Award-Winning Author to Join GW

GW’s English Department gains a Pulitzer Prize winner.

April 12, 2010

By Jennifer Price

Beginning in January, GW students will be able to take creative writing classes from a Pultizer Prize-winning author.

A Washington native, Edward P. Jones will officially join GW’s English Department in September and will begin teaching classes in January.

“I consider this to be one of the best things to happen to the department,” says Jeffrey Cohen, English professor and director of the GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute. “We’re going to have one of the best creative writing programs in the country.”

Famous for winning a 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his novel “The Known World,” Mr. Jones has also won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the National Book Critic’s Circle award, the Lannan Literary Award, a MacArthur “genius grant” and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. In addition to “The Known World,” a story of a free black man who owned slaves, Mr. Jones has written two other books, “Lost in the City” and “All Aunt Hagar’s Children,” both of which are collections of short stories.

“Mr. Jones’ interest in craft, combined with his absolute dedication to his art, make him a force to be reckoned with in the classroom,” says Gayle Wald, GW’s English Department chair and English professor. “Our undergraduates are lucky to have access to a writer of his caliber.”

Because creative writing seminars are capped at 15, the students will have a unique opportunity to interact with and learn from Mr. Jones.

“I’m really excited about teaching,” says Mr. Jones, who received his bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and earned a master’s in fine arts at the University of Virginia. “There’s a certain sharpness that you keep by teaching.”

Mr. Jones, who will be an English professor in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, will teach during the spring semester each year.

Mr. Jones’ teaching might seem unorthodox.

He doesn’t use textbooks, and he doesn’t give reading assignments. His only requirement is that students write two to three stories (at least 55 pages each) per semester. What they write about is up to them.

“I figure if I’m teaching a writing class, and the students are committed enough to want to write, they should be reading on their own. If they come to class asking what to read, they’re probably in trouble,” says Mr. Jones, who has taught at several other universities including the University of Virginia, Princeton University and the University of Maryland. “They should be creative enough to come up with their own stories. If you want to be a writer, you go out and write.”

Mr. Jones meets with students one-on-one, offering suggestions for their short stories or novel chapters before they present to their peers.

“You can’t teach creative writing. I’m more of an editor and a cheerleader,” says Mr. Jones. “You can teach someone that two plus two is four, and that will always be the case. But creative writing is creative.”

This will not be Mr. Jones’ first time teaching at GW.

In spring 2009, Mr. Jones became the university’s first Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary English Literature. 

“He definitely challenges students. He wants them to really work their hardest and try their best,” says Dr. Cohen. “And he’s such a phenomenal writer. He has really shaped literary history.”

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