Rows of prose enthusiasts unite

By Samuel Charles

Columbia continued its mission to promote participation and a joint effort between departments for Creative Nonfiction Week.

From Oct. 18–22, the event brought together three departments to share work, inspire writers and recognize talent inside and outside the Columbia community.

The three departments, English, Fiction Writing and Journalism, were each represented throughout the week by speakers from various backgrounds and professions sharing their respective work.

Along with faculty members and professionals in the field, two students from each department were given the opportunity to share their work.

Creative nonfiction is a mixed genre, said Teresa Puente, an assistant professor in the Journalism Department and one of the organizers of Creative Nonfiction Week.

“[Creative nonfiction] is a very diverse genre that could include journalism forms like travel writing or magazine writing,” Puente said. “It can include other forms of writing, like a memoir, a personal narrative or a personal essay. It’s hard to define.”

Aviya Kushner, another organizer and assistant professor in the English Department, said the goal of the week was to showcase the genre of creative nonfiction and offer an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to hear the latest and most interesting work being done.

Eric May, an associate professor in the Fiction Department and organizer of Creative Nonfiction Week, said the events and speakers give students an opportunity to see three different departments come together, share what they have in common and embrace their differences.

“It’s like a delta,” May said. “You get this stream from three different departments flowing and meeting, not only [to show] the work involved but for the students to hear what’s going on in different departments.”

The three departments were represented equally throughout the week, Puente said.

“It’s 100 percent collaboration,” Puente said. “We meet throughout the year to plan events and we agree on speakers, though [the speakers] don’t necessarily represent one department.”

The other organizers for Creative Nonfiction Week were associate professor Sharon Bloyd Peshkin and assistant professor Dan Sinker, both from the Journalism Department.

This year, Creative Nonfiction Week also included the Radio Department.

Outside Stage Two, 618 S. Michigan Ave., where all readings were held during the week, was a microphone and a podium set up for students to record their work. The best recordings will be posted on a blog specifically for the event.

Guest speakers this year included The A.V. Club, a branch of the satirical newspaper The Onion, which focuses on pop culture, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, a memoirist and senior editor at current affairs magazine The Atlantic.

“This is one of the great things about going to college,” May said. “You oftentimes will be brought into close contact with artists you might never have [an] interaction with on your own.”

Guest speakers during the week-long event said collaboration is vital to any writer looking to produce something of value.

Tasha Robinson, an editor at The A.V. Club, credited collaboration for helping the publication expand.

“We started attempting more ambitious pieces that really required large-scale collaboration,” Robinson said.

May said Creative Nonfiction Week has grown because of efforts to bring different areas of study closer together.

“The more you do something, the better idea you have about it,” May said. “There are greater and greater efforts to bring different departments together working in programs and events that are going to hit more than one note at a time.”