This site is designed to aid those who teach visual literacies in creative writing, or those who may want to teach visual literacies in the creative writing classroom in the future.
First, a few words: Creative Writing pedagogy is gaining ground in the academy. When I entered the field, the academy abounded with style guides and writing exercise workbooks, some of them really good, works that demonstrated how to write, but very few solid works dedicated to discussing how to teach creative writing. Most journal articles on the topic shied away from practical advice and deferred instead to philosophical inquiries about whether such a thing could even be taught–the exact sort of sticky questions that Kelly Ritter and Stephanie Vanderslice take up in Can it Really Be Taught?: Resisting Lore in Creative Writing Pedagogy (Boynton/Cook, 2007).
Before this, D.J. Meyers’ The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880 (Prentice Hall, 1996) and Paul Dawson’s antithetical reexamination of Meyers’ claims in his Creative Writing and the New Humanities (Routledge, 2005) served as major sparking points for the conversations surrounding the history of creative writing as a subject and the concerns some teachers faced when given the responsibility of teaching creative writing students. Is the workshop model viable? Does location or culture necessitate a certain response in one are that must be revised/revamped in another? These books were helpful in starting conversations, but ultimately proved insufficient as guidebooks to the new creative writing teacher.
While First Year Composition pedagogy and other core curriculum pedagogues often draw upon creative writing and creative narrative strategies as tools for teaching composition, the emphasis almost invariably falls outside the creative writing classroom.
Although some articles are rising to the surface, and healthy conversations can be overheard at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference and bookfair, and in English halls throughout the university system, there is still plenty of room for hopeful academics (and, ahem, new journals to publish the works of those academics) to join in on a productive and lively conversation.
So why visuals?: Aren’t we against that? Are we? Certainly beginning writers who try to squeeze in just one more ounce of pathos by making their red, 72pt font title appear to be bleeding should be asked to rethink their decisions. But that does that mean they shouldn’t be given decisions?
Currently, authors are receiving more power to influence the visual design of their projects than ever before. Chapbook publishers are asking authors to commission or create cover art, virtual publishing is making the visual much less expensive to print and more eye-catching for viewers, and although the money seems scarce these days–and the profession discouraging for all but a few–new ways of communicating word and image together as literary art is more possible than ever. The question I ask is not “should it be so?” a question that closely mirrors “can creative writing be taught?” both questions that undermine the legitimacy of our profession and our students’ legitimate search for a literary voice. Rather, I want to ask, “how can we teach students to merge images and text in ways that best express their vision to their audience?”
I consider the highly anthologized works of people like William Blake, poet/visual designer who tied image to word and Walt Whitman who insisted on a particular image of himself as common man to accompany all six editions of Leaves of Grass published in his lifetime, and many other examples, convincing evidence of the very real felt need, a legitimate need, students have to marry their creative works with specific imagery.
I am not suggesting that we teach visual art. I’m certainly not trained or qualified to teach visual art. I am suggesting that we teach technique and form in narratology, as we always have attempted to do in consideration of the new realities, the new ease with which student confront and construct the world around them as a canvas.
What “follows” then is an engagement with visual design, assignments that ask the student to visually compose, and my reflections on how these assignments can be used to teach creative writing students, mostly already literate in hypertextuality, reading it if not writing it, some lessons about design.
Many of these exercises draw upon the work of Kim Golombsky and Rebecca Hagen, Whitespace is Not Your Enemy: A Beginner’s Guide to Communicating Visually through Graphic, Web and Multimedia Design (Focal Press, 2010) as well as other visual arguments. These assignments were created in a visual composition seminar taught by Visual Composition guru, Dr. Lynn Lewis, Oklahoma State University.
Alan James Blair is a PhD student in English Studies with a concentration in Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. His fiction interest are diverse, but a short list of a few writers he feels better about the world for having produced include: Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, Anton Chekhov, Brandon Hobson, Brock Clark, Daniel Woodrell, David Foster Wallace, Donald Ray Pollock, Flannery O’Connor, Jon Billman, Joyce Carol Oates, Kelly Link, Leah Stewart, Li-Yong Lee, M. K. Carter, Michael Griffith, Raymond Carver, Ron Rash, Steven Millhauser, T.C. Boyle, Tobias Wolff, Tom Bissell, Toni Graham, and Umberto Eco. He is interested in gender and place in fiction as well as the “real,” surreal and the magical real.