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Two New Programs in Context:

the BFA in Writing and the Writing Center

by Maria Parrott

Nine years ago, the School of the Art Institute formed a Master of Fine Arts in Writing program for graduate students. This fall, with two new programs, undergraduates at the School are being given their first major opportunity to find out how writing can be part of an art school education with the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing program.

The new undergraduate writing program consists of 16 freshman and 8 “internal transfers,” according to Coordinator Dan Beachy-Quick. They are poets and fiction writers as well as interdisciplinary artists. Rebecca Cooling-Mallard is a freshman in the BFAW program. “I mainly write poetry,” Cooling-Mallard said, “but I also make artist books. I am very interested in the ways in which text and image can work together.” Alyssa Martinez transferred into the BFA Writing program this fall. Last year, she took first year classes and wondered what to focus on. “I missed writing a lot,” Martinez said, “but didn’t want to sacrifice my studio arts.”

Both Cooling-Mallard and Martinez benefited from the program’s interdisciplinary focus, but Martinez also sees problems with the program. Because the writing workshops are open to students from any department, not everyone is as interested in writing as she is. According to Martinez, some of her classmates “have no experience with writing, but are just getting the Humanities credit.”

Focusing on the art of writing may not be the first priority for the majority of students at SAIC, but the School has also introduced a program that can help all students with the nuts and bolts, or the “business” of writing. Since the beginning of the fall semester, the MacLean Center basement has slowly morphed into the School’s new Writing Center.

Cooling-Mallard is one of the Writing Center’s nine student tutors (the Center also has one faculty tutor). She is one of only two undergraduate tutors; the others are graduate students from various departments. Leila Wilson was hired as the Writing Center Coordinator in August of this year, and spent the month before the center’s opening on October 2 in a flurry of activity: interviewing, hiring, and training tutors, as well as setting up the space and “getting the program up to speed.”

After all that work, Wilson had a quick answer to how she trained the tutoring staff: “Immersion.” she said. After a month of intense training, tutors began seeing students; by their second week, 60 students had visited the plain (but spacious) center for writing help. Although each tutor differs slightly in interests, Wilson stressed the one rule all tutors would follow: “It is not an editing or proofreading service,” Wilson said, “it’s an opportunity for students to come in and work very in-depth on any questions. Students are always going to be involved; it’s an active learning experience.”

Tutors will help with “any writing project at any stage of the writing process,” Wilson said, including brainstorming, thesis development, organization, clarity, style, grammar and mechanics, citations, and more.

Before this fall, the School’s Learning Center was the only place students could go for tutoring. With the advent of the Writing Center, the Learning Center has been renamed as the Disability and Learning Resource Center. This allows the Writing Center to focus on writing. However, as Julian Berke, post-baccalaureate student in the Sound department and Writing Center tutor, said, “This is sometimes at odds with what students expect. They think they’ll get their paper corrected for a deadline,” Berke said, adding that although students must bring in specific projects, the help they get is more general and directed toward writing development.

Wilson is still getting the message out about how students can use the center, especially since most of the students they have seen so far (Wilson estimates 90 percent) have been international students looking for help with English fluency (Berke says almost all the students he has helped have been international).

Wilson believes strongly that all students should work to improve their writing skills. “Students will need to articulate their ideas clearly,” Wilson said, speaking specifically of the importance of writing for artists “for writing grant applications, proposals for shows, artist’s statements that cohere.” To make it simpler, Wilson plans to create a Writing Center page on the SAIC website so students can sign up for appointments online.

The absence of writing programs for undergraduates at the School never made much sense to Beachy-Quick. “In my mind, writing is a fine art,” he said. “Traditionally speaking, art schools stuck to the notion of ‘pure art’ … but the muses are all of the same family.” Wilson agrees: “I think there is a re-invigorated effort right now,” she said. “The School is showing how important writing is to someone who works in the arts.”


Whether you’re interested in hearing SAIC writers read their work, or you want to find an audience for your own writing, check out these reading series, all of which feature SAIC students:

Powell’s North Reading Series
Reading series featuring two emerging writers (and SAIC writing students) and a nationally recognized, established writer. Past guests have included Peter Markus, Tony Tost, Elizabeth Treadwell, and others.
Readings take place once a month at Powell’s North bookstore, located at 2850 N. Lincoln Ave.
For more information, go to

Rec Room

Reading and performance series that features experimental, varying presentations by under-represented writers. Both November shows (11/1 and 11/15) will be curated by SAIC MFAW alums Idris Goodwin and Chris Bower. Rec Room takes place on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month at 8 pm at the Black Rock Bar, 3614 N. Damen Ave. For more information, go to


Reading series that traverses "the complicated relationship between politics and literature," coordinated by and featuring SAIC writing students. PoLITical's first reading will be held on November 1st from 7-9 pm at the Prop Theatre, 3502 N. Elston Ave. For more information contact Wendy Whiteside ([email protected]) or Matt Test ([email protected]).