Released Into Language

My quest for finding good books on creative writing pedagogy continues. A week or two ago, I decided to drop a chunk of my paycheck on titles I found on the cheap at, and I’ve begun reading them with great abandon, as I prepare to teach a new online class on the teaching of writing for graduate students in our MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction.

This weekend I’ve been reading the late Wendy Bishop‘s book, Released Into Language: Options for Teaching Creative Writing (NCTE, 1990) — a book that is, astonishingly, available digitally via ERIC, the wonderful Education Resources Information Center. Though a bit dated by this point in time, Bishop’s text remains a quite solid study of the different ways that creative writing can be taught well in the undergraduate curriculum, arguing for a transactional and reflective approach that addresses where students really are, and how students really think, striking a pitch-perfect balance between praxis and theory.

While the classroom activities and approaches in the book are not necessarily new to me, what I’m enjoying most about reading this book is the way it articulates how the assumptions of graduate programs in creative writing don’t always translate well into the teaching of undergraduate programs in the same field. This is helping me rethink my own assumptions, as someone who often teaches similar material in both venues…and as I read it, I’m recalling just how often I have drawn upon my teaching of composition in the creative writing classroom, and vice-versa. I recommend all writing teachers take a look, if only for inspiration.

The title comes from a passage by Adrienne Rich (from her classic, On Lies, Secrets and Silence), which I like so much I wanted to post it here so I can return to it again later:

At the bedrock level of my thinking about this is the sense that language is power, and that, as Simone Weil says, those who suffer from injustice most are the least able to articulate their suffering; and that the silent majority, if released into language, would not be content with a perpetuation of the conditions which have betrayed them. But this notion hangs on a special conception of what it means to be released into language: not simply learning the jargon of an elite, fitting unexceptionably into the status quo, but learning that language can be used as a means of changing reality. What interests me in teaching is less the emergence of the occasional genius than the overall finding of language by those who did not have it…. — Adrienne Rich (emphasis added)

Empowerment. Social justice. Transformation. Discovery. It’s all encapsulated here, in this brief passage about teaching and writing.

On the topic of the cross-overs between composition and creative writing pedagogy, I’m eager to study another book that I’ve ordered: (Re)Writing Craft by Timothy Mayers. I think it will prove quite useful to us at SHU, since we are presently considering “(re)writing” our undergraduate curriculum a little bit in the year ahead.

Published by

Michael Arnzen

Professor of English, Seton Hill University.

One thought on “Released Into Language”

  1. I would actually recommend Calvino’s “if on a winter’s night a traveler” as one of the best ‘how to write’ books I’ve ever read.

Comments are closed.