Topics in Creative Writing: Service Learning & Social Justice


This course offers an in-depth look at the stylistic and technical elements of one or more of the genres of creative writing (poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or drama) through assigned readings of professional examples and writing exercises. The course is provided in a workshop format and focuses on the production, critique, and revision of student writing. This particular class is designed to give students a substantial overview of the craft of writing through the lens of service learning and social justice.
Prerequisites: EN 102.


Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

    • Create and revise works of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and/or drama
    • Participate constructively in the workshop process by reading and commenting upon the works of fellow students
    • Apply the terms, tools, and techniques of the craft of creative writing to their own writing
    • Demonstrate an ability to read and appreciate literature as writers
    • Formulate connections between the assigned readings in social justice and issues of justice in the real world
    • Collaborate with others, including people of different social and cultural backgrounds
    • Identify systematic obstacles to a just and inclusive society and find ways to appreciate and protect the dignity and worth of others, including those of different social and cultural backgrounds
    • Engage in civic activities that are mutually beneficial to both the students and the communities/ individuals they encounter

Five pieces and final portfolio 40%
Journal 20%
Service and Social Justice Reflection 20%
Attendance and participation (includes workshop participation and completion
of 20 hours of service) 20%

Five pieces and final portfolio (40%): You will be expected to write five creative pieces to submit to the workshop over the course of the semester. You will need to bring copies for everyone in the class for the full-class workshop, and 5 copies for small group workshops. (I’ll indicate which pieces are which during the semester; please use two-sided copying when possible to spare the planet.) Your five pieces must represent at least two different genres (poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama) and must total at least 10 pages. You will also turn in a final portfolio at the end of the semester containing the original versions of these pieces, substantial revisions, and an analysis of the writing and revision process you went through in creating the portfolio.

Journal (20%): Throughout the semester, you will keep track of your service experiences and respond to the readings on service and social justice in a journal. This journal can either be in hard copy (in a notebook) or electronic copy (in a blog format). You are required to write in your journal at least once a week, and to post your entries or turn them in to me at the beginning of class each week. I’ll post guidelines for the entries and will sometimes ask you to respond to readings and your service experiences. I may also ask you to engage in creative exercises that can lead to pieces for the workshop. The entries reflecting on your service experience throughout the semester will help you with the final reflection.

Service and Social Justice Reflection (20%): At the end of the semester, you will revise your journal entries into a 5-6 page reflection essay discussing your experience with the service itself and with the readings in social justice and service learning from the course syllabus. This reflection can be creative and can include poetry, dialogue, characters, different voices, and any other techniques we discuss throughout the semester.

Participation and attendance (20%): Because this is a creative workshop and a service learning course, our success depends upon every student’s presence and active participation. Students need to come to class on time and prepared for the day’s activities. Missing more than two classes will cause your participation grade to fall to a zero. Arriving to class late or leaving early may also count as an absence at my discretion. The participation grade includes reading the material assigned on the syllabus and reading and responding thoughtfully to classmates’ poems prior to the workshop. It also includes completing the readings as assigned on the syllabus. Because of the real-world interactions involved in this course, it is particularly important that you complete the readings, which are designed to give you some understanding of and sensitivity to the communities we will be interacting with.

The Service Component: Your participation and attendance grade for this class also includes completing the 20-hour service requirement with one or more organizations of your choice. I have coordinated with Argus House and The Greenbrier Learning Center to provide you with a conveniently located opportunity for community engagement. I will expect you to complete most of your service requirement with one or the other of these organizations. However, you may also seek out smaller service engagements on your own with other organizations, including food banks, homeless shelters, etc. In most classes the worst harm you can do when you mess up is to yourself; you might miss out on educational opportunities, perform poorly in or fail the class, or let your fellow classmates and professor down. In this class, however, your behavior can impact folks beyond the Marymount community, and because of the potential harm to community members and to Marymount’s relationship with the community, I reserve the right to remove a student at any time from the service portion of the course and provide him/her with an alternative assignment. Similarly, if you become uncomfortable with your service experience in any way, you have the right to end the experience. I will either help you find alternative placement or provide you with an alternative assignment.

Late Work and Extensions:

  • Journal entries must be completed by the beginning of each class period; they cannot be accepted late.
  • Creative pieces are due in class on the days listed in the course schedule. In order for our workshops to function effectively, each student must be in class prepared with his/her piece. If you miss class or do not bring a draft of your piece on the day of a workshop, you may not be able to participate in the workshop process for that piece. If you’re unable to come to class the day a poem is due, please email me the piece by the beginning of the class and bring copies the following week.
  • The Portfolio and the Service and Social Justice Reflection are due in class on the days listed in the course schedule. Late assignments will be penalized one letter grade for each class period that they are late. Assignments more than three class periods late will not be accepted. If you’re unable to come to class the day an assignment is due, please email me the assignment by the beginning of the class period in which it was due so that I can give you credit for completing it on time. (Please note: if you email me an essay, it is up to you to make sure I have received it. An essay that is late because of technology glitches is still late.) You should also give me a hard copy of the assignment as soon as you are able to make it to class. An extension on an assignment may be granted if you have a cause to request one and speak to me at least one class period before the due date.

