When senior Alexandra Hunt declared her creative writing minor, she never thought it would entail firing 9mm handguns during class time. But that is exactly what she is doing this semester in a new course called Writing Richmond.
David Stevens, creative writing professor, is the mastermind behind this special topics course that allows students to pair readings and discussions with unique off-campus excursions.
"Writing Richmond was the first class I registered for this spring," Hunt said. "It was eagerly anticipated, and the ones who were not able to fit the course into their schedules were severely disappointed."
Stevens said he had strived to create a class meant to demonstrate how professional writers mine the world around them for material. He explained that students may want to write about a character shooting a gun, but have never fired a weapon themselves.
"When I first envisioned the class, I had simply thought about using the city of Richmond as a source of inspiration for student writing," Stevens said. "But as the class developed in my mind, what I began to realize is that I really wanted students to develop a methodology."
This methodology includes students gaining the ability to consider the kinds of inspiration for writing that exist in any setting they find themselves, now and in the future, Stevens said.
"It's really more about thinking about how the writers do that, than just asking the students to write stories and essays based on the city of Richmond," Stevens said. "The course is supposed to be as extensive as possible."
Writing Richmond is a community-based learning class sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement. From start to finish, the installation of the course took about a year, Stevens said.
"I get really excited about each of these classes," said Terry Dolson, the CCE's manager of the community-based learning program. "One cool thing about this class in particular is that it is very transferrable to wherever students will go. They're going to find that every city and town across America has unique aspects and places that they can use as inspiration for their writing."
On Jan. 22, the class went on its first excursion to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as part of a unit on visual art and its interaction with literature.
"Our class was able to freely roam around the VMFA to look at the art and exhibits," senior Kelsey Donner said. "We had to write down what we saw that was interesting and also what we were getting out of the experience."
For each unit, the class must keep a journal with a response to assigned readings, an excursion record, prewriting ideas and a manuscript that evolves out of the first three activities, Stevens said. Unlike most courses, grades are more determined by the process of a student's creative labor rather than the product.
The class's most recent excursion was to the Colonial Shooting Academy on Feb. 5. Throughout the semester, they will also go to Pony Pasture, the Byrd Theatre, the Center for Culinary Arts and more. It is this experiential learning, paired with intellectual learning through class discussions, that can teach and motivate students, Stevens said.
"What we talk about at the CCE is that whenever you take theory and put it with reality, like these excursions do, that is the most challenging kind of learning," Dolson said. "Students have to make sense of things on so many different levels at once."
Stevens said he had worked closely in collaboration with CCE representatives to create Writing Richmond. Training was conducted in the summer and fall to prepare Stevens for this semester, Dolson said.
"I think the process of just going from this idea in your head, to a full-blown class with readings and excursions, is a big undertaking," Stevens said. "But the approval process was not particularly thorny. I said here's my idea and they said, 'Let's do it.'"
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