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CCU Atheneum: Graduates of the MAW program this spring. From left, Robin Lewis, Eileen Powell, Brian Druckenmiller, Candace Kelly, Hannah Grippo, Alexandra Hunter and Victoria Huggins.
Graduates of the MAW program this spring. From left, Robin Lewis, Eileen Powell, Brian Druckenmiller, Candace Kelly, Hannah Grippo, Alexandra Hunter and Victoria Huggins.

CCU’s MAW program showcases versatility

by Derrick Bracey
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This May, Coastal Carolina University’s commencement honored 11 graduates from its Master of Arts in Writing Program (MAW). It may seem like a small number, but it is the largest class in the program’s short history.

Since its inception in the fall of 2010, the MAW program has collected writers with different goals and backgrounds. These graduate students work closely with a diverse faculty toward building a program of productive writers and writing teachers.

In keeping with the program’s main function of production, the teachers in the program practice what they preach. The faculty is an assembled group of publishing professors, churning out short story collections, text books, academic texts and multimedia projects.

Last April 28, the incumbent graduates came together for their own “Big Read,” to read a portion of their thesis to the English faculty and other members of the program. These theses varied in form; short fiction, non-fiction, poetry and academic papers. This showcase was a sampling of hours upon hours of students working with faculty on research, writing and editing.

And this faculty knows what the current trends are and what works in these different writing communities, because they’re active members.

What is the MAW Program?

“At its inception, we wanted to create a versatile program that emphasized the importance of a variety of styles and genres in writing without compromising the intensive study in a single genre,” Jason Ockert says of the MAW program. “That’s why we emphasized the inclusion of a graduate thesis in the program.”

Ockert, associate professor, is an award-winning writer with one collection of short stories, “Rabbit Punches” out now, and another one, “Neighbors of Nothing,” forthcoming in November. He was an integral force in pushing for a program dedicated to developing writers. “Since arriving, I’ve had the honor of watching the talent really take off,” he says. “In addition, the work that I put into creating the M.A. in Writing has helped raise our institutional profile to the national level. There’s still more work to be done, but good work has already been done.”

Matthew Fowler, the first graduate of the MAW program in December 2011, completed the program in three semesters, instead of the structured four. “Being the first graduate just happened because of the regimen of courses I took,” he says. “I was happy that, as the first graduate, I was able to give something back to the program by applying the knowledge I had gained in my current position as a technical writer.”

Fowler got into the MAW to focus on writing fiction. After graduating, he stayed on the Grand Stand and went to work as a technical writer for a local subsidiary of BlueCross/BlueShield of South Carolina. “The position has been quite the learning curve for me, between all of the different systems and writing styles required of the position,” he says. “Technical writing does not lend itself, at least for me, to the same type of creativity found in my personal writing. Still, the experience and skills required of this type of work were honed in my graduate courses.”

Ockert has noticed the majority of the MAW students are “gravitating to the creative writing side of the program.” But the program works on many levels. Some come to the program as teachers, returning to enhance their existing degrees with a master’s degree. Some are interested in the professional elements of technical writing. Some are undergraduates and researchers continuing their academic training before going on to different universities for their Ph.D. Then there are the creative writers and the potential teachers of creative writing. They can sharpen their craft in the MAW, learn the business side of writing, before deciding whether to further their educations with an MFA-accredited university or start their journeys in jobs or freelancing.

“My goal is to earn my terminal degree in creative writing,” says Brian Druckenmiller, one of the May graduates of the MAW. “I love writing. I love teaching. This is the logical professional progression.”

Druckenmiller worked a graduate teaching assistantship while with the program, which led to another offer for him to join CCU’s English Department as a teaching associate for the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 semesters. “I will now have the full experience of syllabus building, assignment development, grading,” he says. “This is an incredible opportunity for me to gain valuable teaching experience early in my career.”

Candace Kelly, another recent graduate from the program, says, “I came to the program with more than four years of writing center experience, so I was able to write academic papers and help others do so. The MAW gave me a variety of perspectives on writing that I previously didn’t have.”

The distinction of the MAW students is the freedom to explore the opportunities of each field of writing to find which one best suits them. This seems to be the intent of the program – to equip students with employable skills, giving them a multitude of options in different worlds of writing. The program also helps to round the writers’ scope and prepare them for a changing workforce by teaching advancements in writing for digital outlets and utilize technology in the creation of writing. In other words, the professors try to give their students a sense of what is happening right now in the publishing, academic and business world.

“In the composition courses, I learned about the science of writing and relating research,” Kelly says. “In the creative writing courses, I learned about different techniques and forms and how to use them myself. And in the literature courses, I learned about writers of the past and present and how my writing relates to other writers.”

The classes are hands-on, and students act not only as writers, but editors and teachers. “Being able to interact with other writers, in and out of the classroom, was important for me,” says Fowler, who served on CCU’s online literary journal, “Waccamaw,” as an editor. “It allowed me to have conversations about the craft of writing and how to expand on my knowledge of writing.”

“Being in workshops with diverse peers broadened my horizons and better prepared me to interact with students with differing backgrounds,” Kelly says. “It also provided me the opportunity to practice tolerance and respect.”

Ockert is currently teaching a summer workshop on writing a short novel. “I am surprised at the level of talent and the depth of passion that each and every one of my graduate students brings to the program,” he says. “We have such a tremendously committed group, and I just could not have anticipated the enthusiasm.”

Kelly believes the writer’s development comes from the relationships built during the program. “I’ll always remember the passion my professors had for their craft and how they strived to share that love with us,” she says. “My classmates and I grew closer as we wrote together. And our professors invited us into their community of writers with open arms.”

Where does the MAW go from here?

In a university expanding in population and breadth, with its national status rising, it begs the question of whether the program will be restructured to incorporate a terminal degree like an MFA or a Ph.D.

“I can envision moving toward an MFA,” Ockert says. “One thing I know is that we do listen to the students. We are committed to creating the kind of program that will make students proud long after they’ve graduated.”

Druckenmiller does have some advice for the program. To the students, he says, “Take advantage of the broad lens the MAW provides. If you're a fiction dude, take linguistics and comp and rhet courses. If you’re on the editing/publishing side, the creative classes will teach you how to read like writers. Either way, don't be a one-trick pony. Eventually that trick gets old, even if the trick involves a flaming hula-hoop and a drum solo. Pursue as many avenues as the programs allows you too.”


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