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One of the Best Classes at Princeton: Creative Writing 201

April 2, 2020
Richard Ma

One of my favorite classes at Princeton is “CWR201: Creative Writing – Poetry,” a class I’m taking with Professor Jenny Xie. As a computer science engineering student, I’m often deluged with problem sets and programming projects. However, I’ve always been a writer at heart. In high school, I was heavily involved in poetry, and I would often use writing to reflect and recoup.

I tried to continue my writing habits on campus, but, at times, I would struggle to find the time and headspace. I also wanted to push my work in new directions and challenge my writing paradigms.

CWR201, and Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing in general, is excellent in this regard. Every Tuesday afternoon, in a brightly lit classroom overlooking Maya Lin’s new earthwork installation, I participate in a three-hour seminar alongside seven other students. I know three hours seems like a long time, trust me I had my reservations! But from Professor Xie’s opening words, I was totally absorbed. Students in every section of CWR201 work with and learn from distinguished poets: as an award-winning and published poet, Professor Xie brings valuable experience and wisdom for anyone interested in the poetry community. She also has a way with words that’s incredibly refreshing after so many hours of boiled-down technical terminology experienced in computer science classes.

Everyone in the class, too, has unique voices. We all came in with varying levels of experience with poetry, making our class atmosphere diverse and relaxed. Each week, we read deeply into a poetry packet organized around different themes, in addition to devoting time to workshopping each other’s poems.

Having a class where the only assignments are to read wonderful contemporary poetry and write your own, was exactly what I needed. I’ve been writing a lot more recently, creating words that I feel proud of. In the relentless forward movement of Princeton, it’s sometimes necessary to sit down and reflect. Throughout my ten weeks in class, I’ve found new ways of expressing myself, and through thoughtful workshop feedback from my professor and classmates, I’ve delved deeper into what I’ve written. One of my proudest moments this year was when I had my work from class published in The Nassau Weekly, one of Princeton’s main campus publications.  

Because CWR201 is graded on a Pass/D-Grade/Fail basis only, it’s a class where students are encouraged to take risks and push boundaries. It doesn’t demand much of your time, but you’ll find that the time you do spend yields so much. I’ve created poetry I’m proud of, made new friends and connected with a professor I truly respect. If that’s not what Princeton is about, then I don’t know what is.