Welcome to the Creative Writing Blog for Seattle University!

Hi, Everybody! I'm Sharon Cumberland, the Director of Seattle U's Creative Writing Program. I'm starting this blog so that our English majors--both CW and Lit--will know what's going on in the program--our readings, our trips to the opera, our free "Writer's Chronicles"--as well as getting information about our successful grads and their publications. This will be the place for faculty, students, alums and friends of the program to talk to each other, find out what's up,and talk about craft. Come join us!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Anne Lamott, author of "Bird by Bird," will be on campus February 5th!

If you haven't read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird yet, you should run to the bookstore and get it--it's one of the best advice & encouragement books for writers of all genres I've ever read. It's a perennial favorite among teachers of writing because Lamott is funny, unpretentious, and full of hard-won advice and insight into how to start writing, keep writing, and how to make your writing better. I know there is a stack of her books at the SU bookstore because I ordered them for my Poetry Writing class.

Amazingly enough, this very famous (and, I'll bet, expensive to hire) speaker/writer is going to be on campus February 5th as part of the annual Search for Meaning Book Fair sponsored by the School of Theology and Ministry (STM). It will be in the Pigott Atrium and surrounding rooms, and in the Pigott auditorium. Here's the link to the schedule--Lamott is speaking in Pigott Auditorium at 10:15 AM as keynote speaker--but get there early! She's famous, she's funny, and (for you to attend) she's free! A winning combination:      www.seattleu.edu/stm/searchformeaningschedule.aspx

Here are some gems from Bird by Bird:

On writing about your family: "Remember that you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point at you, while a chilling voice thundered, 'We told you not to tell!' But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on."

On shitty first drafts: "For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.  The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all our out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of your characters wants to say ,"Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?' you let her. No one is going to see it."

On jealousy: "Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, and the most degrading. And I, who have been the Leona Helmsley of jealousy, have come to believe that the only things that help ease or transform it are a) getting older, b) talking about it until the fever breaks, and c) using it as material. Also, someone somewhere along the line is going to be able to make you start laughing about it, and then you will be on your way home."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Prize-wining Fiction Writer Nancy Rawles is Teaching This Spring at SU

We are fortunate to have Nancy Rawles, author of three novels, including  My Jim (Crown, 2005) spending Spring term with us as the Distinguished NW Visiting Fiction Writer.  She will be teaching ENGL 392 Fiction: Longer Forms.

Though trained as a playwright, Nancy made national news with her novel, My Jim, based on the character of Jim in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Her novel, a deep consideration of the effects of slavery on the family and the nation, was chosen in 2009 as the focus of “Seattle Reads,” the prestigious city-wide program sponsored by the Washington Center for the Book and the Seattle Public Library.

Since Nancy has been teaching elementary school for several years she was never available to teach at SU before. Now, however, she is taking a break from teaching youngsters to bring her expertise to our students who are planning to study fiction-writing in the Spring. She has been here before, however, in 2009 to give a reading—a memorable event covered by Frances Dinger (CW ’12) in the Spectator. Read Frances' excellent article about Nancy Rawles here: http://www.su-spectator.com/2.2663/author-nancy-rawles-retells-twain-classic-in-my-jim-1.241697

This is a great opportunity for English majors to get to know one of our region's most accomplished fiction writers!

Scots Poet Brian Whittingham is Teaching Poetry at SU in Spring ‘11

Good news for everyone planning to take poetry this Spring—Glasgow poet Brian Whittingham is coming from Scotland to be the Distinguished Visiting Poet, and to teach Narrative Poetry, ENGL 393.

Brian’s seven books of poetry cover everything from Clydeside dockworkers (as he was in his youth) to a collection of children’s poetry, Septimus Pitt and the Grumbeloids. A prolific and popular poet in Scotland, Brian is also a playwright, photographer, and talented teacher. We’re delighted that he has been able to leave his teaching duties at the Glasgow College of Nautical Studies (sailors need their poets!) to join us for a term this coming Spring.

Brian’s most recent collection of poems is Bunnets n Bowlers: A Clydeside Odyssey (Luath Press Edinburgh, 2009), a reference to the hats worn by the dockworkers (“bunnets” is Glaswegian for “bonnets” which is Scots for “hat”) and the managers—whose bowler hats characterize the men who don’t work with their hands. These poems showcase Brian’s special skills as a labor poet: dialect writing, storytelling, character building, and conveying a complete world to the reader.

Here's a link to his website: http://www.brianwhittingham.co.uk/
Below are a couple of poems from Bunnets n Bowlers:


He downed a few halfs and half-pints
in the Seven Seas public bar.

His nightshift chaser
for the shipyard that never slept.

And inside the fabrication shed
dimly lit
like a Stanley Spencer cathedral,
the half-cut nightshift man,
Lilliputian against the funnels 
that seemed to touch the shed’s roof,
he shaped and formed the cold creaking steel.

And in between showers of spraying sparks 
and blinding flashes of light

a fill of rattle hammer clatter screech and whine,

the nightshift man
played midnight darts,
munches three am makeshift meals,
and stole forty in the cardboard box beds.

And when the job went wrong
her cursed long
into the wee small hours.

And in the mornings going home
to his bed he passed
newly risen nine-to-fivers
with faces as dreich
as the clouds above their heads
blotting out the blue of the sky.


In the QUIET comfortable waiting room
of the private hospital

a guy comes through the door
exclaiming to his colleagues
that both eardrums are perforated,
his claim is looking good
and we murmur our approval,
we’ll screw the bastards
out of every penny they’ve got
we think as we grow more deaf by the minute.

(And if all else fails
there’s always bronchitis
                        vibration white finger
                        or asbestosis.)

and I am acutely aware
it’s too late to understand
the implications of

            ‘Right enuf, wi thae big feet
            yi could get a joab in the polis nae bother,
            Ach, bit therr’s nae tae worry,
            ah’ll get yi a joab in the yards,
            yi’ll be fixed  up fur life, so yi wull,
            fixed up fur life.’

It’s strange: in my head
I can still hear these words being said.