There is apparently, no set syllabus or even tacit agreement on a general syllabus for this class, so, as it gets passed from Professor to Professor, it changes dramatically. Rebecca's First Person Seminar is less a tour of the first person (she gives each week a first-person-related heading, but rarely references it), but rather a tour of Rebecca Curtis' Favorite Things That Happen to be Written in the First Person. That said, the books and short stories on the list are engaging, great texts--but whether they really taught us any valuable lessons specifically about First Person narrative is questionable, at best. Furthermore, we were assigned the same assignment twice for our imitation assignments, leaving me to deduce that Rebecca couldn't really think of another thing to teach us about the First Person narrative. Based on this one assignment twice-assigned, the thesis of the class was this: to write a first person narrative, you need a good plot outline. That's it. We spend little to no time talking about voice, style, etc. Plot is the only factor worth dwelling on in a first person narrative--that was the basic thrust of the class. I was super-glad to get the chance to read Junot Diaz, Ed Park, Murakami, Kincaid, and Ishiguro, among others, but I remain rather unenlightened about the first person narrative overall. I also felt that Rebecca really struggled to manage the class, letting two or three very opinionated students dominate the conversation. In most creative writing classes hand-raising is not necessary, but Rebecca treated us pretty much like high schoolers, requiring raised hands, giving pop quizzes, and opening the course with a condescending lecture about how she knows we don't think creative writing is cool (when in fact, as majors, most of us think it's very cool). If you want to learn something truly revelatory about the field, this class isn't for you.
I've been wrestling with this review since pretty much the first day of class and really even now, the only way to go about it is to compartmentalize. Rebecca as a Critical Reader Bloody Brilliant. This is the first person whose doorbell I would ring with a first-draft manuscript for her to shred through. When she's on, she is ON. Her comments, suggestions, and references are some of the best I've gotten from the department. Her reading of your stories is extremely thorough (with suggestions and criticism on the larger plot as well as matters of sentence structure and perspective) and she'll effectively use student stories as a jumping off points to speak of greater techniques and red lights writers should be aware of when creating. She essentially voices in really simplistic (borderline remedial) fashion all of those things you've noticed in great stories but can never put your finger on. Rebecca as a Person Caring and approachable. I genuinely looked forward to one-on-one sessions with her. Rebecca as a Class Presence The woman is also seven feet past the cuckoo's nest alright. Some call it quirky, others will say environmentally aware, I will settle for "hippie" (though I know that my usage of the label in this case displeases at least one friend). She's really (but really) into natural products, alternative healing methods, sunshine and crystals....you get the idea. And hey, that's cool. Variety is the spice of life and we whatnot but she tends to use class time as a forum for these matters. As in passing out handouts, painstakingly going over them. It got brutal fast. Even more so during the first 3 weeks where we would spend 40 minutes going over that stuff and then have to rush through people's submission. That was just annoying. In the end I can't recommend or warn against this class or Rebecca. They are what they are. It's up to you to decide if that particular style clicks with you. It might be just what you need or you might seat there grinding your teeth and savoring the thought of biting into an MSG-ladden burger as soon as the class ends just because.
This was an alright course. Rebecca's anecdotes and examples of ideas can ramble on and on and ultimately be meaningless, pushing aside time that could spent actually talking about the works. However, most of the readings for this semester were really great (she polled the class to choose new ones because some of her old course books were too tedious) and very inspiring--they were mostly made up of really modern literature, a lot of which is kind of experimental, and all of which ends up being original and interesting. The purposes of each of the books are all very diverse, so it leads to a very eclectic pallet by the end of the course. As a professor, she's really quirky and becomes a character unto herself; for the first half of the semester, her opinions and tangents were really boring, but by the end she became more endearing when it became clear how much she cared about the works, about the students, and about teaching writing--she may have loosened up and became a little less awkward. There were often points of contention between how a student thought of a work and how she did, but the discussions played out well most of the time. NOTE: More than 50% of this course is not about the use of the first person. Perhaps it's because there's really nothing to say about the first person, perhaps she could work harder on focusing on first person, but much of the discussions become about what the books were like, points in the narrative and character, and the general themes and purpose involved. It becomes as much a review of modern literature as it does a review of the first person, but this isn't really a bad thing. Overall, her sporadic opinions can get in the way of enjoying the course sometimes, but it was an easy class that made the reading worth doing. The assignments are quick and painless, and there's really no reason to stress over the imitations--they can be fun and useful, and if you do the assignment right, you won't fail (and if she enjoys your writing and you do a good story, she'll give up to an A+).
