Fall 2020 English 110S “Introduction to Creative Writing” Class
In Professor Mesha Maren’s introduction to creative writing course, we looked at various styles and forms — personal essays, profiles, fragmentary pieces, poetry, plays, and short stories, to name a few. Although this semester has been different from the norm, we were still able to have the unique opportunity of engaging and interacting with some very talented authors. It was invaluable for us as young writers to improve our skills and broaden our perspectives in this field. It’s one thing to read great literature, but it’s another thing entirely to dive into the process behind the creation of such works. Thanks to the David L. Paletz grant, our class was able to do just that.
Jaquira Díaz is the author of the memoir Ordinary Girls and recipient of a Whiting Award, a Lambda Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Reynolds Price Award. She was the first guest speaker of the semester, and her visit was definitely an inspiration to aspiring writers. We discussed her memoir, Ordinary Girls, based on her upbringing and childhood. Ms. Díaz shared how she finds inspiration in her writing, and she gave us valuable advice on character development, finding our voice, and balancing style and timeline in nonfiction work. As Ordinary Girls is a touching memoir full of intense emotions, Ms. Díaz also was able to speak on integrating personal experience and memories into writing. It was great to meet and talk with Ms. Díaz after gaining insight into her past through Ordinary Girls, and we look forward to reading her second novel, I Am Deliberate.
Remica Bingham-Risher, the author of three poetry collections and winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, was our second guest speaker this semester. Even through a computer screen, she was a dynamic and vibrant presence. We discussed her poem, “Junior Bee Vs. Sweet Dee”, remarkable for how its unconventional form conveyed its content, and talked in-depth about the complex process of creation, reflection, and revision. She also spoke on avoiding the pitfalls of clichés and drawing ideas from the situations and people around us. In an aptly beautiful piece of advice, Ms. Bingham-Risher encouraged us to read as much as we write so that we may find inspiration from “the libraries that start residing in us.”
Our third and final speaker this semester was Ashleigh Bryant Phillips. Ms. Phillips just published her first novel, Sleepovers, which we read before she came to speak with us. Her short stories have appeared in The Paris Review, The Oxford American, and other literary journals. In our class discussion, we talked to Ms. Phillips about the source of inspiration for her fictional pieces and characters. She shared how her upbringing in the rural south influences her perspective and the focus of her writing. It was a great opportunity to speak with an amazing author who is just starting her career. We look forward to hearing about more of Ms. Phillip’s projects in the future.
Creative writing is a means of self-expression, a social commentary vehicle, and a bridge between peoples and ideas. It is a tool that can be used to both perceive and shape the communities that we live. The David L. Paletz Grant has given our class insight into the relationship between creative writing and the real world. It introduced us to the dynamic, complex process by which this art is invented and refined. Special thanks to Jaquira Díaz, Remica Bingham-Risher, and Ashleigh Bryant Phillips for taking the time to share their journeys and experiences with us.
Recordings of each installment of the David L. Paletz Creative Writing Guest Series can be found here.