by Julie Lineback

Are writers born or made?

Jack Kerouac famously tackled the question for Writer’s Digest in 1962. In the article, he argued that masters of the art of writing have a natural gift bestowed at birth.

Person writingUniversity of West Georgia’s Dr. Chad Davidson disagrees.

“I think you cultivate it, just like any other skill,” he mused. “And that’s the unromantic, boring, easy-as-pie answer.”

Davidson, along with colleagues in the creative writing program of the Department of English at UWG, is in the profession of creating wordsmiths. The award-winning poet with countless publications in anthologies and journals has authored multiple books of poetry in addition to textbooks on the craft. He has been teaching at UWG since 2003 and now serves as associate professor and director for the College of Arts and HumanitiesSchool of the Arts.

“We have prepared an inordinate number of students for success in M.A., M.F.A. and Ph.D. programs – specifically in poetry,” he informed. “We’re teaching them transferable skills they then take to the workforce. They are becoming real writers.”

Trista Edwards ’08 ’11

Dr. Trista Edwards has always been in tune with her creative rhythm. Instead of bringing an object to second grade show-and-tell, she brought a poem.

Dr. Trista EdwardsBut the hobby didn’t grow into a true passion until years later in Davidson’s poetry workshop at UWG.

Choosing UWG for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees was an easy choice for Edwards. Having grown up in Douglasville, Georgia, she wanted to find a familiar place where she could still get a quality education.

After graduating from West Georgia, Edwards enrolled at the University of North Texas, where she received her Ph.D. in creative writing in 2017. She currently lives in Denton, Texas, where she utilizes her poetry background and education in a nontraditional way.

“A little over a year ago I shied away from academia and opened a small business,” she said. “I’ve been using my poetry as fuel and inspiration behind that.”

As owner of Marvel + Moon, an online candle shop, Edwards marries old poems with ancient mythologies – particularly female poets and goddesses. Having always been drawn to natural yet unusual items, she uses found objects such as feathers, soil and acorns to build up the inspiration with each candle she creates.

“I try to infuse storytelling into my candles,” she revealed. “It’s very much tied to being obsessed with words and languages – finding narrative in unexpected places. I love finding the beauty in those small things, taking that beauty and putting it into poetry.”

Edwards credits UWG for helping nurture her outside-the-box thinking and encouragement to grow as a writer.

“My business is young but has been successful in ways I wouldn’t have expected,” she concluded. “I love that I can take my creativity and everything I’ve learned at UWG and apply it in a nontraditional way.”

Diamond Forde ’14

Teenage angst brought out Diamond Forde’s creative side.

“The first poems I wrote were bad – the kind of poetry plagued with pseudo-deep abstractions and lots of sadness,” Forde described, “but they were expressions of my deep love for writing.”

Diamond FordeShe’d always considered writing for a living, but that consideration became a commitment while enrolled at UWG.

Having moved around often as a child, Forde said it was difficult to establish and maintain deep, meaningful relationships. That desire for a community is what drew her to West Georgia.

The size of the creative writing program allowed the students to form the kind of tight-knit relationships Forde had craved.

“We literally grew and learned together,” she recalled. “Writing wasn’t a career for any of us yet, so we could bond over our love for exploration and experimentation with language. We felt comfortable pushing ourselves to experiment because we knew we had peers who wouldn’t judge our failed attempts too harshly.”

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in English, Forde went to the University of Alabama (UA) to earn her M.F.A. She credits the UWG creative writing faculty with making the transition easier.

Today, Forde spends her time planning to pursue a Ph.D. at Florida State University, teaching creative writing courses at UA, and developing and pitching manuscripts. Her most recent writing projects focus on black-white intimacies, both personal and historical.

Forde also writes about her body image and associated societal perceptions and is motivated by an intense desire to have her voice heard.

“I’m constantly considering what it means to be a black, fat woman in spaces that are often racist, fat-phobic and sexist,” she concluded. “I think of it as reclamation of a body that’s often not allowed to be mine. Otherwise, I’m just writing poems. And if I never take the time to express my singularity, it will be lost forever.”

Jeffrey Peterson ’10

Eleven-year-old Jeffrey Peterson may not have known what a stanza was, but he sure wrote a lot of poetry.

Jeffrey Peterson“I had a teacher in sixth grade who made us create a poetry collection,” Peterson recalled. “I got really invested in it and started writing.”