I totally disagree with the most recent comment about Rebecca. The review sounds like a disgruntled classmate who (A) received a B+ and missed cum laude honors or (B) who typically reads a peerâ€™s story the day (or if Iâ€™m giving him/her the benefit of the doubt, the night before) the submission is to be workshopped. This classmateâ€™s handwritten comments on the story are minimal and the typed comments are very generic. I know we all have heavy course loads and are watching our GPAs like a fat girl watching calories, but letâ€™s be objective in our criticisms and remember that learning is a reciprocal process. If you think you are going to write a masterpiece the night before and assume you deserve an â€œAâ€, wake up! It may have worked in high school but we are in the big leagues now. Writing is about re-writing. First of all, Rebecca cares about her students. She may be quirky but many gifted people are. She has probably read many more literature books and has been published more often than most undergraduates in the creative writing program. She has studied under authors who are highly notable including a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Her comments are insightful, encouraging and she offers hope to your prospective writing career. She even offers to read your work outside of your class assignments. Unfortunately, some of us here have encountered a few tenured professors who outside of their allotted office hours and lectures, wouldnâ€™t share a walk across campus if you told them you had 30 days to live. Rebecca is very gracious with her time and experience. Take her while she is here and ask a thousand questions. Sheâ€™s young, sheâ€™s bright, witty and an asset to CUâ€™s writing program. For my money, I got a great return on my investment.
The most challenging questions Rebecca would ask were, "What were your favorite parts?" and "What is the story about?" We would spend the first 20-30 minutes of class talking about our weekends or a tangentially related literary event, leaving about 25-40 minutes per story being workshopped. We would spend the first fifteen minutes of that time bickering over what section was our favorite, and proceed to have a vote, so the author could read it aloud. With 10-25 minutes remaining for the workshop, Rebecca strongly discouraged critical examination of the piece, but instead encouraged the picking out of favorite lines, etc. On the occasion that a submitted story was not to Prof. Curtis' taste, she would lecture for 10 or more minutes on why a particular aspect of a story was terrible, though she would not encourage other students to weigh in, thereby not only defeating the "philosophy" of the class ("not to hurt anyone's feelings") but also shattering any objectivity as her rants would almost always be personal and without basis in the text itself. On one such occasion she believed a student to have relied on stereotypes for his characters, and after stating this, proceeded to "back up" this claim by giving the following example: "Let's say I wanted to write about a kind of person I know very little about, for example, old Hispanic men. I might rely on certain stereotypes to do this, because they'd be the first thing to come to my mind." She proceeded to spend ten minutes listing every stereotype of Hispanic men she could think of, including their sitting outside drinking "cervezas," eating "plant-an-yos," playing the "ban-yo" ("You know, the banjo?"), and admonishing their daughters for being promiscuous. Her suggested solution was to retain these stereotypes, but to throw a curveball at the reader by replacing the subject, Hispanic men, with their opposite...Asian women. In thinking up this worst possible way a writer might rely on stereotypes, she achieved her goal of indirectly telling her student that he had done the same, but without basing her critique in the text at all, and by making her critique personal rather than constructive or objective. Unfortunately, as of now, Rebecca is the only instructor for the Senior Fiction Workshop. I don't know what to tell you. She makes the course a waste of time, but you will get deadlines and page-long feedback write-ups from each of your peers, which is always a good 60% of a workshop's value. The most important thing is probably to encourage the Writing Department to replace her with one of their other, much stronger instructors. I was continually baffled that she had a position at CC's department but even moreso that she had one at the School of the Arts. Speak up--I will! So many other great writers would make much better instructors. This was a huge disappointment from such a great department.
Petite, a smart dresser and soft-voiced, Rebecca will not strike students as a powerhouse or a spectacle. But that's kind of the point--she isn't there to showboat or impress students with tales of the writing life, she's there to run an orderly and efficient class. After several semesters of watching the workshop schedule derail itself six or seven weeks into the semester, I was surprised and impressed by how much everyone stayed right on point for the entire time. Sure, a workshop will always be governed by the quality of the student work that comes into play, but Rebecca did a good job of making sure there at least WAS work to read and review each week. She has high demands for feedback (not so much for output--it was very much self-paced creative writing), but it pays off when your peers hand back carefully wrought critiques rather than scribbled on MSs. And, her own feedback is plentiful and discuss-able. She'll meet with you lots, will call when she's running late (and she will be) and responds to e-mails with notable speed. Two small(ish) gripes: she attempted to integrate some additional work like exercises into the class, but with the heavy-enough workload, most of us struggled to complete these and didn't get much out of them; also, she can steer discussion of student work a bit too much toward the positive. If you're interested in getting the nitty gritty about what you can fix in your stories, you might have to ask an honest friend. I would definitely recommend her though, she was a delight.