The creative writing program is a popular track for the English department. Students have the opportunity to work alongside professional writers in publishing the Copper Nickel, a nationally acclaimed literary journal, while gaining invaluable creative writing experience.
Stereotypically, creative writing, like art history or flute performance, is one of those disciplines that gives parents heartburn, especially when they imagine the artist's life straight from the pages of La Boheme. Presented with the announcement that their undergraduate has decided to study writing, even the most liberally educated parents will be tempted to pose the question, "Have you considered…pharmacy?"
The University of Colorado Denver creative writing program, though, takes a refreshingly practical approach. In addition to preparing students for graduate study (a typical trajectory for young poets and novelists), faculty in this program are giving students opportunities to edit, mount and promote literary festivals, work in internships and gain experience in the local art scene.
In the fall of 2001, the English department began offering a creative writing option through both of its majors English and English writing. Since its debut, the number of course offerings has more than doubled. And, annual enrollment continues to surge; during the 2008-2009 academic year, students filled approximately 619 seats in creative writing classes. Thus far in 2009-2010, 835 students have participated in some aspect of the program.
Four faculty members and two instructors are dedicated to the program. The program is augmented, too, by a handful of talented adjunct professors.
Students who major in English with a creative writing option have the chance to choose an emphasis in fiction or poetry, and can select among a raft of writing, literature and theory courses as well as sample magazine writing, literary publishing and short story.
Produced mainly by students, Copper Nickel (www.copper-nickel.org) is a striking, edgy magazine that culls submissions from established writers all over the country. Unlike traditional undergraduate literary magazines that publish student work exclusively, Copper Nickel is a periodical "committed to presenting the established beside the emergent" and uses high editorial standards when selecting pieces to publish.
About 25 students work on Copper Nickel, handling an array of functions that range from editing and design to promotion, sales and advertising. But running a small press doesn't guarantee publication in it. Most issues are between 10-15 percent student written, but the work has to meet the student/faculty editorial board standards.
Undergraduate students edit the journal, which means they get to deal both with their peers (in activities that build their sense of community while they build their critical skills) and with established writers (which enables them to view themselves as part of a larger community of writing that is not defined by geography, age or experience). Undergrads can contribute to the journal and have their work published in a venue that cannot be dismissed as a 'campus literary magazine.'
At UC Denver, there is nothing dusty or removed about the writing enterprise; it's all about doing work and bringing it to life in print, performance or other media. Throughout the year, the Denver Mint Reading Series (co-produced by the Copper Nickel, the Writing Center and CU Denver Live!), for example, brings writers to campus such as Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong and Eventide, narrative prose poet and author of The Balloonist Eula Biss, and Pulitzer-prize winning poet Phillip Levine for students to meet and hear. There are publication parties biannually for the launch of new issues of the magazines. And there is a new publication initiative—a press, called Counterfeit, that publishes book-length works.
Most recently, the Copper Nickel was part of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, held in Denver this past April; more than 8,500 people attended.
In addition to work with the Copper Nickel, students also have the chance to work for the Advocate, the University of Colorado Denver student news magazine. "There are so many great things for students to get involved in," Professor Teague Bohlen says. "There's more to offer than just these classes."
Though the program is young, alumni have gone on to prime graduate placements at institutions that include Columbia University, Emerson College, Cornell University, the University of Alaska, the University of Texas-Austin and Sarah Lawrence, among others. Others now work as grant writers, arts administrators, corporate communicators, editors and freelancers.