This blog was originally posted on December 9, 2014.
With two weeks left in the semester, my students are busy revising creative nonfiction essays for inclusion in their final portfolios. I admit, this is a very relaxing time for me. While many of my colleagues are frantically grading papers and writing exams, I’m showing up to school to listen to students give presentations on their favorite authors and to answer questions during office hours. I’m thinking about getting a hammock for the office, actually.
Of course, portfolios will come in and the days leading up to Christmas will be filled with frantic grading. But I’m enjoying the peace right now, and am reflecting on all of the good work I have read from my students this semester.
Back in August, the students entered the classroom for the first time unsure of what to expect. Everyone knows what fiction and poetry is, but the idea of a “creative nonfiction” workshop is foreign to most of them. Some of these students are in my class because someone recommended me to them. Others are majors who need the course in order to move on to more advanced classes. Others just need to get an arts elective out of the way. Most, though, aren’t taking the class because they already have a deep and abiding love for the essay or literary journalism.
I hope that, over the course of the year, they have grown to love these forms. Not just because I love these forms myself, but because I have seen this group of students come together and understand each other better as a result of sharing their own personal narratives. These 18 and 19 year olds began the semester a little nervous, sometimes reluctant to allow themselves to be too exposed in their writing. But at this point, I think that we have all become friends—or, if not friends, then very supportive colleagues. We have shared family secrets, discussed our private anxieties, and revealed truths that we usually keep hidden when we’re in the dorms, at the bar, or in a department meeting. We’ve established a sense of trust with each other, even though—or, perhaps, because?—we didn’t know each other 14 weeks ago.
Some of these students will go on to study English and creative writing. Some will go on to publish their work. Most will not. But I hope that these students will look back on the experience of taking this class fondly, and I hope they feel like they learned useful things during our time together. Of course, if they find that they’re able to express themselves through writing more effectively, that’s great. But more importantly, I hope that, through reading and writing creative nonfiction, they’ve come to understand that they’re not alone in the universe. I hope they realize that their friends, their classmates, and even their professors struggle with private stresses and anxieties. I hope they have learned that, sometimes, we all feel isolated, or freakish, or terrified. And I hope that they’re able to take this knowledge with them after they leave my classroom, better equipped to try to understand someone else’s point-of-view. This, I think, is the most important reason to study creative nonfiction.