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Writing as Warning
April 19, 2007 - 3:17pm


Some of you have written to ask how I, a writing teacher, feel about the creative writing connection in the Virginia Tech killings. I have many things to say but want to be very careful not to use this disaster to point fingers or advance a cause.

Fact is, there’s no connection between the killer and creative writing. It’s as inconsequential to what happened as his ethnicity. The usual media scramble for something to say after an event leads to a kind of implied causality. With his writing, the issue is culpability—if no one said anything after they read his words, then people died needlessly. But at least two writing teachers did voice their concerns, and the department head took what action she felt possible within the law. The police, a judge, and a mental health facility apparently all knew of this man. And people still died.

I’ve read his “plays” online. Any writing teacher used to reading amateurs’ writing by the ream could tell they represented a brainsick person, especially when combined with his classroom behavior. They do not look or sound like anything straining to be art, drama, or story. Without stupidly doing a poetics of pathological prose, I can say they remind me of the multiple raging voices that a schizophrenic cousin used to do alone in her kitchen, in the days before better medicines.

I’ll write more later on reacting to student writing that’s off, odd, or disturbing in less obvious and therefore more complicated ways. I’ve mentioned it before, in “Voice and View,” below, and I’m happy to elaborate. But discussion of the Virginia Tech disaster will be about policies for intervention when everyone knows there’s a problem, not about the creative writing classroom.


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