I want my students to realize that good writing just doesn’t happen. You have to work at it.
Associate Professor Charlotte Matthews is a well-regarded poet with three full-length collections to her credit. It is not surprising, therefore, that she brings her sense of the poet’s craft to the writing classes she teaches for the School’s Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies. Not only does she begin and end each class with a poem, but she also works to cultivate a poet’s mindset in her students.
This entails a number of strategies. Among them is an attention to the craft of writing. She has her students read the writer’s classic The Elements of Style, a distillation of principles for clean, accurate expression, and she encourages students to strive for concision, for making every word count. “If you can say it in 1,000 words,” she says, “chances are good you can you say it in 200 words or 150 words.”
At the same time, she insists that students find their own voices. She’s devised her own color-coded method for providing feedback on their drafts, for instance highlighting a cluttered passage in yellow or a fault in grammar or usage in green, but she won’t correct them, allowing students to identify the issues and find their own way of addressing them. Her insistence that students draft, revise, and draft again also harks back to her poet’s methods. “I want my students to realize that good writing just doesn’t happen,” she says. “You have to work at it.” She puts Adrienne Rich’s assertion that, “clear thinking, active discussion, and excellent writing are all necessary for intellectual freedom, and these require hard work” at the top of her syllabi.
Finally, she asks her students to read passages from their work out loud to the class so that their colleagues can respond to it. She tries to give students the sense that writing is an opportunity to enter into a conversation, that this is a privilege, and that they should take care to make the most of it.
Her approach is also much admired by her fellow faculty members. Assistant Professor Julia May notes that “Charlotte is a consummate professional and master of her craft. She is clear and concise, commands attention from her students, and works hard to build community.”
In 2018, the School honored Matthews for her lasting influence on student lives by bestowing on her its premier honor, the Adelle F. Robertson Award. It recognizes sustained excellence in providing new knowledge, instruction, or public service through the School to the people, organizations, and institutions served by the University. Read more about the Award and Matthews.