Glen Retief, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing
One of the most exciting things I did recently is take SU students to my native South Africa as part of the university’s GO program. I can think of few places more unlike SU than the traditional African seaside village where we spent a week living among the people, meeting with elders, farming, fishing, and learning what makes us different and what we have in common. After we came back, we called upon all those life-altering sights, sounds and experiences as we dove into travel writing. It’s been a great experience, not always smooth and easy, but deeply challenging and growthful—listen to my audio essay about the trip.
Teaching helps me improve as a writer. A few years ago, I was wrestling with a problem regarding coherence in a memoir at the same time I was teaching memoir writing. My students and I had a vibrant dialogue going about how useful it can be to have a heartfelt question in mind as one writes about a remembered episode. This classroom discussion led me to the question that opened up and focused my own personal narrative. I was writing about boarding school madness, and the question I had in my heart was: Why did you go along with it? This essay ended up being published in Virginia Quarterly Review, where it led to agent interest and eventually my contract for my first book. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that group of students.
A keen focus on the craft of writing is one of the things I most enjoy about SU’s Writers Institute. This is a rigorous program, and it’s through hard work that our students discover their strengths and get help shoring up areas that need it. In all of this, students have an amazing degree of access to faculty—we really are in this together. Additionally, the Writers Institute lets SU students meet and engage in small group discussions with some of the most important memoirists, literary journalists, poets and fiction writers of our times—a wonderful opportunity for students, faculty and wider members of our community.
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