The Lindsay J. Cropper Memorial Writers Series gives USD students an opportunity not only to listen to professional writers, but also to see themselves as writers.
Since 2004, nationally known writers have come to campus to read their published literary works on occasional Friday evenings during the academic year. The next day, a Saturday Creative Writing Workshop gives students the chance to engage with the guest speakers, discuss different techniques and to improve their writing.
Halina Duraj and Jericho Brown, two of USD’s esteemed Department of English professors and both whom have been past speakers for the series, help to select the featured authors.
“We try to choose a person who writes high-quality work, whether in prose or poetry,” Duraj said. “We try to choose an excellent writer, keeping in mind that their work will be exposed to students, and which will hopefully broaden their literary world. Third, we want a writer who has an excellent rapport with students; approachability is key. Ultimately, it is for students and we want them to have a positive interaction with the writer we bring to USD.”
The series and the workshop were created when the Lindsay J. Cropper Center for Creative Writing was established. The center is named in memory of Cropper, a USD alumna, English major and aspiring writer, who died tragically in 2000. Her parents, Barrie and Dorothy, wanted the center to serve USD students with a creative writing interest and to promote the development of writing courses and granting of awards for creative writing.
Eight years later, the Cropper series and center and the workshop continue to provide a welcome outlet for student creativity. Tonight at 7, in fact, USD students from the current spring semester’s creative writing courses will be doing a reading of their original work in Mother Rosalie Hill Hall, Room 102.
Sarah Jorgensen, a junior English major, has attended Cropper series readings since her freshman year. “It’s a very unique experience within the department and it’s a fantastic opportunity for young writers,” she said.
Claudia Rankine, an award-winning poet who appeared at USD in October 2011, helped Jorgensen focus on her poetry writing.
“When poetry is spoken in a live setting, the sound elements of a poem become obvious in the way the poet wants you to hear it,” Jorgensen said. “When listening to poetry readings, I became much more alert of the sounds within my own poems. I never considered how much impact sound could have.”
Natasha Trethewey, a contemporary poet who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007, read in Spring 2009. Senior Eloisa Amezcua said Trethewey’s appearance was a chance to learn from one of the best.
“It was wonderful to hear her read her work and to actually see someone read that I look up to,” said Amezcua (pictured, above, with Jericho Brown and Halina Duraj). “It was such a wonderful experience.”
That inspiration and with her own budding creativity through the workshop experience contributed to Amezcua’s powerful poem, “Psychiatrist’s Daughter,” which was selected as a winner in the 2011-12 Cropper Undergraduate Creative Writing Contest.
“The post-event workshops give me a space to feel comfortable, where I can share my writing with others,” Amezcua said. “It’s a place where other people are willing and want to read my work. It’s a core group of supporters where they support me and vice versa.”
Joe Holland, a junior English major, said he enjoyed a Saturday workshop with Jodi Angel, who spoke at USD this past February.
“She gave us a free write prompt and brought to our attention the importance of the first sentence in a piece of writing,” he recalled. “She taught us that the first sentence should get people to want to read your story.”
Taking Angel’s advice, Holland focused on the first sentence in the following writing sample: “I was four when I decided I wanted to die violently. Before my grandpa’s funeral my preschool teacher told me that if I felt his hand he would be cold and I walked into that church ready to conduct this science experiment. She was right; he was cold. He was also dead, but nobody had killed him.”
Senior Faye Mankowske is a double major in Biology and English. Her love for writing resurfaced when the Creative Writing Concentration for English majors became available and she began attending the Cropper series.
Mankowske said her writing tends to draw from personal experiences. One piece, she said, came from a childhood memory: “When I was seven, the circus came to town. I was fascinated by the painted ladies. One, in particular, flicked a blue tongue at me as I walked down the midway to the Big Top and reached out with a scaly cerulean arm through the bars of her cage.”
Mankowske said the series’ speakers, the wisdom they’ve imparted and the passion they display have immensely inspired her writing.
“Writing allows you the intellectual freedom to pursue any subject that interests you, synthesize your knowledge and respond in a creative form,” she said. “It’s empowering, it allows for a process of learning like nothing else and that’s something I love to do.”
— Alyssa Aninag ’13