Please welcome powerhouse author Bernice L. McFadden to Writer Unboxed today!
Bernice is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels including Sugar, Loving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award.
Bernice is with us today to talk about one of her most recent honors: an invitation to become a Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University–an invitation that she accepted.
Recently, the literary community suffered a great loss with the passing of Gloria Naylor. For me, it was especially painful because she was one of my greatest creative writing teachers. I say this even though I never attended one of her workshops or sat in on any of her college courses. I can say this because learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom.
I’m self-taught. I learned to write by reading. The Women of Brewster Place, Mama Day, and Bailey’s Café weren’t just novels, but instructional manuals on how to write a novel…well. I didn’t just study Naylor’s techniques, I inhaled them, absorbed them until they became second nature.
Recently, I read an interview with Naylor wherein she stated that when she did have the opportunity to teach a creative writing class she would inform her students that she “could not put into them what God left out.”
After spending seventeen years writing novels, I have found myself in academia as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University. Now, whenever I walk into the classroom and meet the bright and eager gaze of my students, Naylor’s words clink like crystal glasses in my ears.
I don’t believe that creative writing can be taught. But I do believe that whether a pound or an ounce, we all have creativity within us. So, my job becomes not to teach my students how to write creatively, but rather to expose them to creative forms that provoke, mine and activate their own artistic DNA. How?
- I suggest that my students read out of their preferred genres and then copy the form. If they’re fiction writers read and write poetry and vice-versa.
- Also, get in touch with nature. Sit under a tree, go to the zoo and observe the animals, lie down in the grass and admire the clouds.
- Use ancestors and history as inspiration.
- Spend some time engaging in other artistic mediums.
I came to teaching with some level of trepidation. I’m happy to announce that two months in, those feelings of apprehension have all but faded away. I enjoy my students and delight in introducing them to authors they might not have encountered had they not taken my class.
But my greatest joy is seeing the flash of light on a student’s face when he/she reads an original piece of their own creation, and receives applause and accolades from their classmates. It is then that I know that they’ve been activated and I’ve accomplished my task.
How do you provoke, mine and activate your artistic DNA?