Unlocking Creativity through Practice in ENGL 2020

Unlocking Creativity through Practice in ENGL 2020

Name your five favorite living poets. 

This is Professor John Pursley III’s favorite “get to know you” question to ask students at the start of the semester. More often than not, they are unable to answer. He does that to emphasize that creative writing is not simply a historical act to be studied, but rather an ongoing process and living practice. As we get older, we drift away from creative writing to focus more on criticism and analysis. 

The study of English stems from a love of reading, writing and studying great works of literature. As children we are taught the basics of creative writing and storytelling, but all too often it seems that students shift more from writers to critics. Professor Pursley wanted to design a course at Clemson where “students think less about just being critics of literature and become more active participants in that literature.” From this idea came the rather unique course model of ENGL 2020, where the curriculum is half reading literature and half creative writing. 

ENGL 2020 students spend the majority of the first part of the semester studying the four main pillars of literature: poetry, fiction, nonfiction and one-act plays. Though there is a little bit of critical writing, Pursley wants his students to focus more on the creative writing aspect of the course and engage with texts as if they were the writer. 

“I want my students to ask questions about how an author gets from point A to point B and how to replicate that in their own work,” Pursley said. “I want students to be able to find writers they have a kinship with and can kind of wed themselves to. I think that’s when you can find yourself really jazzed about writing.” 

Originally a marine biology major in college, one thing that influenced Pursley to shift towards creative writing was the freedom in it and how it creates so many avenues to work from.  

“Creative writing really allows you to study any subject you want,” Pursley said. 

Pursley stated that his current ENGL 2020 students are almost exclusively non-English majors. Passionate about teaching and learning, Pursley has enjoyed getting to work with these students and watch their growth over the course of the semester. The creative writing and sharing of work creates a nice community within the classroom.

“I love getting to read their work and help them see where they’re succeeding. Most of the time they don’t even realize they’re succeeding so it’s nice to highlight that.” 

Pursley also wanted to focus on creative writing and integrating it into ENGL 2020 to push back against the notion that English is all analysis and critical essays. The emphasis on creative writing allows students to really make the most out of the course. 

“Creative writing is not just about being a poet or a playwright or a novelist; it’s about learning how to put words together and what is effective and what isn’t.” 

Pursley shared that he would love it if more students would take the course. He believes it could reignite interest in creative writing and even expand interest within the major. ENGL 2020 is a great introductory English course that creates and cultivates interest not only in critical reading but also rekindles the excitement of creative writing. 

Written By: Olivia Hanline


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