Students do not typically venture into the venerable Tucker Hall in search of Virginia Woolf. Upon first entering the building, one feels and smells the mystique and history of centuries of literature preserved by one of the oldest English departments in the country. Curious students are, perhaps, only looking for a dusty, specialty copy of “Mrs. Dalloway”, or for a conversation with a knowledgeable professor. Yet in a small office on the third floor, or in a classroom teaching lucky students in advanced seminars, one writer and visiting professor is aspiring to walk in Woolf’s footsteps.
p. The newest installment of the Scott and Vivian Donaldson writer-in-residence program has brought English-born poet and author Rosalind Brackenbury to the College. The program was first established in 1971 in an effort to bring a professional writer to the teaching staff. The writer-in-residence teaches two advanced seminars for students and provides a unique and varied perspective on writing and education.
p. “The writer in residence program is designed to bring a full time writer who can also teach, rather than a professor who can also write,” English professor and former writer-in-residence Nancy Schoenberger said. “We have professors who also write fiction or poetry, but as far as I know at that time we didn’t have anyone who was primarily a fiction writer or a poet.”
p. The program was founded by distinguished Professor Emeritus Scott Donaldson, who, along with his wife Vivian, provides the endowment fund for the program’s continuity and implementation. The opportunity to learn from a full-time, professional writer has met with considerable popularity among students, particularly those taking classes at the 400-level who may be aspiring writers or teachers.
p. “It’s been a very popular program, and it’s exposed students to what it’s like to be a full time writer — what your concerns are, how to discipline yourself, and how to organize your life as a writer,” Schoenberger said.
p. As the current writer-in-residence, Brackenbury is an accomplished author and poet who has published 11 novels and a series of other works. She is an experienced teacher as well, who lives and teaches freelance workshops in Key West, Fl.
p. Brackenbury has a diploma in education from London University, and has spent time teaching creative writing at Edinburgh University in Scotland. As a young writer, her aspiration was to become a novelist, much like her idol.
p. “I was really into Virginia Woolf,” Brackenbury said. “I basically wanted to be her. But it’s a very hard act to follow if you think you want to be that good — and I still struggle with that.”
While the standard is certainly high, an impressive resume of publications and several other writing jobs, including spending 10 years writing and editing book reviews for a small newspaper in England, is hardly struggling.
p. Thursday, Oct. 5, in the Tucker Auditorium, Brackenbury presented selected readings from her works. Her reading, which included both her writing and poetry, was very-well attended, according to Schoenberger, who was largely responsible for bringing the experienced writer to campus.
p. The reading included excerpts from her 11th and newest novel, “Wind, Storm and Flood,” a story about two former lovers, literally and figuratively blown back together by a hurricane in Key West.
Like her predecessors in the program, which include well-published authors Sam Kashner, Henri Cole and Christopher Brown — Brown’s book “The Father of Frankenstein” was the basis for the movie “Gods and Monsters,” which won best screenplay adaptation at the Academy Awards while Brown was in residence — Brackenbury has been able to draw on her own personal experiences as a writer in order to mold students in the classroom. She has not used any of her personal writing in the classroom as of yet, but teaching has enabled her to approach her work in a different manner.
p. “Teaching other people has sharpened things up for me,” Brackenbury said. “I’ll go back to my own work and I think, ‘Well, I was trying to teach someone about that last week.’ It sends me back to my own work with a sharpened critical awareness.”
p. Although she will be leaving the College at the end of this semester, her interactions with students have already had a lasting impact.
p. “I’m enjoying it very much,” Brackenbury said. “I’ve never had such good students.”