Reading Gammarino’s piece this week (“Class Barriers: Creative Writing in Freshman Composition”) was both inspiring and validating, particularly since I recently scraped my class’s final research-based argumentative paper in favor of a fictional rewrite of their first assignment, the personal narrative. This decision was motivated partially by some of our more radical seminar discussions, and partially by a desire to avoid reading seventeen uninspired essays over the next few weeks. My students have consistently shown the most enthusiasm and interest in class material when it involved producing something creative, so I initially believed that this assignment would be a perfect end to the semester.
As I began working on the assignment sheet, however, I grew doubtful: Was this too “easy” for a final assignment? Would it fail to engage or challenge my students’ critical thinking skills? Did it somehow reflect poorly on me as an instructor (was I not being “hard” enough with them)? In questioning myself this way, I was unknowingly reinforcing the composition/creative writing binary that Gammarino discusses and hopes to destroy: that composition demands discipline and active intellectual participation, while creative writing “does not engage the critical faculties in any potentially meaningful way” (21).
My solution, then, was to add more “rigorous” features to the final assignment: my students will rewrite their personal narrative in the voice of one of the authors we’ve read this semester, and they will conduct research on the author’s style, genre, artistic period, etc., ultimately producing an annotated bibliography with a minimum of four sources. This, in my mind, was the only way I could justify assigning a creative project in a first year composition course–not because I believe fiction to be a lesser form of writing (quite the opposite), but because I worried that this sort of assignment belonged in a creative writing workshop more so than a composition classroom.
I don’t regret adding these requirements to the assignment (especially because I wanted to ensure that my students gain some experience with scholarly research), but after reading Gammarino’s piece, I am less concerned with maintaining a rigid division between creative writing and composition in my classroom. As Gammarino points out, “the writer of fiction, like the writer of arguments, is constantly making rhetorical choices…Like a well-crafted argument, an effective fiction anticipates reader responses and plays off of them” (24). Put simply, teaching creative writing does not have to be incompatible with teaching critical analysis or rhetorical devices.