Inspired by other people’s work, Peterson felt right at home at UWG. Workshops – in which creative writing students would share their poems and learn to give constructive feedback – allowed him to grow in his craft. The sessions also helped pave the way to successfully earning his M.F.A. at Sarah Lawrence College in 2013.

“It’s almost like we had a mini-M.F.A. program at UWG,” Peterson explained. “We would read other people’s work, go to readings and workshop once a month. Sarah Lawrence was entirely workshops, and some people weren’t prepared. Professors didn’t want to teach you how to workshop – they expected you to already know.”

Although Peterson said he’s not writing as much as he would like, his current roles keep him active in the field and his community.

In addition to serving as poetry editor for MadCap Review, a semiannual online journal of literature and art, Peterson is an instructor in the Department of English at UWG. While leading first-year students in English composition and personal growth classes, he tries to include poetry as much as possible.

To students who wish to follow in his footsteps, he offers the same advice teachers have given him since sixth grade – never stop writing.

“Keep up the momentum,” Peterson concluded. “It’s a lifelong process if you’re actually invested in it.”

Matthew Sherling ’08 ’10

Although already an avid reader, Matthew Sherling admits he wasn’t a fan of poetry. Going West changed his perspective.

“I became interested in writing poetry in Dr. Greg Fraser’s Introduction to Poetry class,” Sherling recalled. “Greg helped me start to love reading it, and his enthusiasm was contagious. Poetry seemed nearly religious to him. I started writing poems and sending them to him, and he was kind enough to help me make them better.”

Matthew SherlingAnd although Sherling would move on to receive his M.F.A. at San Francisco State University in 2012, he said the influence the creative writing program had on him and his career was insurmountable.

“My M.F.A. program at S.F. State, despite being full of great writer-professors, was underwhelming on a class level after experiencing UWG’s creative writing professors,” Sherling confessed. “At UWG, they care a lot about their students and are determined to come up with the most effective ways to teach creative writing.”

Sherling employed inspiration from his professors at UWG to create and publish two books of poetry and prose – 2014’s “Bring Me My Absolute Surrender” and 2017’s “Maybe We’re Here to Talk to Each Other.” In addition, he has two books awaiting publication and just began writing his fifth book of poems.

While enrolled at West Georgia, Sherling said he also learned the value of community that writers create together and the excitement accompanying that convergence. He continues to unite writers through his online literary magazine, Gesture, which he launched six years ago.

Sherling has published eight online issues and two print issues, the newest of which debuted this year. Some issues are solicitations only, and some include work that has been both solicited and submitted.

“Ideally, I wish to always maintain a blend between more established writers and up-and-coming writers whose work I find exciting – bold, playful and raw,” he explained.

One of Sherling's professors at UWG, Dr. Emily Hipchen, gave him advice that still resonates with him today and serves as a guiding force for his writing.

“She revealed to me that writing about my actual life can be interesting and fulfilling,” Sherling shared. “I’m inspired by the moments of discovery – interactions, overhearings, mishearings and situations that I encounter in the mundane world. Sometimes my writing can make me consciously aware of something that I was already unconsciously aware of – about me, the world, language or others.”

Eric Smith ‘04

Eric Smith was never interested in poetry until he met Davidson.

“Chad challenged me to write a poem,” Smith recalled. “When I saw how bad it was, I decided to write another. I’ve been trying to get better for 15 years.”

Eric SmithOne could argue that he has no reason to worry. As an assistant professor of English at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, Smith’s debut book of poetry – Black Hole Factory – won the 2017 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry.

And it hasn’t even hit the shelves yet.

“There's no ritual or silver bullet that makes writing happen,” Smith explained. “For me, writing creates a self-sustaining feedback loop, even when it's not going well. Just the doing of it tends to get me motivated, and inspires me to keep going.”

A Carrollton native and Honors College scholarship recipient, UWG was the only choice for Smith. He said every semester, there was an experience – be it a class or a visiting writer event or an issue of the Eclectic, UWG’s award-winning literary and art magazine – that clarified why he stayed home.

“Our professors and the department created incredible opportunities for students to become better writers and better literary citizens,” he shared.

But Smith said the most important lesson learned at UWG was how to maintain the gift of the craft and share it with others.

“The greatest gift my teachers at UWG gave me was their enthusiasm and ways of harnessing my own,” he concluded. “That I might recreate some of those experiences for my students is one of the reasons I teach.”

Posted on September 21, 2018