Creative Writing

Creative Writing

Literary writing at Swarthmore, though a relatively new emphasis within the Department of English Literature, has a long and distinguished history at the College. Visiting writers on our faculty in the past have included poets W.H. Auden, Adrienne Rich, Ireland's Brendan Kennelly, South African Denis Brutus, and Kofi Anyidoho of Ghana; and such novelists as Hilma Wolitzer, Elizabeth Benedict, and Jonathan Franzen.

The many alumni of the College who have achieved prominence in the world of letters include fiction writers James Michener, Norman Rush, Alan Gordon, Jonathan Franzen, Adam Haslett, and Christopher Castellani; and poets such as John Ridland, Diane Di Prima, William D. Ehrhart, Daisy Fried, and Jessica Fisher . In recent years, Swarthmore graduates have pursued advanced degrees in writing at Brooklyn, Brown, Colorado, Columbia, Cornell, Iowa, San Francisco State, and other institutions.

The program itself has grown over the past twenty years from single yearly workshops in fiction, poetry, and playwriting, to more comprehensive offerings - seven courses in the English Department, five in other college departments, and the possibility of individual work pursued by advanced students under faculty guidance and offered regularly as a field in the Honors Program.

At Swarthmore, the discipline of writing goes hand in hand with the study of literature. Each of the four members of the English Department who comprise the core of our creative writing faculty specializes as well in a literary historical field - Old English and Medieval Studies, Romanticism and Eighteenth Century Studies, American and Ethnic Studies, Modern and Contemporary Poetry of the British Isles.

This expertise permeates all our workshops, and is especially evident in three specialized courses which combine critical analysis with creative exercises based in literary models:

Grendel's Workshop (070D) - taught by poet and Medievalist Craig Williamson - examines the ways writers throughout history have reclaimed and re-envisioned prior existing texts, from the use Chaucer and Shakespeare made of their sources, to John Gardner's reconception of Beowulf from the monster's point of view in Grendel, and Tom Stoppard's decentering of Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The course offers students the opportunity to devise their own poems and fictions based in culturally familiar materials.

Lyric Encounters (070E)  - taught by poet, librettist, and Modernist Nathalie Anderson - explores the musical foundations of poetry through rhythm, rhyme, consonance, and formal patterning, and examines historical deployments of the lyric in expressions of love, mourning, subjective reflection, and transcendence.

Writing Nature (070G) - taught by poet, fiction writer, and Romanticist Betsy Bolton - draws both on the historical conventions of the Sublime and the more physically grounded depictions of the natural world in biological and ecological writing to introduce students to the skills supporting poetry and non-fiction prose.

These three courses - each with a limit of fifteen participants, slightly larger than our more traditional workshops, and each with no required application process - are ideal for students with little prior experience in writing, and are excellent as well for experienced writers who wish to contextualize their creative work and hone their skills in focused exercises.

Poetry and Fiction Workshops

The Department of English Literature also offers intensive workshops in fiction and in poetry - playwriting is taught by Theater, now a separate department. Our workshops engage students in exercises designed to develop an awareness of the multiplicitous narrative and lyric choices implicit in the writer's craft. The Fiction Workshop (070B) concentrates typically on character development, the Poetry Workshop (070A) on the implications of form and voice, in exercises that challenge the participants to extend their habitual approaches to their writing.

These workshops are offered each spring, the poetry course led on a rotating basis by Nathalie Anderson, Betsy Bolton, and poet and Americanist Peter Schmidt, whose interests in jazz and in spoken-word poetry infuse his classes; the fiction course alternating between Betsy Bolton and visiting writers, most recently including Rachel Pastan and Gregory Frost. By rotating responsibility for the workshops, we hope to convey, at least by implication, the variety of possible approaches to the discipline of writing.

Major with a Creative Writing Emphasis

Students who want to major in English Literature with an emphasis in creative writing-whether Course or Honors majors-must complete three units of creative writing in addition to the usual departmental requirements of pre- and post-1830 units. The creative writing credits will normally consist of

  • two workshops (English 070A, B, C, D, E, or G)
  • and English 070K, Directed Creative Writing Projects.

Students may count towards the program no more than one workshop offered by departments other than English Literature. Admission into the program will depend upon the quality of the student's written work and the availability of faculty to supervise the work. Students who are interested in the program are urged to talk both with the Department Chair and with one of the Department faculty who regularly teach the workshops.

Note: Creative writing and journalism classes DO NOT count as pre- or post-1830 classes.