After three weeks of working on this article, with writer's block, hours late at night spent in the Phoenix office, an uncertain approach to writing this article and my general anxiety about whether this article mattered at all — I didn’t know how to start. 

But after interviewing my CRWR professor Matt Rader — who is an associate professor of CRWR who has helped me find value in the subject matter of poetry, and the author of many poetry books — I realized I needed to tell the importance of the CRWR program by telling my own story because that's what CRWR as a program and as an act in culture generally is about. So, I want to start this article off with an anecdote, or a story, about my second-year poetry workshop class with Rader and how I grew my eventual love for the CRWR program. If you want to check out his work I would highly recommend Ghosthawk, Visual Inspection, Desecrations, and his newly launched book Fine, which I’ve already annotated front to back.

My story goes like this:

I’m in the second row of desks in EME with about 30 students, and I sit down as Rader starts to get set up. I’m skeptical because of the way he is talking about poetry, a topic which my CRWR major friends are acutely aware I dislike because I don’t like how “poets don’t say what they mean,” which — of course, due to my knowledge in the course after borrowing Why Poetry? by Matthew Zupruder from him — I discovered that sentiment is wrong. Poets say what they mean, just in an unexpected and unfamiliar way.

Rader starts talking about poetry in a way that is almost spiritual, and tells us that in order for us to understand a poem fully, then we must unpack the poem line by line. I’m beyond reluctant; at best, I am anti-authoritative. I roll my eyes, and he notices. A few classes go by, and I express my opinions more openly to his face, saying that I don’t agree or like the things he is saying. I say I just want to do my own thing, and Rader tells me that I will understand one day why all of what he is saying is important. From that point on, I decided to make it my duty to write a poem to piss him off in my first two workshop submissions. 

After the first workshop of second year, when my poem was discussed and the other students (whom I didn’t think I needed to talk to) gave me feedback mostly about things that I could change but also things they related to, the emotions they felt while reading my workshop submission, and the things they loved, I realized I really wanted to talk to them more about their thoughts and desperately wanted to read their work too. Then, when Rader expressed his thoughts about my poem by analyzing and asking me what each individual line of the poem meant, unpacking each metaphor and addressing mixed metaphors in my poem, that's the moment I finally understood why he asked us to read each line of a poem carefully and as its own entity — it was an epiphany, I learned that attending to each line is a form of respect and care according to Rader.

I realized I didn’t need to put my head down and stick to my small group of close friends in order for me to be seen as a hard worker and in order for my hard work to pay off — my hard work was paying off and it was evident in the connections I made in that course.  

In class, I was eager about expressing my opinions about my peers' works, asking clarifying questions, openly disagreeing with conversations about metaphors. Rader said that it looked like I was about to jump over the table because I was so excited about discussing my peers' work. I would also regularly talk to him about poetry during his office hours, and share the poems I wrote outside of class with him as well.

In search of stories similar to mine — where my love for CRWR as a program and discipline was established even more fully through the courses — I interviewed a few of my friends who are CRWR majors. I was first met with answers like, “It's not that deep,” when talking about this article, but it is! It is really that deep because it matters to me and matters to other people.

So, while writing this article, I posed the question:

What does the CRWR program at UBCO mean to me? Why does the CRWR program matter to other students?

In order to answer these questions, I sat down with a few of my friends who are also CRWR majors, Rafaela, Blaze, and Evelyn, with whom I often discuss creative writing generally and the CRWR program in depth. I sent Rafaela and Evelyn a list of questions during our library hangouts, and they were eager to answer. I sent Blaze the questions over email after catching them in the library on my way to a study session.

First, we went over misconceptions of the CRWR program and about the misconceptions of being CRWR majors. I started the discussion off by saying that whenever I tell people my major — which is a combined major in CRWR and art history (ARTH) — people often stop me when I say CRWR and say, “Oh, that must be super easy, you’re so lucky,” and only when I continue and say, “Actually I’m doing a combined major in CRWR and art history” is when they say, “Oh that sounds like a lot of work.” This grinds my gears. 

I also said that people who I’ve told my major to more than once often say, “Noah would know, he’s an English major,” in response to questions about writing, which also grinds my gears. My major is similar to an English major but does not require the exact same skill set, which is not to say that English as a major is any less valuable. However, these two disciplines tend to blend together in people's minds. If they were the same, then there wouldn’t be an option to do a combined major in English and CRWR.

