Creative writing blooms across TU this spring - The University of Tulsa
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Creative writing blooms across TU this spring

The University of Tulsa is a lush garden of creative writing this spring. “I can’t recall a time when the nurturing, generation, and sharing of poems, stories, and other genres has been so vibrant,” commented Dennis Denisoff, chair of the Department of English & Creative Writing. “I am especially impressed by students’ participation and leadership in making TU come alive with so many voices and perspectives.”

RAW for all

Students participating in a RAW meeting during spring 2024Since the early 2010s, RAW, which stands for Reading And Writing, has been a hub for students from all years and majors to encourage and enrich creative writing. According to the club’s current president, Ila Thornton, “RAW has helped me and other students find the time and energy to enjoy writing. The environment we’ve created is fun and fulfilling, and it makes me so happy to see others who really care about their craft and enjoy sharing it with others.”

RAW meets in Chapman Hall each Friday at 3:15 p.m. Most sessions involve participants writing together and sharing their work for friendly constructive feedback. “We also sometimes read short stories, as well as discuss and workshop pieces students have written outside of club hours,” Thornton noted. In addition, the club hosts periodic special events, such as RAW Horror, a horror-story Hallowe’en event.

As they look to the future, members would like to host more campus-wide gatherings. They also envision restarting RAW’s work with middle and high school students in Tulsa to encourage their creative writing.

Anyone interested in learning more about RAW can email Thornton or join the club’s GroupMe.

“An exhibition in print”

Begun in 2002, Stylus is a student-run, student-produced multidisciplinary journal that showcases TU students’ creative talent in a plethora of written genres and artistic media. “I have always viewed Stylus as a kind of exhibition in print,” commented Michelle Martin, director of TU’s School of Art, Design & Art History. “Stylus illustrates the point that people do not engage in the creative process in a vacuum; one creative form often inspires another.”

The cover, layout, content, and editorial process are all the result of students’ work. This year’s lead writing editor is Stasha Cole, a master’s student in the Department of English & Creative Writing. She is joined at the helm by senior Kristin Robert, the lead art editor.

The theme of the 2024 issue is Common Threads: Weaving Human and Non-Human Worlds. “Our editorial board wanted to do something with ecology, ontology, and the network of life on Earth,” Cole explained. “Weaving and weaving metaphors abound both in literature and art, including tapestries, paper production, and more. It seemed like a sufficiently broad yet also intriguing topic to attract fascinating submissions.”

The 2024 Stylus Awards Ceremony and Launch Party is scheduled for Tuesday, April 30, at 101 E. Archer from 7 to 9 p.m. Stay tuned to TU’s Oklahoma Center for the Humanities webpage and social media for details.

Students interested in getting more information on submissions, awards, social media, events, and volunteering are urged to join Stylus’ GroupMe.

Mentoring emerging writers

The 2023-24 academic year is the fifth anniversary of the Creative Writing Mentorship Program, a collaboration between TU and the Tulsa Artist Fellowship (TAF). Through this program, selected students – most of whom are pursuing a major or minor in English & Creative Writing – work one on one for a semester with a TAF fellow who serves as both an artistic and professional mentor. This is the second year that Kaveh Bassiri, a TAF-affiliated adjunct instructor, has coordinated the program.

Matt Gallagher and Hannah Moua
Matt Gallagher and Hannah Moua

Currently, there are five mentor/mentee partnerships. These include Hannah Moua, a junior majoring in English and minoring in media studies. Moua is working with Matt Gallagher on a novel written from the perspective of a young boy-turned-soldier in the midst of a war he does not understand. It also enfolds elements of the Hmong people’s history, from their origins to their engagement in 20th-century wars and how U.S. involvement with the Laotian Civil/Secret War affected them.

“The mentorship has been such an amazing experience both for me and those around me, as I’ve been able to share my journey as a writer creating a story for my people,” Moua said. “Matt has been flexible with scheduling and directions that I want to take my story and in suggesting practices for me to take regarding my writing. He has offered key tips for writing that I’ve placed in my personal writing arsenal, and I can feel that there has been some major improvement within the last few months.”

At their meetings, which occur at a local café, Gallagher provides line notes and revision suggestions on pages Moua has shared with him. “Hannah’s prose is full of engaging, complicated characters and sharp, savvy writing,” he remarked. “I’m deeply impressed by her commitment.”

On Wednesday, April 17, plan to join the Department of English & Creative Writing and the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities for a celebratory reading featuring the work of this year’s five mentees.

Poetic remembering

One of the public-facing highlights of the spring 2024 creative writing season at TU has been the Poetry and Memory reading series, curated by Kaveh Bassiri, Dennis Denisoff, and Visiting Associate Professor Quraysh Ali Lansana. “Each of our invited poets deals with the impact of memory in unique ways,” remarked Bassiri.

Students and visitors at a poetry reading during spring 2024The three writers headlining the series are Christopher Stewart (Illinois), Tarfia Faizullah (Texas), and Geoffrey Brock (Arkansas), all of whom have new books appearing in 2024. During his reading in February, Stewart shared poems that weave in a personal history addressing the themes of mental illness and recovery. In March, Faizullah read, among other texts, poems dealing with the experience of the rape survivors of the Bangladesh Liberation War.

Geoffrey Brock will be the third and final speaker on Monday, April 8, in Tyrrell Hall’s Adelson Auditorium. At this event, Brock will launch his third poetry book, which, Bassiri explained, “is both an elegy for his father, who was also a poet, and a collection of ‘after poems’ – a form of translation that’s in conversation with other writers. These include the Italian poets whose work Brock has been translating and other English-language poets, such as John Keats and Seamus Heaney.”

One of the series’ additional pleasures is the opportunity to hear English & Creative Writing students and faculty read in concert with the guest presenters. Lansana opened the Stewart reading by sharing some of his work, while Abby Rush, a master’s student, opened for Faizullah. Before Brock takes the stage, audience members will enjoy readings by Stylus’ Cole and Presidential Professor Boris Dralyuk.

All events are free and open to the public.