Starting next fall, students interested in creative writing courses will no longer be required to submit a writing sample to intro-level courses. Applications will still be required for 300-level courses. This decision occurs after an almost unanimous agreement from faculty after being proposed at a department meeting this semester. The English department hopes that this change will make Kenyon students feel as if there is no limitation on who is qualified to take introductory creative writing courses.
After producing writers like Stephanie Danler and John Green, this is the first major change to the program since its introduction at Kenyon in the late 1980s.
Members of the English department explained the reasoning behind the choice in interviews with the Collegian. Faculty members said the application requirement has potentially discouraged people in the past from pursuing a creative writing education. Mainly, professors feared that students may believe that their level of experience would make them potentially weaker candidates for the program and discourage them from applying altogether.
Emma McGorray ’18, a psychology and English double major with a creative writing emphasis, felt that the change makes sense. “People who are really interested in doing creative writing — it’s a way for them to get classes and then develop their writing skills without already having enough writing skills to get in the class in the first place,” she said. “So I think it makes it more fair to people who want to pursue it.” She added that a potential downside is students who really want to pursue creative writing not getting a spot during registration, but that is also the case for all intro-level classes.
The general increase in class size from 12 to 15 students will also have an effect on how classes will be conducted. “It’s essentially adding an entire class to the previous count,” Richard L. Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing Katharine Weber said. Professor Weber also noted that the additional spots may result in less writing being assigned in general.
Writer in Residence P.F. Kluge, who is the Collegian’s advisor, believes that it would be more constructive to have the application process remain. “It is self-evident that a thoughtful evaluation of individuals and their work would be the qualifier for admittance into an intro course,” he said. Kluge said that simply allowing standard registration makes the process “arbitrary and random.”
Associate Professor of English Sarah Heidt and Weber believe that this change is for the best. “At certain points [during the semester] I felt as if I could have thrown 12 applications in the air to choose a class makeup, and it wouldn’t have made any difference,” Weber said.
“I believe this change will give an equal chance to receive a creative writing education to inexperienced people who may have been beat out by students who had had previous chance to hone their writing in high school classes or summer programs,” she said.
Weber pointed out that the change wouldn’t have a large effect on course quality as there will still be writing samples required for enrollment in advanced classes. “At a certain point talent does matter, but why would you want to screen out people who are taking intro with no experience?”
Heidt shares Weber’s hopes that the change will attract a broader variety of interest in the program, and notes that the seat increase will also increase accessibility.
“It’s sad to think people took themselves out of the game because of the application process,” she said.
“Because classes will be bigger, there will be lots more opportunities for people to get writing in the company of peers. These courses are not just for English majors.”
The members of the English department did note that they will be conducting an ongoing reexamination as they implement the process.
“Obviously I hope it works, and if it doesn’t, we’ll be looking for a solution,” Heidt said.