By Ryan G. Van Cleave
Creative Writing Comes to Ringling College of Art and Design
Since its founding in 1931, Ringling College of Art and Design has been teaching the visual arts, but it’s only this past academic year that the College has branched out into the world of creative writing. To serve the new Creative Writing major and minor, the relevant offerings expanded in August 2016 from 8 courses to 29, ranging from a three-course Story Fundamentals sequence to Reading for Writers to a host of genre-specific courses (Writing Fantasy, Writing Science Fiction, and Writing Horror). Sure, there are popular golden-oldies like Writing Poetry, Short Story Workshop, and True Stories: Writing Creative Nonfiction, but the enrollment is through the roof with more unique options such as Writing for Digital Media, Writing Transmedia Stories, and Creative Multimedia Shared Worlds.
Clearly young people care about telling the stories they think should be told — and telling them well is equally important. That explains why the number of Creative Writing major applications for fall 2017 has tripled from last year. The Creative Writing contest for high school students offered by Ringling College? It, too, is bursting with success. The initial contest drew under 50 entries. This last year’s contest drew 225 entries, including ones from Abu Dhabi, Canada, Mexico, England, and Japan. Next year’s contest seems likely to break the 500-entry mark.
“I seem most instinctively to believe in the human value of creative writing, whether in the form of verse or fiction, as a mode of truth telling, self-expression, and homage to the twin miracles of creation and consciousness.” – John Updike
President Larry Thompson, too, champions the power of the written word, explaining that “the new Creative Writing major at Ringling College of Art and Design is a wonderful addition to the various disciplines that we offer at the College. Creative Writing is another important art form that is as important as any other creative discipline we offer. After all, art — whether in the studio or at the desk or office — is all about creative conceptual thinking and expressing those thoughts and feelings through the art form. So Ringling College is proud to include Creative Writing as one of the new, important majors to advance our students’ creative thinking and expression of it.”
Storytelling – evolved
The reason Creative Writing is necessary at Ringling College is clear enough — at the heart of every major at the college is story. That’s the pitch I made for the new major and minor in October 2015 when student after student requested more training in story-making. Now I have the honor of running a program that meets their needs across the board.
“There’s no undergraduate program out there that’s in touch with the modern writer’s market the way we are.” – Rick Dakan, Ringling faculty
From day one, the goal was clear — design a creative writing program that leveraged our connection to the arts and was different than one could find at FSU, USF, UCF, and elsewhere. New Creative Writing faculty member Rick Dakan explains that “we teach across every medium where writers flourish: fiction, nonfiction, comics, games, film, TV, and digital media. There’s no undergraduate program out there that’s in touch with the modern writer’s market the way we are.”
Ringling has also launched a speaker series — the Visiting Writers Forum (visitingwritersforum.com) — that brings in professional writers from a range of backgrounds to give brief readings of their work that are accompanied by a robust craft-oriented discussion. These events are free and open to the public, because it’s not just Ringling College students who should benefit when authors like Pulitzer-winning Robert Olen Butler or award-winning local writer Elizabeth Sims (see an interview with her in this month’s Literary Scene) come to campus. Every Creative Writing major also signs up for the Visiting Writers Forum as a class, so that means they’ll each have the opportunity to hear from and engage with 50+ authors (8 semesters averaging 7 different authors each semester). That’s far more than even the top Master’s programs in Creative Writing deliver.
Another key feature of the program is how we embrace writing for children. Creative Writing faculty member Sylvia Whitman explains why this feature is a perfect fit here, saying “Kids’ books marry words and images. Since Ringling College has long excelled at visual storytelling, writing for children is a natural fit.” More and more students are starting to think that becoming a children’s books author/illustrator — like Mo Willems or David Shannon — is a viable career choice.
Dakan extends the career-focus the program has, saying that “the Creative Writing major is one of the most flexible degree programs at Ringling College. Students have the opportunity to shape it to their interests and augment it with the amazing arts instruction available from other departments. Writing plus video production, or illustration, or photography, or animation, or game development — those are great options.” Like all the Creative Writing faculty, Dakan has written for a wide variety of media and publications and regularly brings hard-won knowledge to the classroom.
“It’s an immensely rewarding challenge,” adds Dakan, “to help bring this innovative curriculum to life. I’m developing courses here such as Writing for Tabletop Games that are simply not available anywhere else, and to no one’s surprise, the students are really responding. I’m proud to be part of building something so exciting and ambitious.” Whitman likens it to “the thrill of parenthood — dazzling to see something born, grown, and take off in directions you never expected.”
We might not know exactly what’s around the corner, but one thing’s for sure — Creative Writing is here to stay at Ringling College. Thanks to the ongoing efforts and commitment from faculty like Dakan and Whitman, our graduates will have the technical competence and fluency to succeed in any of the narrative possibilities that print, digital media, and new technologies offer. To put it simply: Ringling College Creative Writing graduates will be ready to compete in a job market where finely-crafted words, great stories, and professional standards will always be in demand.