Thursday, July 14, 2005

Philip Lee Williams responds to a question

This post is in reply to a question Linda asked Phil in the comments section below his earlier contribution. After seeing it, I felt that we should put the response as a separate entry instead of in the comments because it's lengthy and thoughtful and will be of interest to NCCAT teachers.

If you look at the note about Phil under his original post, you'll see that he's a busy fellow, so I'm very glad he took the time to reply in full.

Phil has lots of interesting things happening with his books. He has a goodly number of paperback reprints of novels coming out, including a revival of his very first book. His twelfth book, a nonfiction book about "morning," was just accepted. And he didn't mention that winning The Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction for A Distant Flame is something that just happened. That's a national award sponsored by the United States Civil War Center at Louisiana State University. The presentation ceremony moves to a new region of the country each year, and Phil accepted his in Boston less than a month ago. Congratulations!


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Hi, Linda--

Getting students to focus on their work is always hard. Last spring semester, I had seven graduating seniors out of 15 students in an advanced creative writing class at the University of Georgia, and keeping them on target was hard.

In general, I think it's a matter of the teacher's genuine love of the material and the students--something that can't be faked. Brother, have I had bad days when I was miserable at it. But most of the time, they aren't going to be any better than I am, so I wildly over-prepare--have backup plans if they are half asleep. I meet with all my students individually at least once during the semester and encourage them to come by during office hours. I also send them two or three e-mails a week as a group to encourage camaraderie.

I'm also pretty scrupulous about not letting workshop get rough--I encourage constructive criticism but will cut off nasty comments instantly--if it's personal, it won't be tolerated.

If I see a student who's struggling, I'll ask her or him to stay after class, and I'll listen or talk. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to talk to women students who have just broken up with boyfriends and are quitting everything. Just listening gets them back on track most of the time--and letting them know I care.

My general advice is to make each class period as intense as everyone can stand. Don't be afraid to be rapturous about texts or to follow the flow of a conversation as long as it reasonably has something to do with the subject.

Hope this helps!

Phil Williams


Anonymous Linda K said...

I agree, "ya gotta love'em before ya can teach'em." It took me awhile to realize that I could get a whole lot more out of students' writing if I took the time to get to know who they were.
Thanks Phil. Goodluck with all your writing projects and cCONGRATS! on the Shaara Award. LindaK

12:52 PM  

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