By Katy Yocom, Associate Director of Communications and Alumni Relations
At each residency, the School of Writing shines a spotlight on one genre of writing in rotation. But what do we mean when we say “cross-genre exploration,” and why do we consider it important?
The cross-genre exploration is a six-part sequence—three parts focused on reading, three parts on writing—that begins with the announcement of the Residency Book/Script in Common. All students, regardless of their area of study, read the book or script before coming to residency. They may also watch a film or stage production.
Early in the residency, the Chair leads a plenary discussion of the text. Later, the author visits residency to give a public presentation about the work and, when possible, to hold a separate Q&A session with students and faculty. These first three steps ask all students to explore deeply a work in an area that may be new to them. In doing so, they gain a deeper understanding of the genre and may gain new perspectives on craft that they can take back to their own work.
That’s the focus on reading. The rest is about writing. First, to prepare students to try their hand at writing in the featured area, a faculty lecture or panel introduces the genre’s concerns and techniques. Then, students complete a brief assignment in the area—writing a poem or picture book, for instance, or adapting part of their worksheet into a short play or screenplay. Finally, a follow-up session shines a light on the work students produce through the assignment.
Here’s what it looks like in action. At the Fall 2020 residency, which focused on dramatic writing, all students read the script and watched the film of BlacKkKlansman, co-written by our featured writer, Kevin Willmott. Early in the residency, School of Writing Chair Kathleen Driskell led students in a discussion of BlacKkKlansman, focusing on the film’s structure. And on Thursday, Willmott visited the residency virtually to accept the Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice in Literature and give a talk about his career as a screenwriter, filmmaker, and activist.
Meanwhile, dramatic writing faculty members Larry Brenner and Kira Obolensky co-led a session on the art of adapting works to stage and screen. Next, students adapted a part of their workshop submission into a brief script. To round out the sequence, in the follow-up session, faculty and staff performed readings of selected student assignments.
Read deeply. Gain a new understanding of other genres of writing. Write something new. And get a glimpse of what other students have created. By the time they graduate, students have completed this sequence for most of our areas of concentration. The outcome is better writing, a broader understanding of the genres, and a better foundation for students who may one day teach creative writing.
Katy Yocom is author of Three Ways to Disappear, a Barnes & Noble Top Indie Favorite, winner of the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, First Horizon Award, Micro Press Award, and Author Award: Best Fiction, Books by the Banks. Find her online at katyyocom.com.