An Exciting Multidisciplinary Approach

An Exciting Multidisciplinary Approach

In many institutions of higher education it is customary for faculty members to rotate through taking turns as the department heads. It’s no different at Columbia College Chicago. Starting in the Fall 2017 semester, exciting new leadership took effect in the English and Creative Writing Department (ECW).

Dr. Kenneth Daley took over as the Chair of the ECW Department while Dr. Jenny Boully has taken over as the Director of the MFA Programs in Creative Writing. I’ve had the privilege of taking classes with both Ken and Jenny, and their concern for their students is palpable. This genuine advocacy has transferred to their administrative agendas as well.


Administrators are sometimes called “pencil-pushers.” Writers often use pencils. The transition is seamless.

Ken Daley is a scholar of nineteenth century British literature. If you’re lucky his Illustrated Victorian Poetry course will be offered at some point during your Columbia experience. Besides being a student of Ken’s, I am his research assistant for his upcoming volumes of the annotated essays of Walter Pater, the nineteenth century critic and essayist. I knew nothing of Pater prior to my Columbia experience, but Ken’s enthusiasm for the author has turned me on to Pater’s philosophical principles of writing.

Jenny Boully, meanwhile, is a core faculty member for both creative nonfiction (CNF) and poetry. She has a new book out, Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life, from Coffee House Press. I’ve been Jenny’s student for both History of the Essay and Workshop, both CNF requirements. Jenny has a particular skill of giving feedback that is simultaneously critical and encouraging.

Equally modest about their academic and literary achievements, both Ken and Jenny are strong leaders with vision when it comes to needs of the ECW department, its administrators, faculty, and, especially, its students. Ken and Jenny favor a multidisciplinary approach to creative writing. Under their leadership there’s been a noticeable uptick in students from all three disciplines (Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, and Poetry) blending together in classes once reserved exclusively for students of one discipline. For example, I’m in a poetry workshop this semester as a substitution for a Form and Theory course and last semester both poetry and fiction students joined us CNF students in History of the Essay.

Betwixt-and-Between Cover

The cover of Jenny Boully’s forthcoming book.

I’m a big fan of this inclusion because, although my focus is nonfiction, there is much I can utilize from the frameworks of poetry and fiction in my writing. It gives me multiple scaffolds with which to work. A nice secondary effect of this multidisciplinary approach is that we get to retain a comradery and support network among all students who came in at the same time.

A final item of note is that several students including myself have been allowed to explore our interests in the other arts with independent studies of our own devising. This isn’t common, but with a well-thought out proposal and a faculty-member’s oversight, it is quite possible. One of my colleagues is exploring photography’s relation to writing while I’m doing a conceptual piece about the re-contextualization of meaning when words are paired with an interactive sculptural object.

Thanks to Jenny and Ken, and the leadership before their tenure who did some of this groundwork, it’s a great time to be a student at Columbia. It’s rare to remain as excited about education in one’s last semester of classes as it is in one’s first. But here I am, ending with a exclamation point!