Another misconception Rafaela brought up was the idea that CRWR programs are simply grade point average (GPA)-boosters, when in reality, CRWR courses take a lot of work, and require so many discussions about your work with other students and professors. Plus, these courses require so much meticulous editing and reorganizing and sometimes completely scrapping a work and writing something entirely new. It's not about analytical ways of writing, it’s about finding creative ways to say something.

CRWR courses also require in-depth research of other writers and their takes on certain forms of writing. Writers need to know what “form” is, how to detangle mixed metaphors, and how to be intentional with punctuation. CRWR courses require a ton of hard work but are also accessible for students to navigate if they are only taking the course as an elective. Those two statements can exist together because not all people taking a CRWR course are taking it to make a career out of it. 

Overall, my correcting of these misconceptions is not my attempt at gatekeeping CRWR or my attempt at scaring people who potentially want to take CRWR courses. In fact my goal here is to just tell people that CRWR as a university discipline is just as academically valuable and distinguishable as other disciplines and needs to coexist with those other disciplines. CRWR, as a program, echoes the idea that creative writing is important and shows up in everyday life anyway — so why not make that act into something that people can create a sense of fulfillment through in academia and as a career?

My friend Evelyn commented on how creative writing generally shows up for them, and when I asked them to build off of the misconceptions of the CRWR program, they said this:

“Personally, creative writing shows up quite a bit in my everyday life because I do enjoy

writing for fun outside of class work. However, if someone doesn’t enjoy this, I’m not sure if

creative writing would show up in everyday life for them. A major misconception I’ve heard is

that CRWR is relaxing and easy, and that it’s a simple class that can be taken to fill

credits. It takes a lot of effort and time to create a piece worthy of being workshopped, and when

people don’t take this seriously, it affects everyone else in the workshop as well.”

Blaze also commented:

“I think the biggest misconception is that it cannot provide a valuable career path or

that the arts, in general, always require one to never find financial success, but I think the opposite is true. Every field needs writers. I cannot stress enough how important this skill is for any type of career you want to pursue, and it bleeds into all facets of one’s life. This degree has made me a better member of every community I am a part of and a more well-rounded member of society.”

Next, I asked my friends what the CRWR program means to them. 

Rafaela told me that CRWR as a program is a safe space to build herself up for her future career, and that every class teaches specific niches of storytelling, which helped her get better at writing and figure out her favourite forms of writing and their favourite things to read about.

My other friend Evelyn said that the CRWR program means their future, and they continued on this by stating:

“The concepts I learn and the knowledge I gain in this program are what I’m relying on to establish myself in the writing field. I’m hoping this program can refine my passion and turn it into something that I can support myself with and build a future with.”

Blaze added that the CRWR program has allowed him to explore and share his biggest dreams and dark realities. He also said that CRWR is a community of creatives who are just as invested as you are. He commented even further by saying:

“As a trans student, there are not many other places where I feel my voice is as heard or valued as it is in the CRWR department. Honestly, hearing my friends' experiences in other programs, I feel super grateful to have the community that CRWR has to offer.”

I think CRWR at UBCO isn’t the only place where these types of belonging are formed. However, it can be often overlooked or misinterpreted as a program. I relate to Blaze when I say that CRWR helped me to feel a sense of belonging as a transgender man, but also, to put it simply, CRWR is my home. This program helped me to create a sense of what a home is through writing poetry about trees — which is a long story within itself, maybe for another time. CRWR also helped me tell the story of my neurodivergence and my struggle with mental health. In other words, it helped me express my truths in a way that further developed my sense of self.

Rafaela, Evelyn, and Blaze all mentioned particular moments within the program when they felt their work and words were valued. They told me stories of professors who were there for them and workshops where they felt valued. For example, they said that discussions about their work made them feel this sense of community — one of which was the workshop class we were in together — and told me that they feel the most valued for their work around other writers, whether they are CRWR majors or not. It was nice to hear these personal feelings of fulfillment within the program, something I also felt after my hard work.

I also found it important to also talk to professors like Matt Rader who told me that he wanted people to know the CRWR program at UBCO is increasingly successful, and that grad students are publishing work while in the program and that undergraduates are publishing work while in the program and going onto publish work after graduating. 

My friends reiterated the idea that it’s important to have CRWR at UBCO because it is everywhere in our daily lives, that it needs to exist alongside other disciplines because we cannot only have an outlet to research and be analytical, but we also need a place for students to tell their stories creatively. 

