As a second-semester senior, I know that my life is about to change. I am going into a world without those coffee-fueled late nights preparing school projects and scrambling to meet overlapping deadlines. Also gone will be so many things I treasure about my time at the University of Redlands. Being part of the Creative Writing Department’s program is one of them.
Near the end of my junior year of high school, I received in the mail a brochure about a school I’d never heard of. On my way to toss the paper in the garbage, “creative writing major” caught my eye, and I paused. The other colleges I was researching didn’t offer a creative writing major, only English with an emphasis in creative writing, and I’d set a goal to one day become a published author.
The University of Redlands brochure didn’t end up in the garbage.
A tour of the Redlands campus that summer sealed the deal, and my acceptance packet was the perfect Christmas present. Perhaps overly excited about being the first in my family to attend college, I showed anyone who would look the feature in Private Colleges & Universities that stated U of R’s “creative writing program is one of the finest programs of its kind in the West.” With the recent completion of my senior capstone project—a 50-page manuscript that begins the novel I want to finish after graduation—I’ve now experienced the program almost in its entirety, and I can confirm its high caliber.
Once part of the English Department, the Creative Writing Department became an entity unto itself about 10 years ago. The split came with the realization that the two departments were on different paths, with the English Department focusing on analyzing texts and academic writing and the Creative Writing Department emphasizing the creative process.
Six full-time, working writers—Greg Bills, Pat Geary, Ralph Angel, Joy Manesiotis, Leslie Brody, and Alisa Slaughter—now offer courses in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction as part of Creative Writing. Ask any of the faculty members or students why the program is such a gem, and they’ll mention the workshops.
“In creative writing workshops at all levels, we emphasize process, revision, and endless possibility,” says Slaughter, a professor of nonfiction.
The workshop is a sacred place. Where writing in the “real world” is oftentimes a solitary and even lonely process, in Redlands’ creative writing classes, which are capped at 16, students and professor gather around a table to critique each other’s work. The very first fiction workshop I took as a freshman was an intimidating, nerve-wracking place to be, especially as an introvert. But, in a class full of writers who undoubtedly felt similarly, we eventually grew more comfortable sharing our work and critiquing one another.
The department also offers upper-division courses in special topics, with titles such as From Page to Stage, Surrealism, and Desert Island Books. Writing courses are also available through the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies, my favorite of which was How to Write a Book You Can’t Put Down, taught by Geary.
In addition, I was able to experience a class for students interested in compiling and publishing a literary magazine, The Redlands Review. Conceived in the 1980s, its publication eventually fell by the wayside, but Brody, a nonfiction professor, led the charge in bringing back the magazine in 2007. “It’s exciting to build something with students that already had a deep history and feel the freedom to reimagine it for a new audience,” says Brody, who now partners with Slaughter as faculty advisor on the project.
Bills and Manesiotis, professors of fiction and poetry respectively, run the Visiting Writers Series, which brings to campus a wide range of authors, Redlands alumni included, to read their work and answer questions. Cole Cohen ’03, a Johnston alumnus with a writing emphasis, is the most recent among these. Other recent alumni guests have included Brent Cunningham ’91, operations director of Small Press Distribution, and Craig Santos Perez ’02 (Johnston), winner of the 2015 American Book Award. Andrea Dunlop ’04 also made a special visit to one of my fiction classes to answer our questions about writing and publishing, and to reunite with Geary, her former professor. Other notable authors reading on campus have included Claudia Rankine, Dana Johnson, Kathryn Davis, and Laila Lalami.
The student-led reading series, Bird on a Wire, is back, with a monthly event in which creative writing majors and non-majors alike gather to read their own work or the work of writers they admire. Bird on a Wire was originally established by Lizzy Petersen ’11 and Rachel Reynolds ’12 (Johnston) and revived over the past two years by Damara Atrigol Pratt ’18 and Julie Donohue ’18.
“At first it was a lot of effort and a lot of trial and error,” says Pratt on reviving the reading series. “It was very intimate. And then, this year, it just took off.” As I sank into a cozy chair in the Proudian Room in Hall of Letters for my first Bird on a Wire with about 20 fellow students, familiar faces and strangers alike, my only regret was that I didn’t attend the series sooner.
The U of R creative writing program has been everything I hoped for and more. I met my roommate and some of my closest friends and mentors through writing workshops. The opportunity to absorb such a wide variety of thoughts and advice from faculty and fellow creative writing majors has been a gift, an asset to my education, and an experience I will treasure for decades to come.