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Danielle Susi is the author of the chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (Dancing Girl Press). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Knee-Jerk Magazine, Hobart, The Rumpus, Lines+Stars, DIALOGIST, and Midway Journal, among many others. Recently, Newcity named her among the Top 5 Emerging Chicago Poets.
In teaching, it’s always a combination of what came before me, and what is current. It’s just as important to me to study the masters of creative writing, and to read the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, and novels by these authors, as it is to stay up to date with what is appearing in the Best American Short Stories anthologies, The New Yorker and on the New York Times bestseller lists. It is also important that students embrace their own history, and the authors they grew up reading, in order to have a place to start, a frame of reference. Whether the students grew up reading Stephen King or Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison or John Grisham, there needs to be a way to build on that previous knowledge, and embrace reading, writing and a love of literature in all of its many formats. As far as the actual teaching, it’s important to blend a mixture of structured lessons that have specific goals, as well as allow us time to explore and talk about a wide range of subjects in an open forum. Short-term and long-term goals are equally important, and it’s also crucial that the students can find a way to have fun, and to contribute to the learning experience. It can’t just be dry readings and analysis alone. They need to find a way to make it personal, to embrace their emotions and build upon their own experiences. When it comes to writing fiction, the workshop is always a good way to teach students how to read, provide constructive criticism, and listen to different points of view on their own work. It’s hard to find your voice as an author—and even harder is the ability to hold onto that point of view when it comes under attack. I enjoy talking about the basics of writing, everything from a narrative hook to plot to setting. To be able to then apply those lessons to applicable short stories and novels is a good way to show emerging authors how it can be done. There will be a variety of assignments, and the chance to stretch and grow as an author, writing flash fiction and short stories in a plethora of genres and perspectives. The bottom line is that I want to find a way to connect with each student. There will be a wide range of talent and experience, and it’s important to me to find a way to help the class grow, learn, and get exposure to new voices as well as the classic authors that are heavily anthologized and recognized by academia. I expect my students to leave my classroom excited and confident.