Putting the P back in WLP

by Beacon Staff • February 7, 2007

A lack of publishing classes at Emerson

Our view:

More classes add credibility to the writing, literature and publishing program,At Emerson, when a student enters the film program, he or she expects to work within the medium of film, and eventually does. Students studying performance perform. Those in the journalism program go out into the world and report.

But students entering the writing, literature and publishing program who intend to focus on publishing are often in for a big surprise.

While the "P" word may appear as one-third of the mouthful major, it is hardly represented as such. On Emerson's course listings for the current semester, which are still available to view on the school's Web site, six of the 22 different WP (Writing/Publishing) courses offered are devoted to publishing; there are 24 distinct literature classes. Of the six publishing courses, only two offer more than one section-leaving a whopping nine publishing possibilities, with seats for just 132 students.

In contrast, 46 sections of creative writing and 32 sections of literature courses offer seats to 570 and 725 students, respectively. According to Daniel Tobin, chair of the WLP department, there are approximately 550-600 undergraduates in the program.

Given that taking a publishing class is not even a requirement to earn a degree in WLP, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that so few courses are offered.

In order to graduate with a BFA, students must take at least five literature courses, five creative courses, a creative thesis, and three elective WP or LI courses. Certainly, those elective credits may go toward publishing classes if a student chooses, but the fact that the school does not require such courses is problematic.

If Emerson wants to be taken seriously for its publishing program, more classes need to be offered.

Students who want to graduate with some knowledge of the publishing world but know they cannot count on classes are forced to turn to other alternatives. A newly SGA-recognized organization called Undergraduate Students For Publishing fills some of the gap left by our school. The group often sponsors panel discussions, which are open to all students, featuring speakers who work in the industry. Some students seek internships with local publishing companies, such as Houghton Mifflin and Barefoot Books. Others get involved with on-campus publications like Gangsters in Concrete and The Emerson Review, which, while not the ideal way for students to gauge real-world, big-time publishing knowledge, provide students with an inkling of how the books they will one day read-and write-are made.

Ideally, Emerson should begin offering a comparable number of publishing to writing and literature courses, rounding out that rather emaciated "P" hanging on the end of a mostly WL degree. But for now, even the smallest of additions to the program would be a welcome change-more sections for each course, new courses, perhaps even an introductory-level class that gives students an overview of how their W, L and P work together in the real world.

Baby steps are okay, Emerson, as long as steps are taken.