Creative Writing grads brings visions to life

Creative Writing grads brings visions to life

Taylor M. Polites' “The Rebel Wife” was published in Simon & Schuster earlier this year, fulfilling his longtime dream of being a published novelist.

Bill Thomas, A&E Editor

From novels to stage plays to motion pictures, graduates from Wilkes’ Creative Writing program aren’t letting their degrees go to waste.

In their heads, it’s all so clear. The images are vivid, the characters as real as people in the flesh. It’s not always easy, though, for writers to translate the things they see in their mind’s eye onto paper.

That’s where Wilkes University’s low-residency Creative Writing MA/MFA program comes in.

“I grew up down South, in Alabama,” Taylor M. Polites said. “I went to college in St. Louis to study history and French. Then I moved to New York City and ended up working in finance for 13 years, but I always wanted to write novels.”

Polites, who now lives in Providence, R.I., graduated the program with his MFA in 2010. His first novel, “The Rebel Wife,” about the struggles of a Civil War widow, was published by Simon & Schuster earlier this year.

While the idea behind “The Rebel Wife” predates history-buff Polites’ enrollment at Wilkes, Polites nevertheless said it was the Creative Writing program that helped him refine the skills he needed to bring his long-held vision to life.

“It was great to go down to my basement and write every day. I was making progress and I was writing things, but it was in a bubble,” Polites said. “I had this anxiety of wondering ‘Am I doing this right? Is what I’m writing making sense? How can I understand the quality of the work I’m doing?’ I began to realize the kind of support and feedback I could get from a community of writers.”

“Community” is a word that seems to pop up a lot when talking to graduates of the program. And quite the sizable community it is, named by literary organization Poets & Writers as the largest program of its kind in the country.

The program currently has 79 full-time and 11 part-time students enrolled, instructed by 30 faculty members in five tracts: fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, playwriting and screenwriting.

The faculty line-up covers every aspect of the writing world, from editors and published authors – like Beverly Donofrio, whose memoir “Riding in Cars with Boys” was turned into a movie of the same name starring Drew Barrymore – to literary agents and film producers.

“A lot of the programs I looked at before Wilkes’ didn’t offer screenwriting,” Jonathan Rocks, of Philadelphia, said, noting the wide range of styles and genres the program covers.

Rocks finished the program in 2009 and has since had a screenplay he wrote in it, called “Luke Whimsey,”optioned by New York-based production company Triboro Pictures, who will take the script to this year’s American Film Market at the end of October to seek funding.

“My expectations were more than met, they were exceeded,” Rocks said of the program. “I came out of an undergraduate program and I expected something similar, just more specific. What I found instead was more of a true writers’ community, which is what I think (program founders) Bonnie Culver and Mike Lennon have strived for since the beginning.”

There’s that word again, “community.” All despite students and faculty often being separated by miles, if not entire states.

For Laurie Powers, who lives in Shreveport, La., one of the most attractive things about the Creative Writing program was its balance of in-person and distance learning: Creative Writing students visit Wilkes’ campus for two eight-day periods in January and June every year. The rest of the work is done via Internet.

“I love the low-residency program, because you do get some face-to-face contact,” she said. “That’s something I wanted, but I didn’t want to quit my job to go back to school and I didn’t want to do everything online either.”

Powers has done visual effects work on many major motion pictures written by other people, including “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Men in Black 3.” Looking to develop her own screenwriting further, she recently received her MA through the program, and is pursuing an MFA.

“Killing Time,” one of Powers’ own screenplays, which she wrote in the program, was recently made into a short film that is now a finalist in the Louisiana Film Prize festival, due to take place this coming weekend. Passionate about working in mediums outside of film as well, though, Powers’ MA thesis was a stage play called “Spirit Medium.”

Telling the story of supposed psychic Mina Crandon, who is best-known today for her early 20th century clashes with Harry Houdini, “Spirit Medium” has since had readings in Los Angeles and New York City. Another play Powers wrote, “The Trunk,” was staged at the Virginia Playwrights’ Forum last November.

All of these things, Powers said, may never have happened if it weren’t for her participation in the program.

“Before I went in, I liked to write but I wasn’t really disciplined to write. Going through the program really puts you in the mindset of being a writer and writing every day,” she said.

“It helps you understand how to start a project and how to finish it and how to get through all the hard stuff in the middle that a lot of people give up on.”