Fincke began his career at Susquehanna in 1980 as director of the Writing Center, which helps students of all majors improve their writing skills. When he interviewed for the job, then-President Joel Cunningham asked him what he saw himself doing in five years. His answer: "to have somewhat of a national reputation as a writer and have the opportunity to teach creative writing ... publish a book, maybe."
Today it's clear Fincke had underestimated himself. To date, he has published 28 books of poetry, short fiction and nonfiction-the equivalent of hundreds of poems, stories and essays, many of which have been published in such notable periodicals as Harper's, Newsday, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review and Doubletake. His work has been recognized with some of creative writing's most prestigious awards, including two Pushcart Prizes, the Flannery O'Connor Prize for Short Fiction, the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Prize, as well as two national book awards for poetry and seven fellowships for creative writing from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
It was the early grant support, and the endorsement that came with it, that Fincke attributes to helping him propel forward the idea of a creative writing program. Like most new ideas, he says, "There's no question there was some skepticism. Some people didn't think there was a need for something like this."
Fortunately, Cunningham and Don Housley, professor emeritus of history and then-dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, were not among the naysayers. With their backing, Fincke founded the Writers Institute in 1993, followed three years later by creation of the creative writing major with, as he recalls, "nine eager volunteers."
Drawing on his experience recruiting for the tennis team, Fincke began what would eventually become a highly effective recruitment campaign that includes a summer workshop for high school students. "I followed up with every kid that even looked like he might be able to push a pen across a piece of paper," he says with a chuckle.
By 1999, Fincke's efforts were paying off and the university approved the hiring of his first full-time creative writing colleague, Tom Bailey. He says the two of them used to sit on his deck and dream about how far they could take the program-him shooting for 50 majors, Bailey insisting they could reach 100. But like Fincke's early estimation of his own career, the pair was selling short the program-and the demand for it.