Hergenrader, Trent. “Making Space for Creative Writing Research in the Academy.” Journal of Creative Writing Studies 1.1 (2016): 1-6. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
Trent Hergenrader argues that in order for creative writing to thrive as a component of the 21st-centry academic environment, it must develop a serious academic research agenda. Hergenrader’s exigency for this claim is the degree to which “corporatization of the university” (1) has led to increased public scrutiny of courses and programs and to a devaluation of coursework in the arts and humanities. In such a climate, Hergenrader contends, even though creative writing courses tend to be popular with students, other stakeholders increasingly expect disciplines to demonstrate their value (1). In Hergenrader’s view, the lack of a committed research agenda is one of the factors that make it hard for creative-writing professionals to do so (2).
Hergenrader writes that traditional justifications offered for including creative writing in an academic program will not address the concerns of skeptics. Arguing in favor of “art for art’s sake,” he contends, will not fare well with administrators needing “a more concrete justification” (2). Moreover, arguing that creative writing classes improve reading skills, enhance appreciation of literature, and develop “facility with language” does not adequately address the counter that literature and composition courses already do this work, often in ways that prepare students for recognizable career tracks (2). Hergenrader worries that universities will not be able to justify hiring creative writing professionals if these courses come to be seen as “expensive electives—’fun’ courses that no employers desire” (2).
For Hergenrader, the approach of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), a “wildly successful” (4) organization representing the enterprise of creative writing, is ineffective in establishing creative writing as a valued academic discipline. He takes issue with claims on the organization’s History page, which states that creative writing should be taught by writers just as other disciplines like economics are taught by economists: “the understanding and appreciation of literature could be enhanced by having practitioners of that art teach that art” (qtd. in Hergenrader 3). The comparison doesn’t hold, Hergenrader argues, because, unlike creative writing, the disciplines cited “map directly onto specific careers” (3). Moreover, according to Hergenrader, AWP ignores the prominent writers who resist the idea that creative writing can be taught and who see coursework in creative writing as useless (3).
Further, Hergenrader contends, the organization promotes a specifically non-academic view of creative writing. He describes its publications as “virtually indistinguishable from . . . other popular magazine[s] targeting writers” and its annual conference as “a hodgepodge of readings, events, and panels with no dedicated track for academic presentations” (4). According to Hergenrader, AWP dismisses the need for creative writing teachers to have an academic degree and simultaneously recommends the MFA as suitable, depicting the MFA as “almost entirely craft-based” with “no mention of pedagogy, teaching experience, or theory beyond that of craft” (4).
The success of the AWP approach leads Hergenrader to imagine critics asking why students should be taking creative writing in college at all when they can get the same instruction from popular media without the financial burden of a college credit (4). The solution, in Hergenrader’s view, is for university courses to “deliver experiences that students can’t get anywhere else” (5). This goal, he states, will require articulating the “tangible benefits” for students taking creative writing; a more substantive investigation of pedagogy; a proactive exploration of the many writing platforms now available to writers; and collaboration across the academy in order to make the value of creative writing visible in and integral to the academic environment (5).
Hergenrader points to publications and organizations in the U.K. and Australia that have incorporated an academic focus into the discipline (5). He advocates for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies as a new forum for “the research-minded subset of creative writers in the academy who want more disciplinary coherence than what AWP currently provides” (6). The journal’s goals include making the larger academic sphere aware of creative writing as a discipline and increasing appreciation for the “thoughtful and practical value of the skills” creative writing teaches (6).
The journal’s founders are planning a conference in Fall 2016 and are developing the Creative Writing Studies Organization, “not to compete with, but rather complement” AWP’s efforts (6). They hope the opportunities offered by the journal will encourage upcoming creative-writing graduate students to “change the conversation” about creative writing as an academic discipline (6).