The Writing the Rockies Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Creative Writing
About the Award
The Writing the Rockies Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Creative Writing goes each year to a committed, accomplished teacher and writer who demonstrates decades of devotion to students. Most strong teachers work in more than one genre, but the award's focus shifts each year through the major genres: poetry, fiction, drama/screenwriting and creative nonfiction. Teachers who have worked in every kind of institution will be considered, from primary and secondary schools to undergraduate and graduate institutions, to continuing and community education, to alternative venues such as prisons, the military, hospitals, and any other institution or situation in which a teacher has made a major contribution to the lives of students.
Teaching is a challenging profession, but the teaching of creative writing is particularly perilous and strange. In addition to providing the historical background, analytical tools and theoretical understanding that any strong literature curriculum must convey, the teacher of creative writing must also somehow help students face the daunting challenge of creating new art in light of that learning. The job quarrels with itself, requiring the teacher not only to offer some rational structure of knowledge, but also to inculcate the difficult disciplines of artistic practice, all with the delicate touch that cultivates talent. It demands the direction of student apprenticeship as much as the encouragement of study. It is a bit like leading a class in how to waltz, in which each couple is standing on the back of an irritated tiger. Failure on all sides is a very real option.
There are many teaching awards in America, though not enough, and certainly they are not prestigious enough. In our view, we perhaps talk too much about education, and not enough about teaching. Further, when we do talk about teaching, it is too often to try to measure it, rather than to celebrate it. Indeed, anyone in academia, especially at institutions where publication now heavily outweighs interaction with students, understands that a teaching award that arrives in the midst of a tenure or promotion bid can even be dangerous. It will be a good day when more institutions of higher learning recommit to the formal support of professional advancement through teaching, a shift this award is designed to encourage.
The need to attend to teaching in our own field should be obvious. Despite the tremendous growth of creative writing programs at all educational levels during the last 50 years, there are few if any national teaching awards that focus explicitly on it, let alone any that recognize lifetime achievement. Our goal in creating this award is therefore to do what we can, not only to recognize people who have devoted a large part of their lives to passing on the arts we love, but also to confer value on the entire profession.
Good teachers teach their subjects; great teachers also teach their students. As Henry Adams famously observed, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Even a cursory glance at the history of every great movement and moment in the arts reveals it to be the result of another less visible transformation in education that preceded it by a generation or two. The grammar schools opened decades before the Globe. Support the teachers and the schools will thrive; support the schools and the students will thrive; support the students and the arts will thrive. Reading and writing do not present a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Reading comes first. Support the teachers.
As Michael Oakeshott has argued, poetry—by which he means all artistic creativity—is the voice of delight in the conversation of mankind. This award exists to honor those who have devoted themselves to making sure that the voice of delight continues to be heard and joined by others. It is our honor to bestow it.
2016: James Gunn / Genre Fiction
2015: Bruce Bennett / Poetry