Visiting Writer Jenny Boully Teaches Structural Cooperation

Jenny Boully Reading

by Tim Thomas, English Department Ambassador

Last week, Miami University’s graduate creative writing program welcomed Jenny Boully, author and associate professor at Columbia College Chicago. Boully spent much of her time in Oxford teaching an intensive four-day sprint course in creative nonfiction.

"We looked at beginnings and endings in various literatures. While we looked at some nonfiction texts, we also looked at some beginnings and endings of poems, short stories, and novels," Boully said. "We discussed what beginnings and endings should do and how they affect the overall feel of a work."

The course met for two hours each day from April 5 to April 8. Throughout the week Boully encouraged the class to analyze the structural roles within writing with a focus on introduction and conclusion.

During the course’s first session, students were asked to read the bookends of a piece of writing then tasked with identifying its genre. Later in the week they were also prompted to analyze differences between the original and revised conclusion of Annie Dillard’s nonfiction essay Death of a Moth.

Jenny Boully

"I had never considered just how much impact small syntactic changes could have on the tone and emotional takeaway of a piece," fourth-year creative writing student Eric Rubeo said.

Additionally, Boully read a selection of poems that dealt with various themes including adolescence, race, and sexuality on Wednesday night at the Miami University Bookstore. She said that the chosen pieces exemplified what she thinks beginnings and endings should do.

Assistant Professor TaraShea Nesbit appreciated Boully's use of structure during the readings, "There's something really exciting... It creates this tension where I’m thinking about what the connection is to the author."

Afterward, Boully talked to the audience about the blurring of genre, her love affair with Gertrude Stein, and joked about the continued symbolic use of cats within her work.

Boully concluded the sprint course by holding individual meetings with each student to discuss their personal compositions, which had been submitted prior.

"The students at Miami University, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, were a joy to work with and an impressive bunch," Boully said. "I think that kind of diversity is crucial to creating a stellar creative writing atmosphere."