Reading Student Manuscripts as an Act of Curation

waysofcuratingDedicated Feedlyers of this blog will recall my trying to rethink the spirit behind reading and responding to student manuscripts. Well, leave it to the always-great Harper’s to find it for me. From this month’s Readings section, excerpting from Ways of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist:

[Artist Alighiero] Boetti told me that if I wanted to curate, I should under no circumstances do what everybody else was doing—just giving artists a certain room and suggesting that they fill it. More important would be to talk to the artists and ask them which projects they could not realize under existing conditions. Ever since, this has been a central theme of my exhibitions. I don’t believe in the creativity of the curator. I don’t think that the exhibition-maker has brilliant ideas around which the ideas of artists must fit. Instead, the process always starts with a conversation, in which I ask the artists what their unrealized projects are and then find the means to realize them. At our first meeting Boetti said curating could be about making impossible things possible.

More and more, in looking around for ways out of the Iowa-workshop-model-trap I feel myself stuck in as a teacher, I’ve found ways forward in the world of visual art. I’ve already adopted the model of the studio classroom in rethinking how to manage the space and time of the creative writing class, and here, from Obrist, is a solution to manuscript writeups.

Replace “curator” with “creative writing professor” and “artist” with “student writer”. I don’t know that I can necessarily make impossible things possible, but I can go into my job in the spirit of helping my students realize their projects, using whatever experience I have as a writer.

I plan to start with a conversation: What do you want to write this term? When it comes time to mark up manuscripts, then, my job isn’t to butt my way into the student’s process and correct or even comment on the work I’m seeing in terms of what I understand An Essay to be. Instead, it’s to respond to what I’ve read in terms of what I’ve already heard about the student’s aims and hopes.

In short, it’ll come down to “You did it. Keep writing.” or “Not yet. Keep writing.”

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