Institute of New Writing \ Ashland
To be in a student in Craig Wright’s class is like having a front row seat at a TED talk show. His teaching is never limited to the art and craft of writing, but is also an opportunity to contemplate human life, its triumphs and failures. He is a writer, teacher, and performer all at once. A toy keyboard, a cassette of poems, a guitar. The mysterious items he brings to class never fail to delight and at the same time to communicate, to inspire. In class, he entertains students with endless stories that are often funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but never glossy or false. Wright does not sugarcoat.
Wright always knew what he wanted: he received the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from University of South Carolina and eventually went on to teach Creative Writing at Southern Oregon University. For both his education and career, he did not have back-up choices. He applied only at the one place where he knew was a right fit.
Redemption Center, Wright’s first collection of short stories, is published by Bear Star Press.
He gives voice to ordinary people, the underdog and often ignored members of society. He captures the moments in these sinners’ lives that demonstrate their deserving of forgiveness. Also a musician, he has a natural ear for the musicality of language. His writing is big-hearted and in the words of Tracy Daugherty in American Book Review, “generous with story, with details.”
The act of redemption did not conclude at the end of his first book publication. Since then, Wright has continued to write and publish stories that in some ways atone for our faults as humans. His short story “Birds” was recently solicited and published byThe Harvard Advocate, one of the oldest literary magazines in the country.
“It hurts,” Wright shares about his experience as a writer in remembering, in living life in retrospect so that a story may be born. Writing stories for him is a way of remembering things that didn’t happen, but could have. His understanding of the struggles writers go through make him a compassionate teacher. Being both a practicing writer and professor gives him the necessary insights to know what works and what are only theories. Student Alexandra Ambrose writes: “Craig has taught me what it means to be a modern storyteller. He’s taught me that stories have to be just as quick as modern technology has allowed us to communicate with each other.”
Wright’s teaching and encouragement for his students go beyond the classroom. “If you put truth in your story and a whole lot of effort, he will do the same for you,” Ambrose says. Many other students can testify to this sentiment. Wright will continue to bring to SOU a combination of humor, wisdom, and more love for teaching than it seems one man alone could contain.
A Conversation with Craig Wright
Your classes typically promote the writing of short stories. What are the reasons for your preference for this format? Would you consider teaching a course in novel writing?
What I try to do with writing is hard for me to sustain over big spans. Stories are easier for me to teach mainly due to time constraints etc. but I also believe so much in the poetry of the story, the dimensions of the sentences and the way shorter stories stick to our hearts. We may well be offering a very cool Novel writing class before long though.
As both a writer and a musician, you have a natural ear for the musicality in language. Who are some of your influences?
Blues, James Dickey, Flannery O’Connor, Kurt Vonnegut, William Blake, ee cummings, Gospel Rhythms (preaching and music), my father and grandfather.
What is the difference for you between being a writer and a teacher of writing? How does one compliment the other?
One keeps the other sharp. One questions the other, thinks the other’s full of shit enough.
What makes the writing program at Southern Oregon University unique?
Mostly what’s on the horizon. Though we’ve been able to do a lot in the past, there is support now for a program with a real niche, one which embraces the new and subversive, and encourages excellence, embraces design and mastery. I’ve been asked to create a songwriting class.
Will INW\A become a yearly workshop? What are the future plans for INW\A?
The vision I’ve hoped and worked for is INWA or something similar to essentially become creative writing, for that spirit of excitement and investigative approach to carry over into our regular curriculum etc. And yes, the Summer Institute is definitely on for next year.
What do you think about the pattern contemporary writers now tend to go through: writing articles in college, interning with literary magazines, getting an MFA, teaching at a college level, in order to survive as writers?
Well, those are the places it’s appreciated most. I don’t think it’s the only route but I don’t have the problem with being a scholar, but not instead of real life because that ain’t going to work, but most people I know who really want to write, burn for it, have plenty of life experience or you see they’re going to get it. The idea of wanting to write, however you pay for food, being a scholar, pretending you’re a scholar even, almost anything, if you’re really serving your desire to write, to make something, I’m for it.
Do you have a favorite time of the day to write?
Mornings. Earlier the better. Too much has happened later.
Many writing students are influenced by their professor. Do you think your students have influenced you in return?
In the same sense that I’m influenced by family. The discussions in class, the shared efforts, the acts of creativity comes from the same place as my stories and helps make me who I am.
Tell us a bit about what you are working on right now.
I’m just finishing a story with a single mother narrator who has an Aerosmith-obsessed ex, a good son who can go to college but might go live with his dad at the beach first, and she’s writing a book with the help of her writing group.
Crowned the web’s first interactive novelist by Wikipedia,1 Robert Arellano is recognized as a master storyteller in both the digital narrative and traditional publishing worlds. The Cuban-American artist was born in Summit, New Jersey, in 1969, the year in which his groundbreaking interactive novel Sunshine ’69 is set. He also submitted the first digital thesis at Brown University, where he earned both an MFA in creative writing and a bachelor of arts in English with honors in creative writing.
Arellano has been practicing hypernarrative storytelling since childhood, illustrating and recording audio to intersect with the stories he created. His creativity spans every genre, including live music performances with Will Oldham (aka Bonnie Prince Billy), The Palace Brothers, Havanarama, and Nick Cave.
Arellano’s passion for video, music, writing, art, and Cuban-American politics converged in Malecón, a documentary featuring a video dialogue between young Cuban artists in Cuba and in the U.S. that premiered at the International Festival of New Cinema in Havana. Arellano delivered the inaugural speech at the first Sundance Film Festival New Media Seminar and the keynote address at the 1999 European Cultural Capital Media Arts Symposium in Stockholm.
Nominated for the 2010 Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America (Best Paperback Original category), Arellano’s Cuban noir novel Havana Lunar examines Cuba following the collapse of the Soviet Union. His debut novel, Fast Eddie: King of the Bees, garnered comparisons to William S. Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, Charles Dickens, Jack Kerouac, and Tom Robbins. Published in celebration of the 400-year anniversary of the modern novel, Don Dimaio of La Plata has been described as “a Don Quixote for the era of graft” and is part of the Akashic Urban Surreal Series. Library Journal calls the collaborative Mexican comic book Dead in Desemboque: Historias de Amor y Sangre! “a brilliant novel of political satire.”
Having taught writing and literature at Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and the University of New Mexico in Taos, Arellano is thrilled to join SOU’s faculty as he prepares to launch the new Center for Emerging Media and Digital Art.
For more about Arellano, check out his profile on Faculty Focus.
K. Silem Mohammad, Professor of English and Writing at SOU, received a Ph.D. in English Renaissance Literature from Stanford University in 1999. He is the author of four books of poetry: Deer Head Nation (Tougher Disguises, 2003), A Thousand Devils (Combo Books, 2004), Breathalyzer (Edge Books, 2008), and The Front (Roof Books, 2009). His work has appeared in numerous chapbooks, journals, and anthologies, including Poetry Magazine, The Nation, and Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology.
Mohammad is also the editor of the independent zine Abraham Lincoln: A Magazine of Poetry and faculty editor of West Wind Review, SOU's annual anthology of new writing.
For his current book project, The Sonnagrams, Mohammad is anagrammatizing all 154 of Shakespeare's Sonnets into all new formally traditional English sonnets.