By Kayla Matzek
Cornell University English professor Helena María Viramontes believes in the life-changing value of Creative Writing programs and recently urged students and faculty in UC Santa Barbara’s English department to consider launching one.
In a recent talk, Viramontes said that everyone is a writer, whether it be critical or creative. “I’ve been asked to speak about creative writing,” she said, “I’d also like to speculate about a creative writing curriculum for the future.” Currently, the College of Creative Studies is where UCSB students can pursue a Writing and Literature major, while the Writing Program offers courses in creative nonfiction.
Viramontes is a community organizer and former coordinator of the Los Angeles Latino Writers Association. Many of her short stories and essays have been adopted for classroom use and university study. She is currently completing a draft for her third novel, “The Cemetery Boys.”
Viramontes titled her talk, “Residing, Reciting, Reading: One Writer’s Perspective on the value of Creative Writing.”
Developing a Creative Writing program would train students to become more empathetic and compassionate, she said. “We find ourselves in a national discourse, questioning the value of the humanities in the academy as though empathy and compassion and sympathy and complexity are unworthy of our pursuits,” she said, stressing that humanities courses should be given more importance and treated with more respect.
UCSB English chair Enda Duffy introduced Viramontes, calling her an “organic” intellectual. “[She’s] a person who comes out of where they’re from and gives you an analysis of that place that is incredibly heartfelt and moving and is actually true, because they’ve experienced it,” he said.
Viramontes said her work was not always accepted in academia. A professor once criticized it. “The trouble is that you talk about Chicanos, you should be talking about people,” she recounted him saying. The problem, she said, stemmed from a cultural gap between them.
Viramontes believes introducing creative writing to more students is beneficial. “I would argue that when we just think we see another, sensually, visually, we are not reading the other in ways that acknowledge our own minds,” she said. Creative writing workshops, she added, lead to critical reflection. “I’m thinking about the ability to use inquiry in search of clarity, buoyed by curiosity.”
Kayla Matzek is a third-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Writing and Literature. She is a Web and Social Media Intern with UC Santa Barbara’s Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.