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Writing Seminars

Name: Taylor Colvin

Year: Class of 2014

Hometown: Mt. Airy, Maryland

Major: Writing Seminars

STORYTELLERS

So once upon a time, I was a first semester freshman who was so scared about having to prove myself at a place like Hopkins that I sat in the corner in the fetal position, chewing on my own hair. Just kidding, obviously. I grew up in a little place fondly known as the sticks. Don’t get me wrong. I am head over heels in love with the sticks. I miss the sticks and anytime I have a free weekend, I go home and watch my cousins play little league football and ride ATV’s.

But, making the transition from my local public high school to Hopkins was daunting, and any abstract fear I harbored in my belly about keeping my head above water in college was only magnified tenfold by the following conversation:

“So Taylor, where are you going to college?”

“Johns Hopkins”

“Oh that’s wonderful. Congratulations. So you want to be a doctor?”

“Um…”

Lather, rinse, repeat. I’m a Writing Seminars major. In a lot of ways, I’ve been a Writing Seminars major since I was old enough to talk, and I would stop old women in the grocery store to tell them about my light-up little mermaid shoes. I don’t mean to wax poetic on anybody who’s reading this, but I was totally, one hundred percent addicted to James Harriet novels when I was seven. I also loved The Hobbit, Chronicles of Narnia, and Artemis Fowl. I dressed as Ron Weasley for Halloween two years in a row.  My taste in literature is constantly evolving, but more than anything else in life, I am completely fascinated by a good story.

That fascination is something I share with my peers and professors in the Writing Seminars program. I think the bottom line is that if you clicked on the Writing Seminars link on the sidebar of this webpage, you’re probably a storyteller too. My advice to anyone who is considering Writing Seminars as a potential major is simple: Take courage. In the Writing Seminars program, you are in fantastic, accomplished hands, and you are surrounded by peers who root for you, and push you to be better than you thought possible.

I have yet to meet a professor in the Writing Seminars department who has been anything less than completely inspiring. Professor Greg Williamson, my Intro to Poetry professor, invented a form of poetry called “Double Exposure”.  Some of his work can be read here.

My Intro to Fiction teacher (I’m also lucky enough to call him my advisor), Professor Tristan Davies, writes some of the most beautiful short stories I have ever read. I just finished reading his book, Cake, and I still can’t believe that such a great author actually takes the time to edit my work.

I also view my fellow Writing Sems majors as one of the more significant contributors to my writing education at Hopkins. I care about the work that I produce because they care about reading it. I’m continually amazed in workshop when someone points out a character motivation, a plot hole, or a missed opportunity in one of my short stories or poems that I didn’t notice myself. These are students who care about each other, and who care about writing. They are ambitious, involved, and articulate. I am proud to call myself one of them.

Take courage. The decision to dedicate your education to writing is scary. I know this fact very intimately. The stereotype of the penniless writer is a prevalent one, but I promise you that it is not one proliferated by students and graduates of the Writing Seminars program. If you have the time, look up Carrie Jerrell, one of my new favorite poets, and a graduate of the Writing Seminars program.

If you are afraid of majoring in writing now, understand that the atmosphere at Hopkins will slowly, but definitively replace that fear in your belly with fire, and as a writer, nothing is more important.

Now, since I previously mentioned that I love a good story, I’m going to relay one of my particular favorites to you. (In advance, I would like to let you know that that the theme of this story is, “Haters Gonna Hate”.)

One particular night, during the first semester of my freshman year at Hopkins, I struck up a conversation with the boyfriend of one of my housemates. He will remain anonymous, but for storytelling purposes, I will refer to him as Snarky Boyfriend Boy (SBB for short.)

SBB and I were having a pleasant hallway conversation, when he asked me what my major was. I told him I was a Writing Seminars major, and he immediately looked at me and said, deadpan, “I would like caramel with my latte, please.” “What?” I asked, believing that I had misheard. He repeated himself. I had not misheard him. What followed was an uncomfortable exchange that I will chalk off to his own social awkwardness and my inability to find my key in my purse, so that I could unlock my door, and then promptly slam it in his face.

After lots of stuttering on both of our parts, he said, in a final, parting blow,

“Well, come on. What kind of decent paying job are you expecting to get as a writer?”

One night, a few weeks later, a rather absurd series of photos showed up on my Facebook newsfeed depicting SBB and his friends, all very practical Econ majors, in a movie theatre wearing polyester black capes, face paint, and round fake eyeglasses with tape on the center. They were at the midnight premier of part one of the final film installment of Harry Potter.

