The creative writing program boasted 167 majors for the 2014-15 academic year, and it shows no sign of slowing down, though competition is heating up. "The creative writing program anticipates a lot more competition in the years ahead," says Glen Retief, who, in addition to being named director of the Writers Institute, will become co-chair of the Department of English and Creative Writing with Professor of English Laurence Roth beginning this summer.
"Our goal will be to retain the rigor and quality of our undergraduate program as well as support the richness of our student literary culture, so Susquehanna remains an extraordinary place to come and study creative writing," Retief adds.
Fincke is infinitely confident in his colleague's ability to keep the program going strong, in part because he's strived to pass along the healthiest program he possibly could, and in part because Retief "is organized and understands how the wheels turn."
He "understands what makes our program shine" and he's "a diplomat in a way," Fincke says, acknowledging the stark difference between Retief 's finesse and his own "elbow my way into the room" approach. He and Bailey used to joke about being "wildcatters," but as the program grew in faculty, students and reputation, the value of what they were selling became apparent.
The program's success was on full display during Homecoming-Reunion Weekend 2014 when about 100 alumni, faculty, students and friends gathered in the Lore Degenstein Gallery for alumni readings from Tributaries, an anthology of student writing produced to mark 50 years of literary magazines at Susquehanna. As one might expect, they have been expanded and enhanced through the years under Fincke's leadership. The anthology was made possible by a gift from Robert and Susan Sarbacher '68 Pence in honor of Suzanne Yenchko '68, recipient of the 2013 Alumni Award for Leadership and a steadfast supporter of the Writers Institute.
Following the reading, Yenchko, who majored in English literature, said her decision to support the institute was easy. "I love to read, and [the institute] encourages people to write what I want to read."
The occasion also served as a tribute to Fincke. About a dozen alumni, whose stories and poems are featured in Tributaries, took to the podium to read from their work during the homecoming celebration. Many publicly thanked Fincke for his vision and inspiration, and like any good writer, shared anecdotes about their experiences in the Writers Institute. Salvatore Pane '07, assistant professor of English at the University of Indianapolis, summed up many of the sentiments that were shared. "Every good thing that's happened to me is because I came here to the Writers Institute," he said.
There was also plenty of advice to go around for current students. Shana Powlus '04 Wheeler, director of the Writing Center at Lycoming College, told the students to "hold on, because you're in for a ride." Afterward, she said she wanted to give students "a sense of how profoundly their lives can change in the years following their Susquehanna experience."
The context in which they are currently writing will be completely different a decade from now, she said, noting that their creative works may even foreshadow future events. "It might be the teacher and mother in me, but I wanted to show them how the writing and thinking they're doing now can prepare them for the rest of their lives-the gains and losses, blessings and trials."
It's these ups and downs in life-the shared sense of humanity found in every great piece of literature-that Fincke and his colleagues teach students to express on the page. "Everybody's carrying stories in the door with them, and boy, you give them the tools to find their way into those stories, and they just take off," Fincke says.
Yet the pragmatist in him is quick to acknowledge how slim the chances are of becoming the next Hemingway or Fitzgerald. Being a writer is "a hard thing to stay in for the long haul," he says, noting that most make a living working a full-time job and writing on the side. But as Fincke's career has demonstrated, it's still a pretty good gig.
"My writing and this program are reflections of who I am," he says. "It seems to me that's the world's ideal job."