We get these types of inquiries a lot. A lot a lot. And I think they are particularly fascinating ones, because they call into question what it means to receive an education in writing. As a student who primarily studies creative writing at Bennington, I have a lot of feeeeeeelings (bennington students have so many feelings) about the preconceptions formed around learning to write well, and (as Chekhov preached) from the heart. Just warning you guys this is going to be long. Sorry…but I think this is important!
Firstly, we do not lack a creative writing program; it is simply integrated into our literature program. To be a good writer, you need to learn to read closely and attentively— you want to learn from the best, right? (You know who is the best? Flaubert is the best. Ok getting off topic.) So, most of our creative writing courses are focused around specific texts: for instance, the incredible Brooke Allen is currently teaching a class called Reading and Writing Satire, in which students both (you guessed it) read and write satire in order to further comprehend the style. Because they are all working on projects with similar tones, they gain a greater understanding of how to critique one another’s work. What I find is missing in most general workshop courses is a shared vocabulary, because everybody’s work is coming from a different context. It’s hard to critique a piece when you don’t fundamentally understand the rules of its making.
I took a class with Michael Dumanis last term called Reading and Writing Poetry, and I honestly believe it was one of the most exhilarating, emotionally exhausting, and challenging courses I’ve ever taken at Bennington. I had a lot of experience with poetry, but it totally opened my eyes to the vastness of the medium. (And, now, one of the students in that course has just been accepted as a new member of the Poetry Foundation. Another was chosen to attend the Bucknell Seminar for Young Poets…get it laydayz!)
Due to the nature of the Plan Process, you don’t go into a writing course and simply create work in order to fulfill assignments. You will bring to each class your own interests, and write what is applicable to you. For instance, I’m currently interested in writing about familial relationships, and how illness affects them…so it doesn’t really matter which course I’m taking, because I’m going to apply what I learn to those themes in some way. Bennington’s courses provide an excellent opportunity to expand your writing beyond a voice that is comfortable for you (gotta take risks, yo), as well as get quality one-on-one time with faculty members (who are working writers, might I add…so they know what’s up), as well as your best critics, aka your peers.
If you want to write, you will write. Some people need more of a push to do it, but I truly don’t believe you must attend a straight up seminar. You don’t need to take a poetic workshop over and over again to produce poetry. You just need the impetus to put the pen to the paper — to go out in the world, to observe with a keen and fascinated eye. Many students here write PROLIFICALLY (it’s actually insane…I know somebody who just wrote a thesis for fun) on their own, simply because they feel the passion to do so. And there are resources available, not only to hone and improve work, but also to have work read, which is honestly one of the most important tools you can get from a college campus (particularly if you take interest in playwriting, amirite?).
So, what I’m saying is, it’s good to be a writer at Bennington College. Come on over and we can talk about it more (I’m fairly easy to spot).
Hiya, guys! So, let me ask this: what are your thoughts on Bennington’s writing program? The overall feel of Bennington sounds beautiful, but I’m really hoping that it can also be a haven for word-nerds like myself. Ideally, I’d love to surround myself with creativity and get into some fabulous grad school with a seasoned pen to earn my MFA in Creative Writing. An honest opinion, recommendations and advice are all appreciated!
Hiya back, you! Okay, so let me start off by saying that Bennington doesn’t technically have an undergrad writing program. Our philosophy, best expressed in our MFA in Writing’s motto, is “Read one hundred books. Write one.” In other words, good readers make good writers.
My Plan is centered around my desire to capture the human condition on paper, so I definitely get where you’re coming from in wanting an actual writing program. But I’ve discovered that Bennington’s emphasis on the reading aspect of writing makes total sense to me. After all, as a reader you live thousands of lives through the books you read, and I think that truly adds a universality to your writing.
Here are some places that friends and acquaintances of mine have interned for FWT over the past few years:
Now, this is in no way a comprehensive list of English-related FWT positions, but then I suppose further questions would be up to you: what do you want to do? Are you interested in creative writing? Journalism? The English language itself? It might be that you don’t know yet; and that’s the beauty of FWT. It’s a really great way to learn more about yourself, and figure out just what it is that ‘English’ means to you.
Short answer - Good writers are good readers, so be prepared to read a lot and write a lot of papers. Here’s a slightly more in depth answer I posted a while ago.
One little anecdote - one of the things I’ve really appreciated this term that Brooke Allen (great lit teacher) has been doing is editing my prose in my essays. In high school my papers were mostly edited for grammar and clarity, but beyond that (because I have perfect grammar now of course) Brooke will have me change words and sentences just to make the paper sound better, which is super helpful as far as improving your writing goes.
Why thank you!
As far as creative writing goes here, there really isn’t a technical program. The literature faculty believe that good writers are great readers, so before you write anything, you’ll be spending a whole lot of time analyzing and writing about literature and/or poetry.
That being said, it is certainly possible to study creative writing here, and many people do it successfully. Within those literature and poetry classes, there are often opportunities to write creatively, and as you become an upper classman, you begin to have opportunities to work individually with professors on creative work.
The senior lit students just had their reading of their senior projects on Wednesday, and out of 6 students, 4 of them wrote something relatively creative, from a historical fiction novel based on a Don Quixote character, to a collection of poems about smoking translated from Spanish to English.
Creative writing here is something you have to work for and persevere at on your own, but all of the lit faculty here are fantastic published writers, and their input on your work is super valuable.
Lemme just preface that I am not a poetry student, and I’m barely a Lit student, but the answer is yes.
If you are interested in writing poetry, I should say that the entire Literature program’s philosophy regarding creative writing is that good writers are great readers. So if you’re interested in writing anything at Bennington, be prepared to read a lot before and while you’re writing.
However, if you’re interested in studying the reading and writing of poetry, that is certainly possible, and you will have plenty of opportunities to write creatively within your poetry classes.
I should also mention that a good bit of poetry comes up in literature classes. For example in my Lit Diaries and Journals class we read Byron’s journals and to better understand them, read quite of bit of his poetry, and in my Lit of Innocence class last spring, we read quite of bit of William Blake and Louise Glück among others.
Unfortunately, Bernard Cooper is not a member of the literature faculty for undergraduate students. Several of the literature faculty for our undergraduate program teach in the MFA in Writing program (which is low-residency and here when we are off at Field Work Term or summer break) and I know that faculty that teach in the MFA program have been hired to teach us undergraduates too in the past (sometimes as regular faculty and sometimes as visitors for a term or two). That being said, I wouldn’t count on Bernard Cooper being hired to teach you.
These are the literature faculty this term:
In the fall Doug Bauer teaches and I know that we are right now searching for two more literature faculty members (one of whom will be a poet).
One last thing: While the MFA program is here when most students are not, I know that I’ve had several friends who have been hired as program assistants and have gotten to stick around and sit in on lectures and readings!