UTSC faculty and students gathered virtually last Wednesday to welcome the campus’ newest program: a major in creative writing. It is the first undergraduate major in creative writing, which encompasses fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction, to be offered at any U of T campus. The major will be offered starting this year.

The event, held via Zoom, featured creative readings from S. J. Sindu, Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, and Randy Lundy, who are published writers and the program’s newest faculty members. The event was hosted by the supervisor of the creative writing program, author Daniel Scott Tysdal.

In an email to The Varsity, Tysdal stressed the importance of teaching creative writing at the university level, especially “in the context of our current political, health, and environmental crisis.”

Tysdal added, “In [creative writing] classes, we learn how to tell our stories and share our experiences in gripping, artful, and rewarding ways, empowering us and our communities.” He explained that, aside from learning to write effectively, students are taught to “[listen] with care… attending to others and the world with sensitive and critical eyes.”

“This is something I have witnessed again and again with UTSC [creative writing] students and graduates,” Tysdal wrote. “When we are empowered with these skills, we can now empower others; we can teach them how to share their stories and experiences.”

Tysdal has been a full-time faculty member at UTSC since 2009. Though he also teaches English literature courses, Tysdal has been vital in advocating for creative writing at the university. He has been an editor, contributor, and publisher of UTSC’s creative writing club, which is referred to as COW, and is the faculty advisor of The Scarborough Fair, a campus student journal.

Tysdal also designed a minor in creative writing program that was implemented at UTSC in 2013. The creative writing minor is also available at UTM.

Prior to the creative writing major, students were required to have a portfolio of creative work to be considered for enrolment in any creative writing course. This year, UTSC has implemented a new class, ENGA03 — Introduction to Creative Writing, which must be completed by students before applying to the major. Other application requirements include submitting a 15–20 page portfolio of creative work, a cover letter, and obtaining four degree credits from U of T.

Once admitted to the program, students are required to complete 7.5 creative writing credits. Two of these credits must be C- or D-level courses.

Due to extra space in courses, creative writing professors are allowing second-, third-, and fourth-year students to apply to upper-year classes via portfolios, a policy of which many students have taken advantage. In written responses to The Varsity, second-year students Joseph Donato and Isla McLaughlin shared their experiences taking creative writing classes.

“It’s unlike anything I have taken prior,” McLaughlin wrote. “The professors ensure workshopping opportunities are not lost because of the circumstances. Furthermore, the professional atmosphere in which drafts are submitted and revised, with clear deadlines and plans for resubmission, mirrors that of what I imagine the world of writing to be.”

Donato wrote, “I’m thankful I made the decision to apply to the new creative writing major, and I encourage anyone who has an interest in taking their writing to the professional level to join me and an entire community of others like them.”