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Why WVU & Other Universities Need Creative Writing Programs

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

I had planned this week to talk about how to revise your writing through the lens of your reader. But sometimes, there are things that are more important than writing advice.

This is one of those times.

I am a graduate of the Master of Fiction Arts program in creative writing at West Virginia University. On Friday afternoon, our community of alumni was slammed with the news that WVU plans to eliminate 32 programs, most of which are at the graduate level.

This is part of what they call their “Academic Transformation Initiative,” the goal of which is to “rethink academics for the future.” Led by WVU President Gordon Gee, the plan for accomplishing this is to “restate our relevance to current and future students and their families, stake our claim as a leader in innovative and purposeful research, and be ready and willing to adapt to an ever-changing landscape.”

The program I graduated from—which laid the foundation for my current work in arts ministry, author services, and independent publishing—is on the chopping block.

I graduated 13 years ago, but while these changes don’t immediately impact me, they do impact not just people I care about who have become friends, mentors, and encouragers even after I left, but current students and even the state of West Virginia as a whole.

As a result, the past few days have left me feeling unsettled and sick.

These people may lose their jobs.

Students may lose their chance to complete courses of study and take classes that may get canceled.

Most of all, my mentors who worked so hard to build something special may see it taken away.

The worst part is that there is no logic to it at all. The English department, as well as the World Languages and Literature department, which also stands to be eliminated, make WVU money. Information from the WVU Provost’s office shows that the two programs combined make the university over $3 million per year.

WVU is trying to reframe itself as “more relevant” by focusing on STEM programs. But by doing this, they are going to alienate students who want to pursue the liberal arts.

Also, we’re talking about West Virginia, which doesn’t have a lot of options for state education. If this were happening here in Ohio, say, at Ohio State, students could say, “Oh, okay, I’ll just go to Kent State/OU/Akron U.”

West Virginia students can’t do that. If they want to study foreign languages, literature, or creative writing, they will have to go to private schools or go out of state. And many of them won’t be able to afford that.

The stakes for this are high, and there is a lot more I could talk about regarding the damage this alleged “transformation” stands to cause.

But this is a writing blog, and I assume that many of you are wondering when I’m going to talk about something that’s directly relevant to you.

So, let’s talk about writing. Here are five reasons why creative writing programs are vital to the academic community and maybe even you as a writer.

Fostering & Discovering Creative Expression

I’ll never forget receiving the letter that I’d been accepted to WVU. I remember sitting in front of my computer in the apartment where I lived during my senior year of college drinking coffee with whipped cream on it and accidentally getting it on my face. After cleaning it off, I decided to go check my mail.

And there it was—an envelope emblazoned with the iconic “Flying WV” logo.

It was like getting my Hogwarts letter. I screamed and screamed. When I called my mom, she thought someone had died.

I was ready for the challenging experience of graduate school, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the discovery of how little I actually knew about creative writing. I was surrounded by students who seemed to know so much more than me and spent the first semester mostly feeling intimidated.

But gradually, as students and professors encouraged me to find my true voice and subject matter, I came out of my shell of insecurity. Having my work critiqued became an opportunity for growth rather than a chance of humiliation.

Most importantly, I discovered that my professors cared not just about my writing becoming the best it could be, but also about helping me reach my full creative potential.

Does that sound familiar to you? It should. Because Inkling Creative Strategies’ mission statement is to help writers reach their full creative potential so they can impact and inspire readers.

I learned that from the MFA program.

I recognize that graduate school in creative writing isn’t the right path for all authors. But those like me who desperately need guidance and community deserve a place to thrive and discover who they are.

In the process, it’s not just the students in the program who benefit. It’s the whole university community, which is impacted by the culture of its students.

Cultivating a Thriving Literary Community

Summer was my favorite time of year in the MFA program. I was usually taking an elective course amid the quiet campus and was busy writing, reading, and hanging out with my friends at my apartment complex.

