What Does a Writer-in-Residence Do?

So my first semester as the writer-in-residence at Salem College has just ended, and now that I have a better sense of my responsibilities, I thought I’d share with you just what I’ve been doing. In case you were wondering.

As you may know, there are different kinds of residencies offered to writers. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been given residency space to write at Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities in Southern Pines and also at Wildacres Retreat in Little Switzerland. There is an application process for both programs, and if you’re one of the lucky candidates chosen, you’re given a comfortable place to sleep and work for a week or two without the distractions of home. Weymouth provides a beautiful room and a communal kitchen. Wildacres offers a whole cabin to work in in complete solitude, and meals are provided at the main lodge. Like most programs of this kind, Wildacres and Weymouth both offer wonderful opportunities to mingle with other writers or artists. Hanging out with like-minded people can be inspiring and lends itself to all sorts of synergistic possibilities. Lots of writers working on longer projects take advantage of these kinds of residency programs whenever they’re available, and you’ll often see them listed and thanked in the acknowledgements sections of many books. Sometimes stipends are also awarded, depending on the program. Some of the more well-known residency programs include Millay Colony, MacDowell Colony, and Vermont Studio Center.

Those are terrific, but that’s a different kind of writer-in-residence.

My new role at Salem College is a temporary salaried position, which began this semester and ends in May 2015. Writers-in-residence programs at colleges and universities vary, but I think my post is fairly typical. Primarily, what I’m expected to do at Salem is teach. I’m actually a graduate of Salem myself and have taught there as an adjunct instructor off and on for years, so I have lots of experience teaching the intro as well as the intermediate creative writing courses. This, however, is the first chance I’ve had to lead an upper-level course, and I’m stoked about it. I teach in three genres: poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction; but because our program director is an accomplished poet, she and another poet take on the advanced poetry classes while I and another fiction writer tend to cover more of the prose writing classes. In February, I’ll begin teaching a course called The Novel, and the idea is to help students complete a first draft by the end of the semester. I’m really looking forward to that.

Beyond teaching, I’m also working closely with the program director on events hosted by the Center for Women Writers. Each semester, the CWW hosts 8-10 visiting writers or thereabouts who lead craft talks and generative writing workshops and share their work with students at free public readings, panels, and book-signings. I assist the director in various capacities in coordinating these events, from making accommodations and working out travel arrangements to setting up event spaces and planning for catering and book purchases and so on. I’m sometimes appointed as the contact person for visiting writers, and then I do everything I can to make for a smooth and pleasant visit to our campus. In addition, I assist with the student writing contest and the international literary competition. I’m also helping with administrative duties that includes doing some light research and helping with publicity and social media efforts. So I’m gaining invaluable insights into how the program works on many levels, and it’s impressive.

I also hold a position on the Advisory Council and weigh in on decisions concerning the CWW. Our first meeting was held on Thursday and included a brainstorming session on ways to honor the late biographer Penelope Niven, whose contributions to Salem, though innumerable, include a 12-year stint as the college’s very first writer-in-residence. As Penny’s former student and protégé, I’m especially happy to be part of this effort, and I am proud of the many wonderful ideas that surfaced in that meeting. I’m eager to collaborate with this group and consider it a privilege.

But my central responsibility as writer-in-residence is to model for students and guests what it means to be a writer, and in that capacity I am required to share my own work with the Salem community at public readings, and to serve as a representative of the creative writing program by introducing visiting writers and speaking about the program at various functions. Of course, generating new work is key, and because the position is part-time, I’m given ample opportunity to delve more deeply into my writing and editing projects.

So that’s just a little of what we’re doing together at Salem, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about playing even a small part there. It has been a real honor, and I’m grateful and excited about starting a new semester in the spring.

Questions I didn’t answer? Leave them in the comments.

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