Weekender | Campus literary culture is exclusive, lacks creativity
Tufts groups form to remedy lack of inheritable literary culture
Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 13:02
Last spring, the annual Tufts Idea Exchange (TEX) conference -- a TED-X style lecture series in which select Tufts students and faculty share their thoughts on various creative subjects -- included a lecture by Molly Wallace (LA ’13) titled “Putting the ‘Arts’ Back in Liberal Arts.” In her talk, Wallace, the founder and former editor-in-chief of the Tufts Canon, spoke about the lack of inheritable literary culture at our university.
Tufts, which proudly advertises itself as a bastion for creative young adults to collaborate and grow, has a few different identities that are constantly in conflict. There is the liberal arts version of Tufts -- an identity that includes campus publications like the Zamboni and the Public Journal: quirky, exciting ventures not necessarily geared towards those seeking a serious literary environment. There is also the research university version of Tufts that the administration is eager to promote in order to elevate the school’s ranking and academic prestige. But in between these two identities lies a confused place, a place filled with a slew of campus publications and clubs. Here, things initially appear open and accessible, but oftentimes, they prove to be disappointing.
Where does this conflict leave earnest students interested in joining the creative sphere? Wallace argued that it left them bereft of a campus culture. This past semester, almost as if in response to Wallace’s plea for a community in this vein, two groups sprung up that challenge campus notions of creative success and collaboration.
Parnassus, an arts and literary collective that focuses on work-shopping poetry and prose, and the Spoken Word Alliance at Tufts (SWAT) were both formed by students who couldn’t quite find their niche in the creative community at Tufts. Julia Malleck, a sophomore and the president and founder of Parnassus, came to Tufts expecting to find a burgeoning literary community that was open to all. Unfortunately, Malleck found the environment on campus to be stifling: to her, the Tufts Observer seemed like a processing mill -- finding work, editing it and then publishing -- while Tufts Canon was too raw and unedited.
“I didn’t feel like there was a forum for me to write and share, or to work on my writing,” Malleck said. In response to her experience, Malleck dedicated herself to the creation of an accessible forum for writers and artists of all skill levels to come together and share or create new work.
In a similar vein, freshman and Daily editorialist Jonathan Jacob Moore was inspired to create SWAT while scouring the Internet for spoken word clubs at Tufts. A native of Detroit who grew up with spoken word as a popular outlet of expression, Moore was shocked to find that Tufts lacked not only a team to compete at spoken word conferences, but also a spoken word club at all. Moore, determined to make substantial progress before he arrived on campus, used Facebook to find interested incoming students and create a group specifically for spoken word poets.
“It’s coming out of ... the fact that there’s a huge absence of spoken word presence on campus,” Moore said as to the inspiration for the creation of SWAT.
Using the social networking site, Moore was able to bring together students from all backgrounds to participate in the creation of Tufts’ first ever spoken word collective. Moore, currently the president of the club, is particularly cognizant of creating an environment conducive to the discussion and debate of challenging social topics -- and the medium of spoken word is certainly a medium famous for addressing issues surrounding social justice, race, class, gender and sexuality among others.
Role in the Tufts community
Both Parnassus and SWAT have, since their respective inceptions, been eager to reach out to students who may not consider themselves particularly artistic or literary. This goal, however, has been difficult to achieve; last November, both Parnassus and SWAT were denied recognition by the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate. In the case of SWAT, the denial came down to misfiled paperwork and, ultimately, confusion among several leaders. For Parnassus, however, the case was much more subjective.
“The second TCU heard ‘publication’ they just shut down,” Malleck said. “I don’t think that they realize that when we say ‘collective’ we mean we want people to be able to meet to workshop, to exchange -- the publication is a byproduct and not the end goal of the club.”
Since failing to be recognized, Parnassus has been unable to reserve spaces for its weekly club meetings or recruit relevant speakers to come to campus. Much like SWAT, the ultimate aim of Parnassus is to get students at Tufts invested in stimulating, creative dialogue without the pressure of publication or the more hierarchial structures that often exist within other campus groups or literary journals. Indeed, both Malleck and Moore spoke exhaustively about their desire to create a sustainable literary and arts community by fostering the talents of students from all disciplines and interests.