USD promotes creativity through writers series

By Christina Belloso

The Cropper Creative Writing Series celebrated its 10th Anniversary by kicking off the 2014-2015 cycle with a lecture from author and National Book Award finalist, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, on Sept.18.

The Lindsay J. Cropper Center for Creative Writing was established in 2004 as a memorial to honor USD alumna, Lindsay J. Cropper, who died tragically in 2000. Cropper was an English major, a book reviewer for the Union Tribune and an aspiring writer. Her parents, Barrie and Dorothy Cropper, decided to commemorate their daughter.

The center, located in Founders Hall, is a place for students to come together and share their interest for creative writing. Cropper developed this passion while attending the university, leaving a legacy for the creation of the memorial writers series.

The Center and English department have hosted the annual Writers Series since 2004. Students are encouraged to attend authors’ readings and inquire about the process of producing their own work. English professor and published author, Halina Duraj, is the director of the Cropper Center for Creative Writing and organizes the Cropper Memorial Writers Series.

Since 2012, the Barrie Cropper Memorial Lecture on the Craft of Creative Writing is given to introduce the series and connect English majors of every genre emphasis.

“It’s a great way to foster community among different classes and genres at the beginning of the academic year; all students have this common experience, and they take it back to their classes and draw on it all semester long as they explore the craft of creative writing,” Duraj said.

The series invited author Sarah Shun-lien Bynum to give the lecture.

Bynum has written two novels and been featured in the New Yorker, Ploughshares, Tin House, the Georgia Review. She was also noted one of “20 Under 40” fiction writers by the New Yorker. Currently living in Los Angeles, she’s a professor for the Graduate Writing Program at Otis College of Art and Design. Her two novels, Ms. Hempel Chronicles and Madeleine Is Sleeping, both received professional recognition, earning the PEN/Faulkner Award and Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize respectively.

The lecture room was filled with students from creative writing classes, English professors and Dorothy Cropper, who attends all the lectures. During her lecture, Bynum explained the process that she underwent to compose her two novels and offered advice to those aiming to harness their creative writing skills. Her novel, Ms. Hempel Chronicles, about the adventures of a seventh grade teacher, was a story she kept returning to due to her memories as a middle school teacher.

“The heart of writing is the act of imagining how someone else thinks, feels, and perceives,” Bynum said.
Her experiences gave her insight into how to mold the main character and effectively translate those aspects to the reader. Bynum stressed the importance that creative writing is a process and that it takes time to develop one’s craft. Duraj echoes this development of writing as a craft, highlighting Bynum’s strengths as a writer.

“She has a real empathy for the struggles of writing students, both as a teacher and as a writer herself. And her own writing is pitch-perfect: not a word is out of place or extraneous. She’s an excellent writer and teacher of writing,” said Duraj.

The speakers are often chosen with the students’ benefit in mind. Students are able to engage with authors who have already developed their craft by listening to their lectures and asking questions.

“The readings and lecture are wonderful events, but younger writers really connect and become inspired by more experienced writer when they’re sitting around a table, having a conversation about the craft of writing,” Duraj said.

The Center for Creative Writing wants to inspire students to take advantage of all that the center has to offer, whether they are majoring in English or not. The readings are open to the public and take place in the Manchester Conference Center Auditorium. The next reading will be featuring author, Ross Gay, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m., and all are encouraged to attend.