Faculty on Writing

Professor: Jennifer Howard
Department: English
Interviewed by: Elizabeth Faucett
Date: September 21st, 2005

Assistant Professor Jennifer Howard is going into her fourth year here at Northern Michigan University. This is her first year teaching as a professor. She recently completed her Master of Fine Arts (Creative Writing) degree from NMU. Professor Howard is currently teaching two classes within the English Department, EN215: Introduction to Creative Writing and EN300: Creative Writing, Fiction. She also has experience teaching EN111: College Composition and EN211B. She also taught classes online through the University of Phoenix during the summer.

Because of the nature of the classes she teaches, Prof. Howard does incorporate a great deal of writing into her classes. Many of the assignments, especially in the introductory class, are used as a way for students to experiment with their writing. She says that she wants to provide an environment where the students feel comfortable being “messy” with their writing and have a chance to try out new techniques and ideas. In order to develop her students’ writing skills, she has daily writing assignments, which focus on different aspects of the writing process. Prof. Howard utilizes writing workshop to allow students the opportunity to give and receive feedback as to what is or is not working in a piece or what to consider during revision, which her students do a lot of.

Prof. Howard is supportive of her students’ writing. She especially enjoys student writing that is fresh and original. A good piece of writing, according to her, is one in which the author has a strong, clear voice and characters that draw the reader in emotionally so that they feel engaged in the piece. And like all teachers, she is looking to see that the writer has successfully incorporated elements of writing (dialogue, setting, etc.) when appropriate. She also likes to see that a student is developing his/her skills. As a writer, Prof. Howard is also committed to strengthening her writing. When she is not teaching or writing e-mails, she enjoys writing short-short fiction, longer fiction pieces and also some non-fiction.

Even though her passion is creative writing, Prof. Howard strongly believes that everyone, English major or not, needs to know how to write well. The ability to communicate ideas through writing has become especially important because of the increased dependence that many businesses have on the Internet as a means of relaying information. As an example, she talked about her experiences with teaching online courses. Because every question, response and assignment had to be submitted via the Internet, her students’ ability to clearly express themselves through writing was crucial to their success in the class.

Because the Writing Center is similar in nature to the workshop environment that she creates in her classroom, Prof. Howard understands the impact that even one session in the Writing Center can have on a student. She admits that she has not been one to overly encourage her students to attend the Writing Center, but she said that she has had some students visit it and that it had a positive impact on their writing. Often, the best thing that we can do as writers is to let someone read our writing and give us feedback.

There is a debate as to whether or not the piece that comes as a result of the collaboration between student and tutor is truly the work of the student. I asked Prof. Howard what her thoughts on this were. Her response was that the more input that a student gets from other writers/editors/tutors the better the student is able to look at his/her writing objectively. She believes that sometimes it takes another person looking at the piece and pointing out something that does not work for writers to see beyond what they have already written and find the heart of the piece. I enjoyed my interview with Prof. Howard. She is encouraging and understanding of her students writing.