Student creative writers will read their works live on YouTube

A young man reading a poem on a laptop screen

Every year, senior English majors with a concentration in creative writing celebrate the end of the academic term by giving readings of their works before a campus audience. This year, that culminating event — known as the “Creative Writing Concentrators’ Ball” — will have a different format, but will be as exultant as ever.

The 21 creative writing concentrators will showcase their original works in a Zoom session that will be livestreamed on Yale’s YouTube channel. The event takes place on Wednesday, April 22, at 7 p.m., and anyone can tune in.

Typically, the ball coincides with Bulldog Days and brings out 150 to 200 guests — friends, faculty and family members, and other students who may be interested in the craft of writing,” said Richard Deming, senior lecturer in English and director of creative writing. “Each student reads for about five minutes from a work that is their capstone project. These projects include a whole range of works — collections of poetry or short stories, long nonfiction pieces, parts of novellas, plays. So often work is written in isolation or seclusion; this presentation is a public celebration of their hard work.”

Yale’s creative writing concentration is an intensive track for English majors who are serious about writing fiction or nonfiction. Students are typically accepted for the program at the end of their junior year. They are taught by professional writers in small classes and also work with faculty mentors in one-on-one sessions.

For the students, sharing their work with the community is especially meaningful this year due to the interruption of their campus studies in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Deming said.

Literature, the arts in general, is ever the unfolding biography of humanity’s resilience — and the students want to add their voices to the moment, to show that Yale students, come what may, neither sway nor blink,” he said.

One advantage of the livestream event is that more of the students’ family members and friends will be able to experience the readings.

He acknowledges, however, that recent weeks have also brought challenges for the student writers.

These students were down to the last lap of writing when campus closed,” explained Deming. “They lost the ability to wholly focus on that challenge. It’s hard to write in moments of uncertainty. But they did.”

Deming said the end-of-year celebration would not have been possible without the support of Cynthia Zarin, the writing concentration coordinator who pairs the mentors and mentees and “moves everything forward,” and John Harford, director of educational technology and media for the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, who handled some of the technological challenges of livestreaming the event.

The creative writers do regret the loss of intimacy and presence they will experience by not celebrating on campus before an in-person audience, because being online rather than in the same room means losing a feeling of immediacy,” said Deming. “The move to an online venue is not what anyone would have asked for, but since we have this technology to find ways to connect, it’s exciting that there’s still a way for the students to share their work with an audience.”

Watch the Creative Writing Concentrators’ Live Stream readings.

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