Finding Creative Ways to Teach Creative Writing
“My secret weapon in the classroom is humor. We giggle a lot, and once in a while I get students to laugh so hard that tears streak down their cheeks. I believe that laughing students are engaged students.”
Lisa Nikolidakis, PhD
Assistant Professor of Creative Writing
From Florida to the Midwest
Lisa Nikolidakis moved to Evansville from sunny Tallahassee, Florida, where she completed her PhD amidst the weepy, live oak trees at Florida State University. She taught at FSU for six years. Her Skype interview with the Department of Creative Writing drew her to University of Evansville. “It was clear very quickly how kind and invested in their students these folks were. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Authentic and rewarding bonds with students
Nikolidakis attended state schools for each of her degrees, and she had only taught at public colleges, so she had never experienced the atmosphere of a small, private, liberal arts school. She says, “I love the experience of such a small university; the bond that I’m able to form with students here – and that they form with one another – feels incredibly authentic and rewarding.”
Nerding out to become strong writers
At its core, Nikolidakis says her job is to introduce her students to the best essays, stories, poems, and screenplays and then to guide them through understanding how each piece functions. She explains, “I love that moment when the structure of a piece clicks into place for someone, or when a student scrambles to write down an idea for a story that’s come to her as a result of our discussion. Boy, you can see that light flick on! Nerding out about craft with students and helping them become stronger writers is the greatest job.”
Interacting with other writers
Nikolidakis love teaching contemporary work. Many of her students want to become professional writers, so they need to understand the current, literary landscape. She often teaches pieces that have been published in the last year or two, and she enjoys surprising her students by having the author of a literary piece they are studying Skype into the class. She’s also been known to text an author in order to answer questions that the class has asked. “I want to shorten the pedestal between the published authors and our students by an inch or two. I don’t want them to think of ‘a writer’ as an abstract thing that they’ll someday become. I want them to see themselves as writers now. Meeting other writers – even virtually – helps achieve that.”
Amazing experiences in creative writing
The Department of Creative Writing works hard to ensure that its students receive access to the kinds of experiences one often doesn’t find until graduate school. Faculty bring in writers, editors, and publishers for the Coffee Hour Series each semester. There are internship opportunities on campus with both The Evansville Review and Measure. Students who become editorial staff can travel to the annual Association of Writer and Writing Programs Conference (AWP) where over 12,000 writers and publishers gather. Over the last two years, two students (nominated by the faculty) have placed in or won the Norton Writer’s Prize, which is one of the most competitive competitions for undergraduate writing.
Other students have revised their work and had it accepted for publication in literary journals. Some graduates have gone on to work in publishing, while others have attended graduate school for creative writing. “I could brag about our students all day!” said Nikolidakis.
University of Evansville offers a BFA degree, which allows students to focus on creative writing and try their hand at multiple genres. The department continuously develops special topics courses like humor writing, writing for digital media, and music writing to give the students experience beyond the mainstream genres.