Commentaries - May 2010
Lately I've been reading the blog of the Beinecke Library, called "Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities." I took special note of a recent gift made to the Beinecke: H.D.'s writing desk. Its provenance seems significant, but no one knows for sure. H.D. biographer Barbara Guest: "Said to be Christina Rosetti’s, it may originally have belonged to Empress Eugenie, who spent several years in exile in England. Bryher bought the desk for H. D. at the estate sale of Violet Hunt” (Herself Defined, 56). In the photo of the desk, in its new place in New Haven, we see a portrait H.D.'s friend and literary executor (and longtime Yale English faculty member) Norman Holmes Pearson.
The apprenticeship program began taking shape in 2002, when faculty member and novelist Max Apple approached Al Filreis, the director of the Kelly Writer’s House. Apple had been at work on a short-story collection, and was looking for a fresh reader who could offer some perspective on how to organize it. “I thought, we’ll call this an apprenticeship, and we’ll put the word out about it,” says Filreis.
Then he went one step further. He decided to form a new program, and found two other faculty members working on their own projects who could use some help. As soon as word got out, “the students applied in droves,” he recalls. “They wanted this.”
After all, this sort of real world “lab experience” is already available to students in the hard sciences. “Typically, the physics student realizes that his own professor is actually working on some very important, cutting-edge research,” he says, and from that point there’s a well-defined path for the student trying to get from the classroom to doing advanced research in a working lab. The apprenticeship model provides the missing link for a writing student trying to make the leap from an undergrad workshop class to the professional craft. “I think with this program we’ve proved … there is such a thing as advanced research experiences in the world of writing,” he says.
By establishing the Bassini Apprenticeships under the umbrella of CPCW, these courses could become credit bearing, says Filreis. The center is devoted to pedagogy that “really works” for the education of young writers, including experiences that might not necessarily take place inside a traditional classroom. “We believe very firmly that students learn best when they are essentially getting a one-on-one experience,” Filreis says, a philosophy that he compares to the intimate size of the Kelly Writer’s House. The largest room can barely hold a few dozen audience members, and “more often it’s one person talking to five people,” he says. “Narrow that down to its extreme, it’s one person talking to one person.”