Noted Author Joins SVU Faculty
By Kathryn H. Kidd
What happens when a small Mormon liberal arts college recruits one of the world’s most popular writers to join the faculty?
We’re about to find out. Southern Virginia University, the small college in the Shenandoah Valley that was acquired by LDS donors in 1996, has announced that Orson Scott Card will join the faculty as distinguished professor, to teach literature and professional writing starting in the fall of 2005.
Card is the author of the Women of Genesis series (Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel & Leah so far) published by Deseret Book, as well as internationally acclaimed science fiction novels such as Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. His most recent novel in the Shadow series, Shadow of the Giant, once again spent several weeks on New York Times bestseller list.
Many LDS book groups have read one or another of the Women of Genesis novels, and many other LDS families are becoming acquainted with Card’s work as the kids bring it home from school. Thousands of high schools and middle schools are now requiring their students to read Ender’s Game.
From Writer to Teacher
For several years, Card has been taking his writing workshops on the road. His two-day Uncle Orson’s Writing Class and his week-long Literary Boot Camp have been held at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Southern Virginia University, and Utah Valley State College in Orem, Utah, where he will present them for the second time this June.
In fact, Card has been teaching sporadically throughout his career, starting with an evening class he taught at the University of Utah while pursuing his master of arts in English there. (He also holds a bachelor’s degree in theatre from BYU.)
It was when he was presenting his Literary Boot Camp at SVU that Professor Randall Cluff, English Program Coordinator, attended and decided to pursue Card’s permanent appointment to the SVU faculty.
“I saw not only a talented and proven writer share the wisdom of the writing craft,” said Cluff, “but also a gifted teacher who could explain process with precision, and provide toughly honest and astute critiques with tact and detailed clarity that motivated higher performance among the participants.”
Cluff decided at the workshop that Card, who holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Utah, should be invited to teach literature as well as writing courses.
“I was also impressed by the range of his reading and his broad intellectual grasp of period styles and genres of literature,” Cluff explained.
“He used literary works as examples representing a wide range of texts from both classic and modern literature, as well as popular titles. I knew almost immediately that not only was he a great teacher of writing, but of literature as well.”
An Old Team Reuniting
Card had already served as a visiting professor at SVU in the 2003-2004 academic year, co-teaching with SVU’s Drama Program Coordinator, Robert Stoddard – who also happens to be Card’s longtime collaborator on musicals like Stone Tables and Father, Mother, Mother and Mom.
Stoddard’s arrival at SVU has made it more convenient for him and Card to work on several projects – a new version of their 1973 musical drama Stone Tables, and musical adaptations of Card’s stories “Pageant Wagon” and “Feed the Baby of Love.”
Though Card lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, a three-hour commute each way, he plans to continue living there for the time being, and make the commute once a week. Teaching Tuesday through Thursday, Card will stay with Stoddards, so that his work as a professor can be combined with his collaboration with Robert Stoddard.
“If our collaboration can survive having me as a houseguest every week for months,” says Card, “then we’re going to have some terrific new work to show for it.”
But Card’s highest priority will be the teaching. “I’ve been teaching for years, and my students really do get better. But I always wanted a situation where I could specifically help LDS writers become more effective.”
What Can Students Expect?
Professor Cluff stated that as student interest grows, SVU will develop a professional writing program within the English major, to complement the current creative writing minor.
SVU also hopes to develop workshops and academic programs for “adults beyond the college level aspiring to be professional writers,” which will be scheduled “at times when they can participate.” That suggests an eventual program that meets at nontraditional times – on weekends and during vacations – for adults who want to improve their professional writing without having to quit their day jobs.
Cluff said, “I firmly believe time will reveal the significance of this decision as we watch the SVU professional writing program grow and a greater number of rising LDS literary artists achieve distinction.
“We are part of a distinct culture with a significant history that has compelling stories to tell, and this writing program at SVU will help our LDS writers learn to tell those stories in ways that audiences both within and without LDS culture will find convincing, rewarding, and even inspiring.”
According to Cluff, Orson Scott Card will continue his professional writing as and will continue conducting his summer writing workshops and Literary Boot Camps. SVU will host his summer workshops in 2006.