For 19 years, the Visiting Writers Series has brought nationally celebrated authors to campus. While pandemic constraints required a change of format for fall 2021, two writers — award-winning novelist Yaa Gyasi and poet Victoria Chang — visited for virtual readings over Zoom.
But the series is more than inviting guest speakers to inspire TCNJ’s budding creative writers. It’s part of a course in the creative writing minor called Writing Communities, in which students study publishing and editing, apply their writing skills in real world scenarios, and engage with the contemporary literary world as curators, researchers, publicists, and critics.
“I had two primary objectives when I designed the course nearly 20 years ago: give students unique experiences that would distinguish them on the job market and connect our campus writing community to the broader national community,” Professor of English Catie Rosemurgy said.
Students in the class curate and host TCNJ’s Visiting Writers Series, gaining hands-on experience working with authors and planning events. They create websites, design posters and displays, and publicize the events to the campus and local communities. They also research writers who are making waves in contemporary literature and decide together who to bring to campus the next year.
“Working on the Visiting Writers Series was especially rewarding because it allowed me to practice all of the publicity and planning-related tasks — like writing and presenting introductory speeches for authors — that are to be expected when working for a publishing house,” English major Samantha Segreto ’22 said.
Segreto recently applied for an internship with a literary agency, where she was asked to write a reader’s report — “something I would’ve been completely unprepared for had I not learned such a skill in Professor Rosemurgy’s class,” she said.
For many alums, the Writing Communities class has been a first step toward a successful career.
“Writing Communities was one of the most practical courses that I took at TCNJ,” said Nicholas Elliot ’12, who now works in content marketing at Audible. “It teaches you a lot of fundamental skills that will help you in an internship and in your first job.”
Even the smaller class assignments like writing blurb copy or book reviews are resume builders, he says.
Fall semester visiting writer Yaa Gyasi offered students simple yet critical advice: read as much as possible.
“Remind yourself that ultimately the goal is to have your book on a shelf next to all these other books, and that feeling of community and of possibility,” Gyasi said. “It will always enrich your work and you only get that from reading. So keep reading.”
For spring, the series will present poet Ada Limòn. Learn more about the creative writing minor and follow @tcnjvws on Instagram for information about upcoming events.
— Emily W. Dodd ’03 with reporting by Chelsie Derman ’23