I also interviewed Matt Rader — a professor of CRWR and a poet I mentioned earlier in the article — as well as Michael V. Smith who is also a CRWR professor, published author, and filmmaker at UBCO about their thoughts on why it's important to have a CRWR program at UBCO and why the program is important to both of them specifically. 

Rader said that the program and creative writing generally are important because we are creatures of language, and creative aspects are some of the ways that we know of the world and how we interact with each other. He also stated that CRWR interacts with a lot of other disciplines like visual arts, cultural studies, English, and performance arts among others, continuing on by saying that it's important for CRWR as a program to exist alongside disciplines like nursing, psychology, and engineering, for instance. There is also a commentary on CRWR as a program needing opportunities to “cross-pollinate,” as Rader says, with other departments of artists.

 Rader continued on the importance of the act of creative writing by adding:

“Basically, there’s a reason why people go to poems for their marriages and their weddings, and for the time of crisis, because there are things that language can articulate . . .  in the world that help us be in the world in a more realized way, to help us understand and imagine what a better world would be like. I think that those things are all plausible within creative writing, and I think it's also the case that some people are more disposed to an analytical perspective and other people have predisposed to a creative perspective and they need to be pathways for both forms of learning.”

Additionally, Smith expanded on the fact that the CRWR program should flourish and it's important to maintain because it's an essential skill set by stating:

“Every single discipline of the university uses language and CRWR is the study of how to use language more effectively for clarity, for communicating ideas, for capturing emotion and understanding human psychology and human behavior. All of those things are part of the skill set that we teach. And you can't avoid language and you can't avoid stories. Stories are the greatest tool that humankind has probably ever created.”

“It's not just that you can come and do CRWR here and get a degree, it's that it's the only place you can get a CRWR degree in the interior unless you have to move away and go down into Vancouver, or the Capital District [of Victoria],” said Rader. “That's a problem. We have a big province and this campus needs to be funded in a way that reflects its importance to the province . . . It's one of the fastest growing regions in the country.”

Oftentimes, creative writing courses at UBCO benefit from having small class sizes.

Speaking on this, Rader divulged that it's important to consider the value in small classes generally, saying that he’s sure other courses would benefit from small class sizes, too, although this factor may be more prevalent in a CRWR context. 

Smith commented further about the importance of small classes:

“That's one of the great thrills that you really get to know your students well, and you have a much more personal educational experience that I can deliver. So, it means that my students end up becoming my colleagues and my peers. They are my writing community in the Okanagan, and I might not have as many ‘professional’ writing friends as I had when I lived in Vancouver because there aren't as many writers who live here. But I have all of my student leaders, who effectively become part of my creative community.”

He  raised a fair point  on the importance of smaller class sizes in order to facilitate safe conversational spaces by stating:

“You just . . . can't run a huge creative writing course. You can't run a workshop and talk about really intimate things and build trust if you have too many people in the room — it’s just not possible to feel safe talking about, you know, trauma, for example, in a classroom of 30 people where only half the class gets the chance to speak. So there's also something happening at play, where the administrators aren't acknowledging that the nature of how we teach and what we teach requires a more intimate setting. And the kind of skill training that we're trying to teach our students can't be taught in a large group setting because it necessitates feedback, and workshop, and communal practice that can't happen in . . . [bigger sections].”

My friends Blaze and Rafaela also appreciate the smaller class sizes in creative writing.

“I chose to come to the Okanagan campus for its intimate classroom size and professor dynamics,” said Blaze. “One of the cool things about the size of the program is that you often take several classes with the same artists, so you get to learn others' writing styles and watch them grow over the years. As you can see from my love for the professors in the faculty, it has also provided me the ability to develop long-lasting relationships with the staff as well.”

“It creates a tight-knit community that works very effectively in creating connections with those who share the same interests and goals as you,” added Rafaela. “Personally, they have helped quite a lot. I can walk into a new creative writing class relaxed, knowing I will recognize most people from previous creative writing courses. That allowed me to feel more comfortable talking about my work in an environment where I know it’s safe to do so while simultaneously making acquaintances and friendships with people who are interested in the same things as I am. I have made many great friendships through these smaller classes, and I am very grateful.”

So, what does the CRWR program mean to me? And what does the CRWR mean to other people?

The CRWR program has become my home and has allowed me to be unapologetic about the way my brain works — by writing in fluid, emotional, gendered, and even tangent-like ways. By writing this article I have also recognized that the CRWR program has impacted others so much that they’ve found their community within academia and will go on to develop their approaches to writing that will change the world.