The creative writing courses taught by A.M. Homes, under the umbrella of the Lewis Center for the Arts, are essentially a formal space for sharing and refining the art of storytelling.
Every week, students are required to send in manuscripts of their own works of fiction and bring in other stories they would like to share with the class. Ultimately, Homes hopes that the class will “help people reconnect to their imagination” and learn that it’s “okay to take intellectual and creative risks.”
Homes finds that Princeton students tend to be really good at following rules — after all, that’s how they were admitted here. However, as a result, these students are often risk-averse and fearful of the prospect of failure — which is a necessary component of creative writing. Homes said she loves teaching this course because she gets students who have a variety of different interests, many of whom have been trained to think and to write based on empirical claims. She said that her philosophy as a professor is to help students understand that their future is not based on what they know, but on what they can imagine.
In Homes’ words, her advanced fiction class isn’t about “becoming the next great novelist, although that’s great too.” Rather, she says, “it’s about becoming a person.”
While some students who take the course end up coming back to Homes hoping to write a creative writing thesis, students often don’t take this class intending to pursue a writing career. In discussing one of the most memorable examples of this, Homes described a young woman who was a talented writer but was aiming for a profession in medicine rather than writing.
“When I end up in an emergency room I want her there, because she had that unique combination of intellectual skill but also human compassion,” Homes said. “So I said to her, when you go to medical school, I want to write the recommendation letter for you.”
As such, Homes said that she takes great care to tailor the material of the course to fit the interests of the students, asking them to bring in books that they would like to share with the rest of the class. In addition, she schedules office hours to talk about their writing, as well as to discuss how they are navigating life at Princeton. She described how each semester the class is very different, as she tries to find ways in which she can be most useful to the students.
Homes explained that one unique feature of the Program in Creative Writing at the University is that, as opposed to other universities where professors are often transitioning in and out, at Princeton she’s really been able to spend time with the other faculty members. She noted that the department has some of the most renowned names in present-day literature and that this environment has helped her to develop and challenge herself as a writer.
Additionally, Homes explained that the shape that creative writing courses take varies depending on the professor and that professor’s writing style. Current professors in the department include Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides and, as of this semester, Jhumpa Lahiri, author of “Interpreter of Maladies” and recent honoree of the National Humanities Medal.
It’s somewhat normal to be consistently busy in the Orange Bubble, and A.M. Homes understands the nature of the business more than anyone. She explained how she recently interviewed author Salman Rushdie in front of a live audience, wrote a piece on musician Laurie Anderson the next day, worked on part of her upcoming novel, edited part of her new collection of short stories and taught both her introductory and advanced fiction classes, all in one week.
For Homes, part of the excitement of being at a university like Princeton is that it’s an “intellectual sort of festival.”