David Crouse is an award-winning short story writer and teacher. His collection of short fiction, Copy Cats, received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction in 2005 and was nominated for the Pen-Faulkner the following year. A second collection, The Man Back There, was published in 2008 by Sarabande Books and was awarded the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction.
His stories have appeared in some of the country’s most well regarded journals, including Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, The Greensboro Review, The Southern Review, Chelsea, Quarterly West, and The Beloit Fiction Journal. His comic book writing has been anthologized in The Darkhorse Book of the Dead, published by Darkhorse Comics.
David is a fan of a stylistically diverse group of writers. These include Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, James Salter, Philip K. Dick, Mary Robison, John Cheever, James Baldwin, Donald Barthelme, Grace Paley, and Sherman Alexie. His current projects include I’m Here: Alaska Stories, Bloodless, a novel about human trafficking, and a collection of novellas entitled Trouble Will Save You. He lives in Seattle, Washington, where he works as an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at The University of Washington.
Teaching Philosophy and Practice
As a teacher of writing, it is my responsibility to combine the instruction of craft with the exploration of the fundamental questions at the heart of a liberal arts education—questions that explore what it means to be human. Although the image of the isolated artist is a strong one in our culture, I believe that writing can and should connect us to the larger world, and that it is the job of the writing workshop to assist an apprentice writer in complicating and solidifying these connections. I do this in my instruction through the teaching of a wide variety of authors—Toni Morrison, Sherman Alexie, Yasanuri Kawabata, James Baldwin, Don Delillo—but also through rigorous adherence to a process-centered approach that treats students as individuals.
Marcus Aurelius insisted that to become world citizens we must not simply amass knowledge. We must also amass within ourselves the capacity for sympathetic imagination that will enable us to comprehend the motives and choices of people different from ourselves. The practice of fiction writing within a liberal arts education is especially good at nurturing this kind of imagination because it is, by its very nature, an art form that should promote flexibility of thought. A work of fiction has the ability to situate us in the mind of another person, a character who might superficially be unlike us, and in so doing, it should blur the line between what we see as self and what we see as other. The writer and conservationist Rick Bass puts it well when he says, “Art is an engagement of the senses; arts sharpens the acuity with which emotions, and the other senses, are felt or imagined. Good fiction breathes possibility, which is to say that it also breathes a kind of diversity.”
A process-centered approach that emphasizes feedback and revision can be a powerful tool to develop not only polished stories, but students with sympathetic imaginations. For this process to work to its fullest capacity, classroom discourse has to be democratic, and each student must be encouraged to offer their own unique perspective to the group. In reacting to a discussion that reflects a plurality of opinions and backgrounds, the writer is put in a position where they must utilize important critical thinking skills. They must question and clarify their own aesthetic sense, as well as judge and assimilate a variety of approaches to their work and the work of others. Ultimately this process should hone each writer’s unique voice and empower him or her to write outside of a structured college environment.
It is my role as a teacher to shape these discussions in a manner that walks a fine line: open discourse should never be sacrificed for easy clarity, and confusion should never result from openness. It’s important that I be a strong presence in the discussion, but I see myself as much as a guide as a teacher. In the best workshops, when students are comfortable with the process, I can present the issues and then step back and watch the conversation move in different directions, pushing it here, nudging it there. In my Introduction to Fiction course, for example, I often critique two student stories in one hour and a half session; the amount of time given to the conversation allows for real depth of discussion. Connections can be made to other works the class has read that semester and various possibilities can be introduced and then discarded or adopted, depending on the value the class sees in them. We can discuss characters not only as collections of words and motivations, but also as ideas.
I profoundly enjoy teaching and I am consistently impressed by the quality of work I see from young writers. Some criticism has been leveled against the “workshop method” as producing finely polished, generic art—vacuous stories with every ‘T’ crossed—but I would have to disagree. My students consistently produce work that is unique and interesting. I feel that there is something important at stake in expressing one’s individuality, and in creating fictional people that evoke strong emotions. If we can feel sympathy for a fictional character—if we can understand them through a story—then does this allow us to understand neighbors, strangers, and so on? I think it does, and this gives my teaching a sense of urgency that renews itself each semester.