But the best part of all was late July, when writers from all over the region and even outside of it would descend on campus for the West Virginia Writer’s Workshop. It was a four-day conference put on by the MFA program, which also brought renowned authors to WVU to teach and run workshops with attendees.

I had first learned about the MFA program by attending the conference, so it was special for that personal reason. But there was something magical about being with like-minded creative people, discussing our work together and listening to the wisdom of guest writers as they spoke about their craft and read their own work.

It was everything I normally loved about writing workshops crammed into four exciting days.

The MFA program kept this culture moving throughout the year, too. There were exclusive workshops with renowned authors, special presentations and readings from guest writers, and open mic nights with MFA students at a local coffee house and art gallery.

MFA programs bring budding writers up close and personal with the creative profession. It’s a hands-on laboratory where they get to collaborate with, learn from, and celebrate the community they have with professors, authors, and students.

Nurturing Critical Thinking and Analytical Skills

If WVU wants to be relevant to the future, this is the point where they most need to listen up.

Our society is desperately in need of people in all professions who can think critically, identify problems, and generate solutions that will bring change and make things run more efficiently.

Creative writing does this.

When you write a story, essay, or poem, you have decisions to make. You create a character, start with a phrase or image that attracts you, or recall a personal experience you feel compelled to write about.

Then you have to develop that character and put them in some kind of setting with a conflict. You have to choose when to break lines in a poem, which words to cut, and create imagery that will make it concrete for readers. You have to figure out how to take something very immediate that happened to you and make it relevant to the reader.

All of this requires you to think critically about your own work, analyze the problems it has, and determine how to solve them.

It isn’t even just about your own work. It’s about your fellow writers’ work, too. That’s what workshops are—you get to share what you’re working on, see how it’s currently hitting readers, and then find ways to make their experience better.

People mistakenly think that a creative writing program is just about people sitting in a circle around a campfire singing “Kumbaya.” In reality, it’s a deeply analytical act of detaching yourself from your creative work and understanding how it can best do its work in your reader.

Preparing Students for Professional Success

One thing about being an English major is that you always have to be prepared for someone to crinkle up their nose, raise their eyebrows, and say . . .

“So . . . what are you going to do with that?”

When I was in college, this made me really mad. But gradually, I discovered that these people weren’t trying to be malicious. Because creative writing doesn’t have a specific career track attached to it, they genuinely didn’t know what to think.

Creative writing degrees such as MFAs actually offer untold opportunities to succeed professionally. In the time since I graduated, I’ve held the following careers:

· College instructor of composition, communications, public speaking, creative writing, and professional writing

· Content creator for educational projects from, The Economist, and McGraw-Hill

· GRE verbal component tutor

· Copywriter

· Content specialist

· Independent author of two books

· Creator of an independent publishing imprint

· Entrepreneur

It would be easy to look at that list and think, “Well, not many of those careers are directly related to creative writing.” I beg to differ.

As I mentioned earlier, creative writing is critical and analytical work. In fact, it’s next-level critical work because you’re creating something out of just words, observations, and experiences.

There are no directives, no standard operating procedures, and no direct supervisors—not even your professors.

I’ve found that since I’ve experienced so many strategies and moving parts to storytelling, tasks like content creation and copywriting are actually pretty easy.

No one should ever brush off a creative writing degree because of assumptions that the only job available is to sit in a tower somewhere and write a novel.

Yet, that’s what West Virginia University seems to be doing.

I know this blog post probably exhausts you and you wish I’d just talk about character development or something.

But without my MFA, you aren’t even reading it, because Inkling Creative Strategies wouldn’t exist.

Want to Support the WVU Creative Writing Program?

If this post has grabbed your attention, there are a couple of things you can do to fight for the WVU MFA program and creative arts education in general.

The most important thing you can do is write to the powers that be. They are:

Mary Anne Reed, Provost

Mark Gavin, Associate Provost

Tracy Morris, Associate Provost

President Gordon Gee

You can also sign this petition and help generate awareness in that manner.

Not interested? Go ahead and grab a free writing workbook of your choice from my website. :)

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