Bob Matthews, criminal justice student, and Liz Komarek, veterinarian technology student, car pooled and hit the road in Bob’s truck last fall to Lakeland College near Sheboygan, Wis., to meet up with inspiring authors at the 2012 Great Lakes Writers Festival, including their creative writing teacher and featured writer, me, Jodie Liedke.
Why did they travel almost four hours? . . . For an experience.
I had initially invited all my creative writing students to join me once I was asked to be a featured writer by Karl Elder, The Jacob and Lucile Fessler Professor of Creative Writing at Lakeland College, who was and still is my mentor.
I wanted my students to have the opportunity to experience writing alongside passionate professionals that were actively writing. When I say “actively,” I mean they are living and breathing in this world. Dawn Hogue, Matthew Henriksen, Jean Kuehnel and I, all Lakeland College alumni, experienced this world while attending Lakeland. We had a community of writers we could bounce ideas off of. A writer needs an audience in order to really grow.
Lakeland College was a home for me at one point while I majored in writing and minored in English and communications. I had professors that encouraged me to look at the world in a fresh way, which I aspired to spark in my own students at Globe University-La Crosse. With this support, students grow into professionals as did I. When I returned to my alma mater and read from my working memoir, My Parents Met in a Mozzarella Factory, and poetry to an audience of over 100 people, I got an instant high. I had at one time as an undergraduate watched famous writers read their work in the very same spot I had, and now I had the opportunity.
During the second day, the featured writers, Lakeland College professors and I all went for lunch together, and surprisingly instead of wanting to talk about the festival, my past teachers wanted to talk about why I was teaching at Globe University.
“I love it,” I said. “I work with students who truly want to be there and look forward to a challenge in their writing and in their own lives.”
I went on to tell them story after story after story about memorable moments I’ve had in the Globe classroom. Had it not be for dessert, I would have kept going. It was then that I realized, as Karl Elder and Jeff Elzinga, two writers I had worked with at Lakeland College, were smiling, that I had moved from “student” to “teacher” in their eyes.
Bob and Liz not only sat in on the readings but also participated in workshops with myself and the other three writers and learned how to make their poetry and prose stronger. While participating in the prose workshop, Bob learned the great extent writers took to develop their characters.
“The fiction writers went to great lengths in order to define their characters and develop them fully,” Bob said. “Even minor characters were almost sculpted like avatars. Their inclusion in the story may only be a few paragraphs in total for the finished work, but the authors write a 20 or more page bio on them in order to learn their nuances and quirks. They create hobbies and childhood stories for them as well; this is all done with the knowledge that their character will be a stronger one–and the 20 pages will soon be discarded. I will never complain about writing big papers for class again.”
And, at the end of the day, when I took them out for supper and they presented me with a brick of aged cheddar as a thank you (I had labored in a cheese factory for four years to put myself through school), I knew how special it meant to be a teacher and to be their teacher because of their kind thoughts and appreciation for the experience.
I hope one day Bob and Liz will return to Globe University after they graduate, and I will get to hear them retell all their college stories, and perhaps read them when they are published.
This post was written by Jodie Liedke. Liedke, a true Wisconsinite, having labored four summers in a mozzarella factory, received her BA from Lakeland College and her Masters in Fine Arts from Wichita State University in Kansas. Liedke is the General Education and Service-Learning Coordinator, a Creative Quill and Writing Across the Curriculum lead, and the advisor/instructor for GLUWW (Globe La Crosse Writers Write). When not writing creatively, Liedke enjoys watching films, exploring the outdoors, and biking.