That evening, I went to sleep satisfied, knowing that even if the chance is one in a million, as a writer, I have the potential to influence the world in a massive way. I am a Writing Seminars major at Johns Hopkins University. I have the chance to make storytellers like me, and skeptics like SBB pay (a lot) to dress up like wizards, and sit together in a dark movie theatre at midnight, in contented, enthusiastic solidarity.

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Click here to access more information about the Writing Seminars Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and Writing Seminars question thread.

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Writing Seminars

Name: Catherine Levisnon

Year: Class of 2009

Hometown: Manhattan, NY

Major: Writing Seminars

WHY WRITING SEMINARS?

IMG_2412When one hears the phrase, “I go to Johns Hopkins,” the Writing Seminars Major probably won’t jump into his or her head, at least, not right away. Biology, yes, French, maybe. Perhaps even History, but probably not Writing Seminars. That is a pity because during my three and half, almost four years, as a Writing Seminars Major, I feel that I have had more fun then the students in all those other majors combined. I have always been a writer at heart. In fifth grade, when we had to write murder mysteries, my classmates all wrote stories that were about ten pages long, while mine was twenty-six pages long. Therefore, when I came to visit Hopkins in my junior year of high school, and saw that writing was a possible major, I thought, this is the place for me. After several years here, I realize that there are many reasons why the Writing Seminars Major is the perfect major.

First of all, I strongly believe that the sense of community in the Writing Seminars Major is one of its defining characteristics. Even though the major is so popular, all of its students know each other really well. We take so many of the same classes, and by now, we really know each other’s writing styles. The class sizes are small, we refer to our professors by their first names, and we sit in large circles, reading our work out loud to each other. The department also works to build a sense of unity among the students through organizing weekly Writing Seminar graduate student readings, which are always full of undergraduates, graduate students, and professors. Sometimes, the department even has well-known poets and writers come in to do readings of new material. I know so many of my fellow Writing Seminar Majors in and out of the classroom, and I am not afraid to ask for their help or for their opinions on things. There is a strong sense of camaraderie among the students in this major, and that makes me feel extraordinarily lucky.

The talent of the professors in the department is a huge part of why I have love this major so much. The N130798staff of the Writing Seminars is so talented and diverse, and sometimes, I can’t believe my stories are being read and critiqued by such famous authors. When some of my pre-med friends brag about being taught by Nobel Prize winning scientists, I can respond with, “Well my professor won a Pulitzer in journalism when writing for the New York Times.” During the fall of 2008, National Book Award Winner, Alice McDermott, was my professor in my Advanced Fiction seminar. Not only are these men and women distinguished, but also, as clichéd as it sounds, I believe that they truly care about their students. I cannot tell you how many times I have been invited out for coffee or out to eat with professors who love to give advice and help their students in any way possible. My screenwriting professor brought my class organic apples because he felt students never got enough vitamins in their daily diets. I know that my professors know my name and enjoying talking with my anytime that I am free, which is something that cannot be found in every Hopkins major.

Finally, the greatest part of the Writing Seminars Major is the freedom to take so many different types of classes. It is true that some people think that there are too many requirements for the Writing Seminars Major, and therefore, they are put off by the long list of necessary classes. However, the amount of classes in this major gives its students a huge amount of freedom in terms of which classes they can take. For example, the Writing Seminars Major requires you to take two History courses, but they allow you to use Art History for one of those courses. I had been desperate to take an Art History course, so I was able to enjoy a class I really wanted to take, as well as use it to fulfill a requirement for my major. I truly believe that the Writing Seminars Major allows you to experiment with all the diverse departments Hopkins has to offer. In terms of the actual Writing Seminars classes, this department has professors in every type of writing possible. I have taken classes in poetry, screen writing, and non-fiction. There are genres in this department that I haven’t even begun to approach, such as opinion writing and play writing. And when I expressed a desire to study abroad during the spring of 2008, the department’s requirement allowed me to really enjoy the experience, Before I left, I went to discuss what classes I needed to take to make sure I could graduate on time. Some majors may have said I had to taken these certain classes or would have limited my options, but my writing seminars advisor just said, “Go have fun, we’ll make it work.” During my time at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, I had the time of my life. Thanks to the flexibility in my major, I was able to take a class called “Writing Ireland: Defining the National Identity of Ireland through Writing” and have it count towards my major.

I haven’t decided what my future holds, but thanks to the Writing Seminars department, I know writing will be a huge part of it. All of the wonderful experiences I have had due to this major have greatly impacted my time at Hopkins, and I know I will miss all my writing friends here. I have never regretted choosing to be a Writing Seminars Major, and I know that I will always value my time spent because it has truly shaped the writer I am today.

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Click here to access more information about the Writing Seminars Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and Writing Seminars question thread.

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