Plagiarism: All written assignments must be original to the writer; plagiarizing the work of others will result in penalties ranging from failing the paper/assignment or the course to more severe administrative consequences. Intellectual honesty is the bedrock of communal learning; plagiarism will not be tolerated, and I will refer misuse of sources to the Academic Integrity panel.

      NOTE: All page numbers listed refer to your text, Fire and Ink.
      All other readings will be posted on Blackboard or are available online.Week One
      Course overview and introduction: What is service learning? What is social justice?
      Using what you know to generate material
      In class writings; close reading

      Week Two
      Using imagery and metaphor; serving to learn; writing to witness; in-class writings
      Readings:     Robert Rhoads, “Action/Reflection”
      Laura Cebulski, “Lessons in Service-Learning”
      Armas, “El Tonto del Barrio,” on Blackboard; Jordan, “Law Abiding Citizen” (Blackboard); Rich, “The Burning of Papers Instead of Children” (online, link on Blackboard)

      Week Three
      Voice and style; mutuality; writing about social justice; the workshop process
      Readings:     Reitenauer, “Creating Cultural Connections”
      Kowit, “The Body Politic”
      Bambara, “The Lesson” (81-88); Smith, “Building Nicole’s Mama” (371-73)

      Week Four
      Cultural others; silenced communities; workshop
      Readings:     Addonizio and Laux, “Witnessing,” Knapp, “Terreno,” (117-121); Jimenez, “The Circuit,” (173-77); Garcia, “Cotton Rows” (183); Cervantes, “Cannery Town,” (184); Espada, “Federico’s Ghost” (214-15)
      First creative piece due, copies for whole class

      Week Five
      Story and structure; speaking out; workshop
      Readings:     Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence” (159-162); Mirikitani, “Breaking Silence” (7-10); Rich, “Frame” (11-13); Baca, “Coming into Language” (163-69)

      Week Six
      Stages of engagement; facing intolerance; workshop
      Readings:     Mecca, “He Defies You Still” (108-116); De Soto, “Wilshire Bus” (131-35); Nye, “Kindness,” (350-51)
      Second creative piece due, copies for whole class

      Week Seven
      Character and dialogue; telling other people’s stories; workshop
      Readings:     Couser, From Vulnerable Subjects: Ethics and Life Writing
      Anzaldua, “Speaking in Tongues” (22-31); Smith, “Introduction” and “Scribe”
      Midterm conferences outside of class

      Week Eight
      Causes of poverty and homelessness; workshop
      Readings:     Homelessness in the United States
      Ostriker, “from interlude” (319); Chrystos, “No Public Safety” (250)
      Third creative piece due, copies for whole class
      Midterm conferences outside of class

      Week Nine
      Juvenile justice system; prisoners in America; workshop
      Readings:     Nurse, “Locked Up, Locked Out”
      Masters, “Mourning Exercise” (245-47); Baca, “Letters” (253); Clark, “After My Arrest” (255-56)

      Week Ten
      Service and Social Justice Reflection assignment; workshop
      Readings:     Collier, “Reflection in Action”
      Hogan, “All My Relations” (234-37); Hanh, “Call Me by My True Names” (337-340)
      Fourth creative piece due, copies for whole class

      Week Eleven
      Race and social justice; workshop
      Readings:     Derricotte, “Baring/ Bearing Anger” (387-91); Sundiata, “Blink Your Eyes” (93-94); Hayes, Eady, York, and Collins

      Week Twelve
      Race and social justice; revision; workshop
      Readings:     Revision (on Blackboard)
      Walker, “Beauty” (69-76); Garcia, “Las Rubias” (96-98)
      Bring a draft of one of your creative pieces for revision work
      Fifth creative piece due, copies for whole class

      Week Thirteen
      Revision; workshop
      Readings:     Revision (on Blackboard)
      Busman, “Like the Wind” (178-81)
      Bring a draft of one of your creative pieces for revision work
      Draft of Service and Social Justice Reflection due
      Final conferences outside of class

      Week Fourteen
      Final workshops
      Reading:       Tannenbaum, “Cleansing the Doors of Perception” (263-74)
      Service and Social Justice Reflection due
      Final conferences outside of class


      DISCLAIMER: This syllabus provides a general plan for the course; deviations may be necessary to ensure a challenging but manageable learning pace.

Fire and Ink: An Anthology of Social Action Writing, Edited by Frances Payne Adler, Debra Busman, and Diana Garcia, The University of Arizona Press, ISBN: 9780816527939, $32.95 list price
Printed copies of texts posted to Blackboard, if desired
Photocopies of creative pieces for classmates
Transportation to service learning activities and costs of background checks
REQUIRED OR SUGGESTED READINGS OR AUDIO-VISUAL MATERIALS: Some materials will be located on Blackboard or distributed as handouts