For a writer, other writers are often the best teachers, whether you're a creative writing student or already a professor and award-winning author.
That's because becoming a successful writer is about more than just getting the words on the page: it's also about understanding how those pages become books, webpages, and pages in magazines. It's about knowing how to turn pages in a notebook into pages that get read.
“It’s absolutely good for students to know that writers, that working writers, work every day on their writing,” says Associate Professor Pamela Uschuk. “But students have no idea how to do that unless they’ve studied with someone who’s a working writer and who knows the heartbreak of rejection as well as the joy of publishing. And who knows from the inside out how to work with the system.”
She speaks from experience. Uschuk's collection of poetry Crazy Love was awarded the 2010 American Book Award and was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Her upcoming book, Bloodflower, is a collection of poems ranging on topics from her Russian ancestry to the condition of the Earth.
It's that taste of what it takes to become a working writer that Uschuk aims to share when she gives her students experiences and opportunities to work with real writers. “I’m just very lucky to know a lot of writers, and I like to share that with my students,” she says.
It's not luck, really. As a literary magazine editor and the author of seven books, Uschuk is able to share insider experiences in the world of professional writing and publishing with her students thanks to the special access her work and success offers.
Uschuk's students in the English program hold internships with Cutthroat, an international literary magazine published by Uschuk and her husband, poet William Pitt Root. They can also study at a prestigious writers program in Prague and join Uschuk at literary and publishing conferences.
Cutthroat, named after a species of trout native to the Rocky Mountains, is a literary journal featuring poetry, short stories, and book reviews from both well-known names and unknown authors. Uschuk and her husband manage the magazine, but, she says, student interns “are involved at all levels,” from reading submissions with the editors, to assisting in choosing contest and award winners, to helping meet production deadlines.
“They are involved with putting up the online journal as well as setting up the print journal. They do copy editing, and they even do some correspondence,” says Uschuk. “They do everything you can imagine with putting together a magazine because I want them to have the experience.”
Students also accompany Uschuk when she travels to literary conferences to promote the magazine, offering exposure to that working world of writers that can't be found anywhere else. “We take the magazine to the biggest writers conference in the country," she says, referring to the Associated Writing Programs Conference. Last year's conference in Seattle drew over 9000 writers. "The interns I've taken to it meet incredible writers who they’d never get to meet otherwise. Editors and the heads of many writing programs go to this also.”
Uschuk also helps place students in the Prague Summer Program for Writers, for which she is on the advisory board. The Prague program lets students visit the Czech Republic while working closely with a faculty of renowned authors. The first two weeks offer workshops, and the second two weeks focus on independent work with faculty.
“What that program does is draw together the best writing students in the country from graduate and undergraduate writing programs,” explains Uschuk. “Those students get to work with the European and American writers who teach in the program, and there are different writers every year teaching.”
Beyond the intensive writing work, says Uschuk, “They’re getting experience that is wonderful for them to get into graduate programs, too. Graduate programs look at these kind of things because they’re highly competitive. So it gives students an extra edge.”
“And Prague is a fantastic place!” she adds.