The Cropper Undergraduate Creative Writing Contest awards two prizes annually in the categories of fiction and poetry. This year for the first time, a single student received both $125 prizes. Biology and English double major Faye Mankowske ’13 was recognized for her short story, “Compulsions” as well as her poem, “Impregnate.”
Faye, congratulations on your prose and poetry wins! Would you mind sharing a few thoughts on each of your submissions?
I’d be happy to. I wrote the first version of “Compulsions” in Dr. Duraj’s Advanced Fiction class. I like it because I see it as a tonal, rather than an event-driven story. Events happen, but they don’t provide the main narrative thread.
For the poetry, I especially like “Malaria Dance.” It takes systematic names of pesticides and fragments them to create rhythm. “Impregnate” looked at these chemicals from a different position.
“The Cropper Series has brought the writing world to USD students. I think it’s critical for writing students to be exposed to excellent and diverse writers, and to have the chance to discuss craft with them.”
Every semester the Lindsay J. Cropper Memorial Writers Series brings exceptional authors and poets to USD. How do you think this series impacts the writing program at USD?
The Cropper Series has brought the writing world to USD students. I think it’s critical for writing students to be exposed to excellent and diverse writers, and to have the chance to discuss craft with them. Attending the readings has been a pleasure, and the rare opportunity is the workshops that students in the creative writing program attend with visiting authors and poets. For example, meeting with leading poet Kevin Young last semester was a fantastic learning opportunity. Not to mention that he was a personable and down to earth speaker.
I think the Cropper Series inspires students to continue to write, to try new ideas, and to believe in themselves as writers. It’s an integral part of the development of creative writers at USD.
You are studying English and biology. One can certainly see the influence of science in your writing. Why was a double major the best choice for you? What advice would you offer a student who is struggling to select a major?
Thank you. I’m excited by science, especially by how living things function and interact with their environment. I initially choose both biology and English to study simply because they were my favorite topics in high school. I didn’t have a clear idea of where I wanted to go with them at that initial point. I did have struggles around whether to go into science or into writing, and I got some astute advice by a few excellent professors.
I think that the strength of a double major is that it allows you two fields of intellectual pursuit, and it opens the possibility of considering careers that span both areas. We’re lucky that at USD there are supportive professors who will advise you and help you identify some of these opportunities.
For students struggling to select a major, I would say to follow your interests. Deciding a major based solely on the net worth of the job you can get out of it may not give you long-term satisfaction. I returned to school after a well-paid career in computer science. Lastly, if your interests are pulling you in two different directions of study don’t be afraid to pursue both. You may create an entirely new niche for yourself!
“I think a liberal arts education gives students the opportunity to learn about different areas and to explore intersections between them. It’s a course of study that emphasizes intellectual development and teaches critical thinking across disciplines.”
How has faculty mentorship shaped your undergraduate experience?
I think USD is strong in having many professors who are excellent teachers and care about the intellectual and professional development of their students. In the English department, I've had guidance from Sr. Hotz, Dr. Caywood and Dr. Hay, and Dr. Stoll for Senior project, among others. For creative writing, I've been very lucky to have Dr. Halina Duraj for a mentor. She's an incredible teacher and person who had a background in Biology before making her career switch to Creative Writing and English. Talking to her has been instrumental in deciding to pursue Creative Writing, and she also taught me how to develop and give my first conference paper. Dr. Duraj's writing classes were supportive and stimulating, and she gives a lot of creative leeway to her students. I feel that USD students in the English department are lucky in having numerous professors who will support their intellectual growth.
Why is a liberal arts education important to you?
I think a liberal arts education gives students the opportunity to learn about different areas and to explore intersections between them. It’s a course of study that emphasizes intellectual development and teaches critical thinking across disciplines. For me, it’s been the best possible route. I’m interested in intersections between science and literature, and my education at USD has allowed me to explore this.
Which USD courses have you enjoyed the most? Tell us about them.
There have been so many! On the Biology side, my favorites have been Conservation Biology, Desert Biology and Biological Oceanography, because these courses all include a strong field component. For example, in Bio Oceans we participated in a research cruise on the Scripps research vessel R.V. Sproul that had us bringing up sediment samples from the ocean floor. We recovered organisms including a few large polychaete worms and a sea urchin. In Desert Biology, our class spent five days camping in Anza Borrego Desert State Park and learning about the geography, geology, and ecology of the area. We took some day trips that brought us to pictographs and to fish traps on the shores of prehistoric Lake Cahuilla. Conservation Biology had us learn animal tracking and monitor local wildlife corridors.
For English courses, every class I’ve taken has been a great learning experience. If I had to choose a few I’d put Asian American Literature and Visual Culture, Senior Project, Jane Austen and Word, Image, Theory at the top of my list for intellectual challenge and interest. Senior Project gave me the chance to work on a semester-long research project and write a thesis. This was a valuable experience to see what graduate school work in English would be like. Visual Culture was a rich and challenging class that covered issues of race and identity as well as ideas like literary historicity and the roles of forgetting and memory in the construction of historical narrative. Jane Austen was a thought-provoking and fun exploration of Austen’s texts within their historical period. We even discussed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the professor ended the class by giving us all an “I Love Austen” pin.
Of course, the creative writing program has also been excellent. I’ve especially enjoyed Advanced Fiction and Intermediate Poetry. These two classes and their professors have expanded my conception of fiction and poetry. They’ve provided an empowering look at just how wide the writing world is. Not to mention they’ve encouraged me to write, which is itself a precious gift.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m graduating in December 2013, after finishing physics. I’m looking forward to catching up on my reading list and practicing my writing. I’d like to go to graduate school after a short break.
- Anne Malinoski ‘11