Opening of Shapiro Center Will Launch New Writing Programs

Bill HolderApril 13, 20095min

Long known for producing writers of great variety and distinction, Wesleyan will open the Shapiro Creative Writing Center in the fall, and with it two programs that further signal the importance the university attaches to writing.

The English Department has established a concentration in creative writing for English majors who wish to pursue writing intensively at a high level. The university also is developing a certificate in writing, now in the planning stage, open to undergraduate students in any field of study who wish to establish writing as an area of concentrated academic work.

“Nothing is more essential to a liberal arts education than clear, coherent writing,” says President Michael Roth, “and programs for advanced creative writing will attract some of our most talented students. These curricular initiatives serve both to anchor the place of writing within our curriculum and to let high school students and others know that Wesleyan is an institution where fiction, poetry, and nonfiction can be pursued at the highest level. Undergraduates will have more opportunities to pursue creative writing in all its forms and to be recognized for their accomplishments.”

“The Shapiro Creative Writing Center also joins the academic mission at a crucial time,” President Roth added, “setting the standard for curricular initiatives that enhance our core competencies and build a platform for innovation. Thanks to generous gifts from our donors we are able to accomplish this without increasing the burdens on our operating budget.”

Wesleyan will open the Shapiro Center thanks to a leadership gift from John M. Shapiro ’74 and Dr. Shonni J. Silverberg ’76 of New York City. The Center, to be located in the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, will be a locus for students and faculty academically engaged with writing. It will provide offices for visiting writers who are teaching in the certificate program or in the English Department’s concentration in creative writing. A gift from Shapiro and Silverberg also will support a Shapiro-Silverberg Chair in Creative Writing.

The certificate program, as currently outlined, will serve students with a wide variety of writing interests, such as narrative nonfiction, journalism, science writing or arts criticism. In addition to coursework, students will develop a portfolio of their work that they share with other members of the program.

The English Department’s concentration in creative writing is a program geared toward students who wish to pursue an intensive focus on creative writing in the context of advanced literary study. The concentration fosters the study of the history and practice of individual genres and of new hybrid forms and offers student writers the opportunity to work closely with the department’s writing faculty: Lisa Cohen (creative nonfiction), Anne Greene (creative nonfiction), Deb Olin Unferth (fiction) and Elizabeth Willis (poetry).

Full implementation of the writing initiatives will develop as Wesleyan hires additional faculty to support the program. Vice President for Academic Affairs Joe Bruno says that in addition to the full-time writing faculty, the university hopes to attract talented visiting writers who will maintain an ongoing affiliation with Wesleyan—a model that has served Wesleyan exceptionally well in the past with writers such as William Manchester, Paul Horgan, Richard Wilbur and Annie Dillard.

Wesleyan’s fostering of creative writing includes the distinguished poetry series at Wesleyan University Press and the Wesleyan Writers Conference, now in its 53rd year. The university’s faculty has long included dynamic professional writers, and the campus regularly welcomes renowned visitors such as the playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America), the novelists Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Bloom ’75 (Away), and the screenwriter Joss Whedon ’87 (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).