Quest session to celebrate 40 years of creative writing

SUNY Oswego will celebrate 40 years of creative writing with student readings and an appearance by emeritus Professor Lewis Turco at Quest on April 23.

The event, at 2:30 p.m. in Room C114 of the Campus Center, is one of around 180 free talks, panels and performances in this annual celebration of faculty and student scholarly and creative activities.

“In celebration of our past graduates, and of our future graduates, the Quest day program will offer visitors some superlative readings by students and a look at our history through the eyes of our founder, Lewis Turco,” said program organizer Leigh Wilson of SUNY Oswego’s English and creative writing faculty.

Student winners in writing contests for poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, playwriting and screenwriting will give brief readings and/or performances of their work. They continue a line of graduates who are entering elite MFA programs, publishing work in top outlets and bringing stories to Hollywood’s silver screen, Wilson said.

Notable alumni of Oswego’s writing program include author Alice McDermott, who won the National Book Award for “Charming Billy”; Robert O’Connor, author of the acclaimed novel “Buffalo Soldiers” and member of Oswego’s creative writing faculty; Diana Abu-Jaber, the PEN Faulkner-nominated author of novels “Arabian Jazz” and “Crescent”; Andrew Miano, producer of films that include “The Golden Compass,” “American Dreams” and “In Good Company”; and screenwriter Jay Garrett, who has worked with Paramount and Lakeshore Pictures and developed a half-hour comedy (“Central”) for the CW Network.

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the first publication of Turco’s influential work “The Book of Forms,” a definitive compilation of the forms of poetry. But when Turco joined Oswego’s faculty in 1965, he recalled obstacles to founding a creative writing program, from a lack of teachers who were published writers to the sheer novelty of the idea.

“We were one of the first undergraduate writing programs in the United States,” Turco said. “At the time, you would have to look for graduate programs to learn creative writing.”

The program started with basic courses focused on the craft of writing, later building up to advanced classes that were based on a major project. “It worked like gangbusters when we started it, and it hasn’t really changed since,” Turco said.

“When all the basic classes filled every semester, it became obvious it was going to work,” he said. “Then when the middle classes filled up, and the advanced classes filled up, we knew it worked.”

Within three years, Turco established concentrates in genres—fiction, poetry and playwriting—before adding other genres such as creative nonfiction, writing for children and journalism.

“Over time, he spearheaded the hiring of published writers in the various genres, building the strengths of the faculty as well as the strengths of the student majors,” Wilson said.

In addition to helping aspiring writers hone their craft, those classes proved helpful and popular to a wide variety of students, Turco said. “Some of our best students were non-majors,” Turco recalled. “Just because you’re interested in science or something else doesn’t mean you’re not interested in writing.”

For more information, visit www.oswego.edu/quest.

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(Posted: Apr 14, 2008)

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