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Science and creativity converge in writing course

By Margo Fritz ‘15

The block plan is perfect for English. I get to dive headfirst into my favorite thing in the world: reading and writing. I learn from professors who are experts in a wide range of literary periods and topics and surround myself with fellow students who want nothing more than to talk about the things I love to talk about. And I don’t have to emerge for three and a half weeks!

Margo Fritz contributes to the discussion in the creative writing course taught by visiting writer Sandra Beasley (left).

Margo Fritz adds to the discussion in the creative writing course Stranger Than Fiction, taught by distinguished visiting writer Sandra Beasley (second from left).

The only problem? Sometimes I get so sucked into the wonderful literary culture at Cornell, I forget about the other stuff. I took an environmental science class during second block and remembered how much I love learning about the mechanics of my world. But science courses could never compare to English. Or so I thought.

Stranger than fiction

In Block 3 I took Stranger than Fiction: Creative Non-Fiction Writing About the Sciences. It was taught by Sandra Beasley, a visiting professor and author of a memoir and cultural history of food allergies called “Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl,” as well as two collections of poetry.

This was the first time I realized how beautifully science and creative writing can merge.

We spent our time researching hard, working to understand the science behind topics of our choice. Work-shopping my peers’ pieces was so exciting. They addressed subjects such as terror, the planets, and daylight savings time, and with Sandra’s help they wrote poetically, hilariously, and informatively about each of them.

I learned about how the human body responds to disease as I wrote about African sleeping sickness, which essentially turns people into zombies before killing them. And as I wrote about the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, I came to understand the science of nuclear energy and the politics behind it.

Insights into the world of publishing

As a working author, Sandra also had the ability to clue us into the reality of the publishing world. She walked us through the steps she took prior to the publication of her books, and having both written and edited many freelance articles, she was able to show us the process from both sides.

Sandra helped us shrink the gap between college writing and real-world writing. “School teaches us to write a ton,” she said. “The real world asks us to write less, and write it better.”

She shaped the class around this philosophy, helping us polish two essays and a book review instead of asking us to churn out fifteen pieces we wouldn’t have time to edit and perfect.

With my newfound comfort with science writing and understanding of the publishing world, I feel more prepared to apply for internships, write more of my own work, and—the most difficult task of all for a spirited Cornellian—face life after college.