Book List for Creative Writing Classes

14 Sep

I’ve been teaching Intro to Creative Writing at my college for five years and I’m so fortunate that for the first time, I’ve been given the green light to choose my own texts beginning in 2014.  I just put in my book order and would like to share the selections that I made (and some that I didn’t, but that I still highly recommend).

 

My top picks

My top picks

 

I teach the Intro to Creative Writing section, which is a mixed genre class that is part workshop model and part lecture/in class work.  For reference, the majority of my students have very little experience with writing, but are interested in it.  Many of these students are also unfamiliar with contemporary work and have never picked up a literary journal or been to a reading (which is something that I have them do).  In deciding which books to use, I had to take all of this into account so as to not scare them off of literary writing nor overwhelm them straight out of the gate.  It is my sincere belief that if you, as an instructor, overwhelm students who are just getting their feet wet, you’re not doing the student any service and in fact, many may end up so overwhelmed, that they may never return to writing or reading.

Here are the books I chose to use in 2014 (starting in the Spring term):

The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo: this is a classic resource used in CW courses nationwide, and my department has been using it for as long as I can remember.  It has wonderful essays on writing in it, and I always begin the semester by having my students read the one titled, “In Defense of Creative-Writing Classes” as this begins the discussion on why CW courses are important and what gain be gained from taking them.

The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland: I used this book in a CW course when I was an undergrad in English/CW at the University of Houston.  I found this book to be exceptionally helpful.  The book not only showcases traditional forms (sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, etc.), but also includes “open” forms as well.  Each section of the book focuses on one form and gives a page of information/”how to,” a page or two about the history of the form, a page or two about the contemporary use of the form, and then quite a few pages of examples from both canonical and contemporary poets.  I highly recommend this book for beginning-intermediate undergraduate CW classes.

A Short Story Writer’s Companion by Tom Bailey: As my class is a mixed genre class, I needed to find a book that would function in a similar manner to The Making of a Poem, and this book fits the bill.  It discusses and gives examples of the basic elements of fiction writing, which is something beginning CW students need.  It also discusses the importance of drafting and revision, which is something  that I teach in my class as well.  I have found that first time CW students are not in the habit of drafting and revision, so this was a great selling point to me for this text.

Runners-Up:

There are so many texts I would love to use, but I just can’t justify having my students plunk down loads of cash for a lot of books.  However, if I could use more books in a perfect world, here are the rest of my recommendations:

On Looking: Essays by Lia Purpura: I went back and forth on this book, and I ultimately decided against using it (even though I love it so) because they style of writing might be a bit over my beginning CW students’ heads.  In past semesters, my CW have read one of the essays in the book, “Red,” and it was near-mutiny.  I’m all about challenging my students, but sometimes you have to ease them into the challenge for best results.  I do recommend this book for intermediate-advanced CW classes.  It’s a wonderful book on inspiration and looking at things from a writer’s eye.

An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art by Annie Finch and Kathrine Varnes: I also used this book when I was in my CW classed at UH and found it helpful.  It’s very similar to the The Making of a Poem book, but is slightly more advanced in that it delves deeply in the specifics of form, meter, etc.  For an Intro to CW course where students are not very familiar with poetry at all, I think that introducing them to anapests, trochees, and syllabics might be a bit much.  We do discuss some forms in my class: sonnets, villanelles, and occasionally the ghazal in particular, as well as some contemporary forms (the found poems, contemporary ekphrasis, the cento), but this book is definitely for the more advanced student.  I recommend this book, however, for use in a forms class or an intermediate CW course.

American Women Poets in the 21st Century by Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr:  Claudia Rankine had me read this book when she was my senior honors thesis advisor at UH and I loved it.  The reason I didn’t choose this book is because it didn’t offer the breadth of “lessons” that The Making of a Poem did.  This text is wonderful and offers a wide variety of voices from contemporary American women poets and annotations of their poems.  I would use this book for a class on American Women’s Lit, Contemporary American Poetry, or an intermediate-advanced CW course.

The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux: This is another great stand-by and I have been using it for the past 5 years, which is why I decided to switch it out for the The Making of a Poem text.  I love this book for how it discusses inspiration and breaking boundaries (death, love, etc.) and offers writing prompts/suggestions at the end of each chapter, but I think that the specifics that The Making of a Poem offers might help a beginning CW student a little more.  My previous students have enjoyed this book, but have also commented on how they would like a book that has more examples and “how-to” instruction than TPC gives.  I do highly recommend this book for any intro-intermediate CW course and I am very likely to use it again in the future.

Contemporary American Poetry edited by A. Poulin, Jr. and Michael Waters: I used this book when I was in Jericho Brown’s advanced CW workshop at UH.  It’s a great book, but is actually more of an anthology (similar in the manner of Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin, which I also highly recommend).  It’s a great assortment of contemporary poets, such as James Dickey, Kimiko Hahn, Robert Haas, Louise Gluck, Yusef Komunyakaa, Sharon Olds, Naomi Shihab Nye, David St. John, and others), but there isn’t any discussion of the poems, the forms, etc. that I wanted for my beginning students.  That said, I think this would be a great book to use for an intermediate-advanced CW and would be great even for grad students in poetry to use as a model and launching point for discussion and critical analysis of contemporary poetics.

I hope these recommendations help you if you are building a CW course or looking to purchase books on writing, whether fiction or poetry.  What are your must haves when it comes to books on writing?  What texts have worked for you in previous courses that you’ve taught?  I’d love to know!

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