By: Eleanor Winston

This fall, students will be able to pursue a brand new, much anticipated major in SWLF: creative writing. It took three years and much creative collaboration between SWLF Director Peter Betjemann and the creative writing faculty to design the groundbreaking program. It’s the first B.A. in creative writing at a public university in the state.

While other public universities in Oregon offer a B.F.A. in creative writing, the B.A. is by nature more flexible and accessible. It’s defined by a modest credit load and less competition for admission. This means that the B.A. in creative writing is friendlier for double majors, for combining with other minors and/or certificates, and for transfer students, among others. In this way, it’s a very “OSU” degree.

The journey here began with a simple survey of creative writing students. Would they be interested in a creative writing major? The answer was an overwhelming ‘yes.’ As Assistant Professor Nicholas Dybek described, the survey “showed that there was definite interest in a creative writing major, but what we were most excited to learn was that there were a lot of people, who were not English majors, that showed an abundance of interest in the possibility of a creative writing major.” It was the potential broad reach of the program, along with the enthusiasm of students already based in SWLF, that spurred action in developing the new major.

The next step was to develop a curriculum. One critical consideration was how the SWLF major would be located in a wider community of creative writing majors at universities across the country. “Creative writing majors fall into two general categories,” Professor Keith Scribner said. “[There are] those that require a balance of literature and writing courses and those that more heavily emphasize writing. We designed ours in the model of the former so that students will study both literature and writing. We feel that this approach offers a more well-rounded degree; students will benefit from the rigorous analytical study of literature, developing their understanding of art, culture, and the literary tradition, while applying much of what they learn in those classes to their own writing craft.”

This emphasis on well-roundedness is carried through into the nuts and bolts of the major. The course load minimum is set at 53 credits and requires students to spend the first two years building a foundation in all branches of creative writing, from poetry to nonfiction to fiction, so that they can make informed decisions when they choose a concentration. As Associate Professor Elena Passarello noted, she and her creative writing colleagues “designed the course load to easily attach to other courses of study--so, a great double major--because we know creative writing is an incredibly useful addition to an undergraduate experience.”

SWLF Director Peter Betjemann expressed his excitement about the new major. “I am extremely proud of everyone who has contributed to the creation of this major,” he said. “They have all really gone above and beyond during this whole process. It is because of their efforts that along the course of each and every creative writing student's time with us, our amazing SWLF faculty will be able to work one-on-one with them.” He went on to emphasize that students will also have access to the award-winning authors that visit our campus each year. This has included Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead, National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates, and, just this year, Namwali Serpell, Ilya Kaminsky, and Jia Tolentino.    

The skills creative writing students develop while at OSU will no doubt serve them in their careers post-graduation. “In my time at OSU,” Passarello said, “our creative writing students have gone on to publish books, work in advertising, write for nonprofits, pass the Oregon Bar, attend medical school, run communications firms, and write corporate copy for major healthcare systems and financial institutions. Since the world always needs storytellers, there's no limit to what you can do with a Creative Writing major, and now we have one!” Liddy Detar, academic advisor for the new major, echoed these sentiments and addressed potential students directly. “I believe you will have the opportunity to experience intellectual challenge and inspiration as well as meaningful care and diverse opportunities for the community,” she said. “And when you leave here, you will have begun already to give your voice and creative vision to the communities and spaces both personal and professional that are important to you.”

Fall on a college campus is always an exciting time, but this coming fall will be especially so as SWLF welcomes the first batch of students into the new major. In the meantime, anticipation across campus continues to build.

For more information or to talk with an advisor about the Creative Writing program, please contact Liddy Detar.