An Associated Press headline earlier this month caught my eye. It said, “Demand booming on college campuses for creative writing.” Reporter Michael Melia noted that while courses in the humanities have steadily lost students to science and technology, creative writing courses have seen a major jump at colleges across our country.
According to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, an industry group based at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, only three schools offered bachelor’s degrees in creative writing in 1975; today, you can earn this degree at any one of 733 colleges. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of creative writing bachelor’s programs has grown steadily, but spiked from 161 to 592.
Why? Melia’s article offered a few possible explanations. They include a growing need among students for self-expression, both psychological and also cultural. David Galef, director of the creative writing program at Montclair State University in New Jersey, said “They’re interested in doing something they feel is creative.” Yale’s creative writing director, Richard Deming, credited social media which contributing to the interest, saying, “This act of expressing one’s voice in a public way — some people feel that they want to add craft, they want to hone those skills and take it to a place of more intensity.”
Of course, some students enrolled in creative writing courses want to become professional writers – in advertising, public relations or some other career that requires excellent writing skills. Other students view writing as a means for introspection and personal enrichment.
What concerns some professors is that the increase in creative writing programs is diluting what is offered while creating stiffer competition for those who want serious literature-based writing classes in order to further a career in the literary world. Melia stated, “In some English departments, the boom has created tension between creative writing and those who emphasize instruction of literature.”
English Professor Leslie Brisman, who has taught at Yale for nearly five decades, said “All over the country students are more interested in writing about themselves than they are in reading other people. We are in favor of creativity. We are not in favor of ignorance.” Unlike most colleges, Yale’s writing program requires that all courses include reading in contemporary work of the chosen genre. Despite this unusual requirement, the number of course offerings in creative writing has roughly doubled over the last five years at Yale to meet student demand.
Writing and reading are two sides of the same coin. Interest in one is usually echoed by appreciation of the other. Anything that leads people to expand awareness and understanding through literature is a very good thing. Regardless of what motivates students to enroll in creative writing classes and programs, it is encouraging to see an enthusiastic interest in learning to communicate more effectively… because, as becomes more evident daily, words do matter.