The University of Tulsa’s Department of English and Creative Writing recently welcomed four Tulsa Artist Fellowship (TAF) participants as adjunct faculty members for the 2022-23 academic year: Kaveh Bassiri, George Henson, Quraysh Ali Lansana and J. Preston Witt. Each fellow will teach a section of Introduction to Creative Writing one semester and, in the other, an upper-level creative writing course that draws on their individual craft.
Individual TAF writers have taught courses at TU during the past few years and, through a project with the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities, served as mentors for English and creative writing students. “I am thrilled that we are now bringing this collaboration to a whole new level,” remarked Chapman Professor of English Laura Stevens, the department’s chair. “Thanks to funding from the Office of the President, we are now positioned to offer our majors as well as other students across the university an array of learning opportunities from a group of brilliant writers who represent an eclectic range of interests and expertise. I am also hopeful this venture will spawn further innovative collaborations.”
TAF’s executive director, Carolyn Sickles, is equally enthusiastic, noting the program “welcomes an expanded partnership with our cultural neighbor TU. Cultivating meaningful opportunities for awardee and student exchange deeply aligns with George Kaiser Family Foundation’s commitment to making Tulsa a place for inclusive and profound growth. We look forward to experiencing the impact of this arts-centered learning and mentorship in the year ahead.”
TU President Brad R. Carson believes deeply in the power of the arts and humanities to transform the college experience. “From poets and playwrights to novelists and adept literary translators, it is important that students have access to tenured professors and visiting faculty who enjoy varying levels of research projects, published works and teaching acumen,” he said. “The Tulsa Artist Fellows complement our exceptional resident faculty and provide students with the best of both worlds.”
Kaveh Bassiri is an Iranian-American writer and translator. Among his many publication credits are 99 Names of Exile, winner of the 2019 Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and Elementary English, which received the 2020 Rick Campbell Chapbook Prize. “Soon after moving to Tulsa, I worked with a talented student poet at TU and met some wonderful faculty,” Bassiri said. “Those experiences have made me very excited about teaching at the university this year.”
For his specialized offering, Bassiri is planning a new course called Research for Poets. “Poetry and research may seem to be contradictory pursuits,” he noted, “but a lot of good poetry comes out of an investigative process.” The kinds of research Bassiri has in mind include reading letters, documents and other poets, as well as interviewing people and visiting places. “Research provides information and introduces fresh ways of thinking about a topic, even if that topic is personal,” he said.
George Henson is one of the foremost translators of contemporary Latin American prose. His eight book-length translations are Cervantes laureate Elena Poniatowska’s The Heart of the Artichoke, Luis Jorge Boone’s Cannibal Night, Alberto Chimal’s The Most Fragile Objects and five books by Cervantes laureate Sergio Pitol.
“As a fifth-generation Tulsan, I’m honored to be able to be a part of TU’s legacy of excellence,” commented Henson. For the spring semester, Henson is deciding between offering two possible courses: literary translation and short-short fiction. “I am drawn to short fiction,” he said, “because as a genre it tends to receive short shrift, excuse the pun, in creative writing programs.”
The third member of TU’s TAF quartet is poet Quraysh Ali Lansana. Widely published, Lansana is the author of the skin of dreams: new and collected poems 1995-2018, The Walmart Republic (with Christopher Stewart), mystic turf and They Shall Run: Harriet Tubman Poems, among many others.
Saying he is “excited about working with new students and becoming more engaged with TU campus life,” Lansana plans to offer a course titled Writing on Greenwood, in which students will write poetry, nonfiction and children’s literature. It draws on Lansana’s extensive research on the evolution of the Greenwood District and its destruction: “My emphasis on the economic and cultural values of Greenwood residents examines the relationship of ideas and cultural values to a historic culture, and how it continues to inform North Tulsa currently.”
“I can’t wait to get to know my students and colleagues at TU,” remarked J. Preston Witt. A fiction writer, playwright and script consultant, Witt is currently at work on a novel. He is the recipient of the Able Muse Write Prize for short fiction and has recently published in Ninth Letter, The New Guard, Able Muse and elsewhere.
“The practice of creative writing has far more in common with dance or music than it has with studying literature or philosophy,” said Witt. “It is my (controversial) belief that a weak or dull first draft is rarely worth fixing, that a writer is better off attempting far more first drafts than edited final stories (10 to 1) and that such an approach is even more helpful for a student still trying to find her voice.” In his specialized course, Witt will lean into this philosophy to help his students strengthen their writing habits and narrative intuitions “by writing a lot, by taking one another’s early drafts very seriously and by training their writing instruments as if they were musicians.”
Don’t hold back – now’s the time to explore and express your unique creativity through poetry, fiction, literary translation and more!