Concerning Craft: LPR in the Classroom

Professors Tara Hart, Sylvia Lee and William Lowe on The Little Patuxent Review as required text in creative writing courses

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Since 2014, Howard Community College’s creative writing courses (HUMN-100 and HUMN-200) have been using current issues of the Little Patuxent Review as their required course text. Because book order deadlines occur well ahead of issue launch dates, it’s often the latest winter issue that’s used in the summer and fall semesters, and the latest summer issue in the spring semester. HCC’s schedule of classes notes if sections are Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) or Low Textbook Cost (LTC), and with a purchase price at the college bookstore well below the $50 threshold, Little Patuxent Review is an attractively low-cost resource for all creative writing sections. Given the variance of work both within each issue and over time with fresh releases, faculty and their students alike experience curiosity and shared discoveries as they greet their new “textbook” each semester. 

Among several other course objectives centered on the mastery of the General Education goal of Critical and Creative Thinking, HCC creative writing students “assess, reflect on, and analyze creative efforts in writing across a variety of genres, including writing produced and published within the Maryland literary community.” Assignments that require exploration, evaluation, and analysis of LPR essays, fiction, and poetry provide students with a direct introduction to a respected literary journal that is produced within their own community but with a national audience. As an important venue to spotlight and foster local literary talent, this literary journal introduces students to writers who are not yet major or “mainstream,” akin to the idea of indie music. Good writing is good writing, regardless of how famous or well-known the author is. LPR issues in their hands and easy access to local events like readings and launches pull back the curtain to reveal a welcoming writers’ community who are finding ways to get their voices heard other than just book deals. It brings home the truth that other writers are right here, and real, and often situating compelling work within our own familiar land and cityscapes, in the idiom and accents of our neighbors. 

LPR pieces are experienced within a network of other texts and ideas; for example, students also read selections linked to from other online literary magazines and journals so that they can see the rich community of journals and writers who are finding places to publish their good work.

[LPR] brings home the truth that other writers are right here, and real, and often situating compelling work within our own familiar land and cityscapes, in the idiom and accents of our neighbors.

Specific assignments include having students explore the journal to identify specific moments from different poems, stories, or texts that embody some of the concepts they are working on or learning about in class. The first introduction might be framed as a “first date” with their text: students are asked to set aside ninety minutes just to sit alone with the issue and leaf through, take notes on how the issue is structured, how many people seem to be involved in its production, how different genres are laid out on the page, and what particular pages or phrases catch their own eyes and make them want to read more. These notes comprise their first self-reflection on their own tastes and critical stances and are part of learning how to “read like a writer,” and how to “steal like an artist,” to use Austin Kleon’s phrase. 

Later assignments hone their analytical skills as they examine the pieces as models and sources of inspiration: learning, for example, how time might be crafted in a short story, how an author creates a distinctive narrative voice, or how choices in point of view, setting, and verb tense set pieces down different paths. Students might examine poems that use imagery in especially startling or interesting ways or compare various poets’ use of line breaks.

By the end of the course, students will have also “demonstrated specific processes through which creative writing is produced and shared, including generating ideas, exploring possibilities, and preparing work to submit for publication.”  LPR’s author biographies model examples of the many different kinds of appropriate options. Students then write their own bios to submit with their work to HCC’s The Muse or another publication they have researched.

Some faculty assign students to review the required LPR issue towards an analysis and reflection of what this leading literary journal of Central Maryland has taught them about the craft of writing; others ask them to use the most personally powerful and/or inspirational pieces as a springboard or inspiration for their own creativity. 

In the final reflection essay for this course, students must address the question, “Which of the works in the Little Patuxent Review this semester has the most to teach you as a writer?” and their various and detailed answers show the wealth of what they find within. As a former student says, “Often have I been told I need to ‘show, not tell’ in my writing, and long has it eluded me how I should go about doing that.  The LPR showcases incredible creative works, each exemplifying how one should develop a story or narrative, even in poetry.”

The HCC/LPR partnership, in offering students of creative writing an ever-current model of excellence in literary publishing for lessons, analysis, reflection, connection, and appreciation, fulfills multiple missions on behalf of our community. We all enjoy the journal as discerning readers, and as faculty, we highly recommend dynamic use of Little Patuxent Review in higher education. 

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Tara Hart is a Professor of English, Arts, and Humanities, the Coordinator of Creative Writing, and the Chair of the Humanities Department at Howard Community College. She serves as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of HoCoPoLitSo (Howard County Poetry and Literature Society), a community partner-in-residence at HCC. She is a recipient of The Chair Academy’s 2006 International Exemplary Leader Award recognizing her ability to advance academic and administrative leadership. In 2011, she was awarded a Pushcart Prize for Poetry with the publication of “Patronized” in the journal Little Patuxent Review. She has served as a host of HoCoPoLitSo’s TV show The Writing Life and as a director of staged readings and an actor with HCC’s Arts Collective. Her scholarship has focused on drama, particularly the plays of Sam Shepard and Samuel Beckett, as well as on the concept of landscape in the literature of early 20th-century American women writers. Her chapter, “Still Points: Mary Austin’s Compositions and Explanations,” is published in Exploring Lost Borders: Critical Essays on Mary Austin, University of Nevada Press.​

Sylvia Lee is an Associate Professor of English and co-chair of the English Dept. at Howard Community College.

William E. Lowe is an Associate Professor of English at Howard Community College.

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