Janelle Adsit answered a few questions about her new book, Toward an Inclusive Creative Writing: Threshold Concepts to Guide the Literary Writing Curriculum.
How would you describe your book in one sentence?
Toward an Inclusive Creative Writing exposes hidden biases of the creative writing curriculum and suggests principles that can counter these biases within the classroom.
What drew to you writing about this subject?
Junot Díaz’s 2014 New Yorker article “MFA vs POC,” and Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Cap Max King’s The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind (Fence Books)—among many other works—have identified a clear set of problems in creative writing. The creative writing classroom has centered certain experiences and has, as a result, served to marginalize, demean, or exclude many of the student-writers that come to it. In my view, this is the most urgent problem facing creative writing today. I’ve worked in my classroom to recognize my own blindspots and the limitations of the practices I’ve inherited as a writer and teacher. With this book, I wanted to put my pedagogy and my thinking up for examination in the hopes that it would continue the conversation: What does an antiracist pedagogy for creative writing look like? How do we undo the exclusionary tendencies that are at work in creative writing? These are the questions I came to the book with, and they are the questions I hope the book keeps present in teachers’ and students’ minds.
How long have you been researching it? How did you come to study it?
In the introductory chapter of the book, I offer a bit of my own personal backstory as both a student and teacher of creative writing. I first became interested in creative writing pedagogy when I was an undergraduate student experiencing it. I knew then that creative writing was forwarding a specific set of literary values, though they weren’t discussed explicitly in those terms. It was then that I decided I wanted to develop a better language for identifying and naming these values. I wanted to make these values seem less natural, less of a given in creative writing. I wanted to expose these values as contingent and as tied to identity. So I’ve been working on this project, in one way or another, since I was in the course Introduction to Creative Writing in my first year of college. I see Toward an Inclusive Creative Writing is a waypoint in this journey, and I plan to keep writing about this topic. In fact, Bloomsbury will soon be publishing a couple of books that I am working on now: One is titled Critical Creative Writing, and it is an anthology of essays, written by a wide range of authors, that represent some key debates about literary value and identity. Toward an Inclusive Creative Writing is written primarily for other teachers, and Critical Creative Writing is written for writers of all levels, including students.
What does your book focus on that hasn’t been explored elsewhere?
Thanks to writers in creative writing studies and those who participate in conferences like Thinking Its Presence, there is a growing conversation that exposes the problems of the workshop and the marginalizing tendencies of creative writing’s institutions. But there is much more work to be done—and part of that work focuses on transforming the creative writing curriculum. What can creative writing teachers do to help ensure a more inclusive learning space that ensures dignity and respect for all writers and that advocates for the full diversity of literary traditions? Toward an Inclusive Creative Writing is focused on this question.
What initially drew you to Literary Studies?
Literature provides us a way of looking at ourselves and of transforming ourselves. We can see ourselves in our full complexity in the stories we tell, in the artforms we create. We can also envision something different for ourselves—our societies, our planet—through literary and artistic modes. I hold to that potential of literary writing, and it’s what excites and motivates me as a teacher. I have the privilege of witnessing my students engaging in the transformative capacities of literature. I have the privilege of helping to create a space that fosters that experience.
Which Bloomsbury Lit Studies books have you read? Which are your favorites, and why?
Stephanie Vanderslice and Becca Manery have put together a wonderful 10th anniversary edition of Can Creative Writing Really Be Taught? Resisting Lore in Creative Writing Pedagogy (which I am honored to be part of). The first edition of this book was a landmark text in creative writing studies, and the tenth anniversary edition broadens the scope of the field’s work significantly. I also loved Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words for the attention to language the Lahiri offers in both content and form. Next on my reading list are English as a Literature in Translation by Fiona J. Doloughan and Censorship and the Limits of the Literary, edited by Nicole Moore.
Janelle Adsit is an Assistant Professor of creative writing at Humboldt State University. Her writing has appeared in literary journals such as Cultural Society, Confrontation, and Requited. She is the author of Unremitting Entrance and a chapbook Press Yourself Against a Mirror. Her research focuses on creative writing pedagogy and labor issues in higher education. She serves as Reviews Editor for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies. Her new book Toward an Inclusive Creative Writing: Threshold Concepts to Guide the Literary Writing Curriculum is now available from Bloomsbury.