Science of Creative Writing
artichoke or an onion. Which of these vegetables best reflects
your character? Write an essay.
That, in simplified form, is
the first task faced by about a dozen girls in ninth through
twelfth grades attending Smith’s .
Do you see yourself with thick,
prickly outside layers with a luscious, rich heart waiting
to be discovered? Or is your exterior a series of thin skins
underneath which exists a juicy, spicy center?
If the assignment
doesn’t seem particularly science related, that is by design.
“I ignore their interests in science altogether,” explains
Robert Hosmer, senior lecturer in English language and literature,
who devised the course “Experiment
and Exploration: A Laboratory for Writers,” and has taught it as part of the
SSEP for more than 15 years. “Like science, writing is about observation, analysis,
synthesis and evaluation. Those are the things we focus on in this course.”
The SSEP hosts about a hundred
teenaged girls, who come to Smith from throughout the United
States and from 53 foreign countries, primarily to study
aspects of science, through courses in biology, chemistry
and engineering and intelligent design—and writing. They spend a month at Smith getting a taste of college life,
living in campus housing, eating in communal dining rooms, and spending their
days in class. Participants take two courses during the program, one at a time,
each lasting two weeks.
It is an unusual component of
a high school science program to offer an intensive creative
writing course, notes Gail Norskey, director of the Center
for Community Collaboration, who has coordinated the SSEP
since establishing the popular summer program 21 years ago.
But it makes perfect sense,
she says. “Scientists
aren’t unidimensional people. Science is a creative process. It’s about observing
the world and describing it. And this course draws connections between observation,
writing and science. As scientists—as creators—it makes sense to have a writing
component as part of the SSEP.”
The writing lab is among the
most popular in the program curriculum year after year, says
Norskey, so much so that it’s difficult to accommodate all the requests
for the course.
Participants in Hosmer’s class write between eight and nine essays
during the two-week course, reflecting and writing on George Orwell’s essays “Shooting
an Elephant” and “Why I Write,” for example, and on Virginia Woolf’s “The Death
of a Moth.” They visit Smith’s Botanic Garden, the Smith College Museum of Art
and Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst to develop observations into organized
words. At the end of the two-week program, they recite their writings as part
of a public presentation.
At first, says Hosmer, when
he introduces the opening assignment, complete with a fresh
onion and artichoke displayed on a table, “some
of them think ‘This guy might be crazy.’” Then, as they ponder and work their
thoughts into insightful essays, he watches them gain confidence in their ability
to express themselves in writing.
“It’s the reason I teach this course,” he says. “I just want them to come away
with sharper analysis skills and a sense of what being a writer is about.”
For Rasheeda Luckey, a rising
senior at the Young Women’s Leadership School in
Philadelphia, it was a desire to improve her writing skills as she approaches
the world beyond high school that inspired her interest in the SSEP’s writing
“This course gave me confidence in how to express myself better,” says Luckey,
who presented a moving essay at the end of the writing workshop about a death
in her family.“ I think it will assist all types of writing I do from now on.”
The SSEP continues to grow
in stature and reputation. This year’s pool of more
than 400 applications for about 100 slots is the most ever
received by the program. With the assistance of funding from
Bechtel, Motorola, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and
others (see ),
the SSEP is able to offer financial aid to the majority of its