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Thursday December 2nd

'A little literary family': Students finishing fiction and poetry theses write remotely

Students working on honors theses in creative writing for Daniel Wallace's fiction class are continuing the revision process remotely despite disruptions caused by COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Daniel Wallace.
Buy Photos Students working on honors theses in creative writing for Daniel Wallace's fiction class are continuing the revision process remotely despite disruptions caused by COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Daniel Wallace.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the final weeks of the semester, creative writing honors students have maintained a strong sense of community as they finish their senior theses remotely.

The two creative writing senior thesis classes are taught by Director of Creative Writing Daniel Wallace for fiction and professor Alan Shapiro for poetry.

Wallace said his students have established close friendships throughout the fiction thesis class, and they’ve maintained these connections even as classes have moved online.

“The students know each other really well and have come together as a little literary family,” Wallace said.

The students compile anthologies of the poems or stories they have worked on since the classes began in the fall. These collections will be stored in the Wilson Library archives after graduation.

To workshop student work, Wallace’s class met twice a week, and continues to meet via Zoom. Beyond the class, students have stayed in touch through GroupMe, encouraging and checking in on each other throughout the revision process.

Wallace said the transition to online classes has not hindered the workshops, but the class has experienced the difficulty of adjusting to the new reality of the pandemic. The fiction thesis deadline was extended to the end of April, Wallace said. 

“The challenge has been what the challenge is for all of us, which is how to live our lives in the face of all of this,” Wallace said. “That’s so vital, I think, to know that you’re not alone.”

Senior Katie Leonard said the class focuses on realistic literary fiction, and many of the stories she’s written suddenly feel far removed from the new reality of the pandemic. Writing in these new conditions can take some getting used to.

“The world that we’re writing about has completely changed — overnight, it seems,” Leonard said. “It’s okay to give yourself a little bit of extra time and space to think about things.”

Because the poetry class was well into revision by the time classes moved online, Shapiro said the class schedule didn’t change much. He said that fostering community is important in any creative writing class and that it has been especially crucial for the seniors finishing their projects.

“They’re physically isolated — they’re not creatively or intellectually isolated,” Shapiro said.

Senior Kayla Richardson-Piche is in Shapiro’s class, and she said the connection the class developed has continued — even as they finalized revisions from home.

“It’s been nice to see that sense of community has continued even though we’re not able to physically meet,” Richardson-Piche said. “It’s been a really special class.”

William Verwoerdt, a student in the fiction class, said his writing process hasn’t changed much, but it has been difficult to stay focused in a new environment.

“It’s been harder to stay in the same headspace for writing every day,” Verwoerdt said. “You just kind of have to realize that the finish line is coming up and find your new normal — your new routine.”

Verwoerdt said he is looking forward to seeing the culmination of the class’ hard work.

Alexis Byrd, a student in the fiction class, said this semester’s abrupt change disrupted her thesis work a bit, but the sense of shared experience in class has helped her stay motivated.

“We’re still writing, and we’re still going to keep writing,” Byrd said. “All of us are writers at heart.”

@lizcj00

arts@dailytarheel.com

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