Year in Review: Creative Writing Pedagogy


I took over editing the Pleiades blog at the beginning of this year, and I’ve been proud to be associated with a magazine that foregrounds context in a year when mainstream journalism has largely abandoned any responsibility to the historical and cultural forces that shape the stories it tells. I came into the job with a few ideas about how the blog could contribute to a conversation about literature and context that is always changing and that always has at the heart of its changes its own changing context. It seems to me that some of the major context now is the association of education, critical thinking, and cultural sensitivity with elitism alongside the attempts of what has always been a privileged profession to finally address its lacks and blindspots. This seeming contradiction was at the core of Lionel Shriver’s frustrating inability to reconcile her privilege with freedom. I should be able to do what I want because doing so means freedom of speech misses context altogether. In the middle of this, for me, stands the question of how we teach people how to tell stories. The oversimplification of creative writing pedagogy to either “it’s all about the craft” or “it’s all about feeling” threatens to simplify the stories we tell and therefore the meaningful possibilities of our minds. Addressing the biases in literature may very well begin with addressing the way we understand what a story can do, how limitless those possibilities are and how great our responsibility to meet them.

These are only preliminary thoughts at the end of a very hard year in which my family experienced death, lawsuits, automobile accidents, serious health problems, debt, a move, and, finally, a birth. In which the context this country is steeped in became even more clear, even as those empowered by that context have sought to obscure it. I spent most of this year writing and curating posts about creative writing pedagogy because I feel the most hope in the stories we tell and the people still learning to tell them better. This post is a small recap of some of the work that has been done on this blog in 2016. Happy New Year. Let 2017 be a year of better stories that better our understanding of context.

–Matthew Salesses, Website Editor

“‘Pure Craft’ Is a Lie”

Here I wrote about how craft is never separate from culture and speculated on how the workshop could do better, including the ways that we talk about “the reader” in workshop as if we all have the same readers.
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“How Do We Teach Revision?”

I wrote and curated a number of posts that focused on incorporating ideas about culture and craft into how we teach revision, in a series of over a dozen posts, such as this one:

I shared revision prompts from my course that teachers & writers could use:
22 Revision Prompts:
7 More Revision Prompts:

“Who’s at the Center of Workshop and Who Should Be?”

I wrote about how the typical workshop can reinforce the dynamics of power in our society and gave some suggestions for how to recenter the author.
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“7 Things I Teach: A Manifesto”

After the election I talked to my class about why creative writing matters, and explained seven things I try to teach them, such as how the act of creation/art helps us to constantly become vs. be.

“Grading Creative Writing”

I wrote about difficulties of grading creative writing and discussed some ways to focus grades on critically thinking about the workshop and craft. In other words: to evaluate students’ understanding of the context of their own work.

Lastly (but certainly not leastly) some of my favorite guest posts:

1. Ingrid Rojas Contreras on not writing for a white audience.

2. Jimin Han on rethinking the workshop.

3. Rebecca Meacham on note-carding revision.

4. Susan Ito on revision boot camp.

5. Ellis Avery on encouraging the imagination.

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