular, it is difficult to incorporate into the English major, which has its own requirements.
Shen and Fernelius are hopeful for Duke’s creative writing scene, though both said it lacks visibility among students.
“It’s really vibrant, but people aren’t necessarily as aware of it as at other schools,” Shen said. “I don’t really know why that is—maybe it’s a ‘this is a sports school’ thing.”
Fernelius said that although she likes the intimacy of Duke’s small creative writing community, its size can also be a limitation.
“At times, it can be hard to find outlets to grow and develop writing outside of just classes and literary magazines,” said Fernelius, who has written for The Chronicle in the past. “Casual writing workshops are not readily available and it can be difficult to find the audience for acclaimed authors.”
The creative writing programs available attract students from all academic backgrounds.
“The submissions we get aren’t all from humanities majors—[we have] a lot of people on staff who are science majors and engineers, not something you would really expect,” Shen said.
Shen said this is a strength because it leads to a more diverse selection of writing and multiple perspectives, as students tend to write about subjects they are more knowledgeable about.
Ahern-Dodson also emphasized the significance of bringing together writers from a variety of disciplines.
“It’s important for us to connect as writers across different departments and disciplines,” she said.
Shen and Fernelius agreed that the creative writing scene is flourishing despite lack of widespread awareness among students.
“What I do see is people are being very creative and doing very cool things,” Shen said. “[It’s a] very cool community, I wish it were more well-known.”