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CCU Atheneum: The main purpose of the Beyond the Page project is to publicize, centralize and professionalize student writing.
The main purpose of the Beyond the Page project is to publicize, centralize and professionalize student writing.

Writers gone viral: New CCU digital initiative offers a glimpse inside craft and process

by Sara Sobota
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Writing is often considered a solitary act; the author must sit alone in front of a page or blank screen summoning ideas, or language, or the muse. When the piece is published, it’s received in equal solitude and silence.

The CCU Department of English would like to change that tradition by bringing student writers into public view and into conversation with other writers. Even better, they’d like to bring that dynamic interaction to a digital audience.

Hastings Hensel, senior lecturer and coordinator of creative writing in the Department of English, and Michael DiGiorgio, digital studio director for the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts, have developed a video initiative titled “Beyond the Page” to highlight student work and offer audiences access to literary minds in action.

“The main purpose of the project is to publicize student writing and centralize student writing, and to professionalize it as well,” said Hensel. “We have some fantastic writers in our classes, and I wanted to give them access to a wider audience.”

The videos involve the author reading his/her work and then discussing it in an informal interview style with Hensel. The conversations include information about the writing process as well as themes, techniques and form.

“Beyond the Page” has produced two episodes so far featuring Sarah Navin, award-winning poet and current student in CCU’s Master of Writing program, and Connor Uptegrove, award-winning poet and senior communication major with a minor in creative writing.



In a recent episode, Uptegrove read his poem “Motor” about inner-city Detroit, which won the 2018 Paul Rice Poetry Broadside Series contest, and discussed how the poem originated and evolved. He said the experience of discussing his writing with Hensel for the program was very similar to the content of courses he takes regularly.

“I think the reason the Beyond the Page series is so beautiful is that it's a natural, free-flowing conversation,” said Uptegrove. “We have conversations just like the ones I had with Hastings every day in creative writing classes at CCU. The only difference,” he noted, “is there usually aren't three giant cameras in our faces.”

The idea for “Beyond the Page” originated with a recorded interview created last year when visiting guest artist Nikky Finney discussed her work with Hensel on camera. DiGiorgio said his motivation was to showcase both the recording facility and the writing program.

“I looking for new content to feature the studio,” said DiGiorgio. “It’s used for interviews and live news stuff, but I thought, ‘What can we do to highlight a different department, a different aspect of the college, some of the really talented writers?' I saw how well the format worked with Nikky Finney. It just flowed really well, and I thought it would be great to feature our students.”

From a student’s perspective, Hensel and DiGiorgio make the recording experience about as lowkey as possible, which facilitates a comfortable atmosphere for the writer.

“It's certainly a testament to Hastings for creating a welcoming environment and Michael for making the cameras feel like they weren't there,” said Uptegrove. “We shot it all in a single 12-minute take, which gave us the freedom to let our ideas stream without stopping and getting sidetracked.”

Hensel and DiGiorgio plan to create three to four episodes per semester, featuring poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and grow the program to include more student writers as well as additional faculty members. Hensel hopes that heightened awareness of the program will make it a teaching tool both in and out of the classroom and make participation a popular aspiration for CCU student writers.

“It's really a chance to sit in on a traditionally reclusive process, since most writers tend to work solo,” said Uptegrove. “Writing can actually be really collaborative, and I think anyone who watches the video series will learn something about our craft. I hope that viewers walk away feeling inspired to sit down and write something after watching.”

 

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