Professors invited journalist Chris Goffard, poet and author Sarah Manguso and screenwriter Hilly Hicks, Jr. to campus last Tuesday to celebrate the launch of the interdisciplinary writing minor.
The event marks the culmination of a four-year effort by Writing & Rhetoric Professors Julie Prebel and Thomas Burkdall, English professors Martha Ronk and John Swift, theater professor Laurel Meade and Media Arts and Culture professor Broderick Fox to bring the interdisciplinary writing minor to Occidental. It was approved by the Academic Planning Committee at the end of last semester.
According to Prebel, who is now the chair of the interdisciplinary writing department, the event was meant to show students the different careers available to those interested in writing and provide a contrast to typical academic writing.
“We were looking for writers who worked in multiple genres,” Prebel said. “We already knew of Manguso, who professor Fox went to college with. Then we did some research on writers in the L.A. area who worked across multiple genres and ultimately settled on Goffard and Hicks.”
Goffard, currently a journalist for The Los Angeles Times, read an excerpt from his novel “Snitch Jacket” and the entirety of his features piece “The Hidden Man.” The passage from his novel gave the audience a brief summary of the hero of his novel, a police informant who works undercover as a dishwasher in a seedy Costa Mesa bar. His non-fiction feature piece for The Los Angeles Times, “The Hidden Man,” described the controversial coming-out story of former U.S. Army Captain Stephen Hill, who served in the military for 20 years before revealing his sexuality to his colleagues.
Next, Manguso read her poem titled “Address to Winnie in Paris.” She wrote the poem on behalf of her friend, Harris, who was the focus of her second reading from her memoir “The Guardians.” Manguso’s reading from her memoir consisted of multiple anecdotes from her relationship with Harris, the tragedies they had faced together and Harris’ death at the hands of an oncoming train.
Finally, Hicks had members of the audience read scenes from two of his screenplays, “A Hole in the Dark” and “The Big C,” which currently airs on Showtime. Hicks then screened the same scene from “The Big C” and concluded with an action scene from another show he wrote, “Chicago Fire.”
Prebel felt the event achieved its purpose of showing the diversity of writing styles and careers students can pursue. Isaac Dalsheimer (first-year) agreed.
“Having three distinguished professionals come speak gave a lot of context to exactly what one can accomplish in the field of writing,” Dalsheimer said. “It’s great to be able to view first-hand the career paths that an education in writing can provide someone, especially since each of the three speakers had a unique and impressive job.”
However, some students left the event feeling uninspired.
“Did it persuade me to go into the minor? Not a ton to be honest,” Tom Selstad (sophomore) said. “I did enjoy the speakers as they were there, I just didn’t see them relating to Oxy.”
Students interested in the minor can sign up for required classes during spring registration next week, according to Prebel. Goffard highly recommends it.
“If the [interdisciplinary writing] minor had been available at Cornell, where I went to college, I would have signed up in a second,” Goffard said. “It’s a great way to remind students not to allow their creative impulses to be pigeonholed.”
The minor requires five courses from a pre-approved list of classes spanning the Writing and Rhetoric, Art History and Visual Arts, Critical Theory and Social Justice, theater and English departments.