In Defense of the Writer In Residence

Chera Hammons. Photo Credit: Daniel Miller

West Texas A&M University employs a writer in residence. As a WT alum, this is a source of pride when I speak about my education, but admittedly, I’m a little wistful. This position didn’t exist when I was a student there. I wish it had. Despite studying great works of literature by writers from all ages and all over the world; despite pursuing a course of study focused on writing, there wasn’t anybody from our area with whom I could have had a conversation. There were simply writers I read who lived elsewhere or in some other time. As one writer I know said as he expressed his frustration with this area: “Writers around here either languish or leave.”

Currently, the office of writer in residence is ably filled by Chera Hammons, award-winning poet, novelist, educator, and advocate for our area in the larger literary world. Recently, that position has been under scrutiny from a new administration who has to make tough budget decisions. This has me wondering about the value this position holds.

WT was founded in 1910 to train and supply teachers for the burgeoning Panhandle population. In the subsequent century, WT has increased the local human resource by training young people to specifically address the needs of our area in business, agriculture, engineering, nursing, and technology. WT also has the Sybil B. Harrington College of Fine Arts producing, among other things, writers.

Good writers, or writers of a beneficial imagination, flourish on the same resources as writers of bad imagination. For every credentialed, large-hearted Chera, there are also a hundred online commentators producing noxious reactions. Our local university should subsidize a writer, especially of Chera’s talent, to indicate that certain types of stories should be valued above others.

Ag producers are subsidized to produce five specific crops because they feed and clothe the world. One-fifth of these crops produced in America are grown in our High Plains region. The subsidies provide stability for producers to weather fluctuating markets and fickle circumstances. Surely, we believe our stories, our view of the world, would also benefit the imagination of America. The Texas Panhandle could produce a Twain, a Dickinson, and a Hawthorne if they had the margin to write without being harried by the market. Subsidizing a single writer to produce, as well as supplement the instruction of a team of professors, is a minimal investment that has far-reaching benefits for our region, and ultimately the university who made the investment.

If you’re interested in writing on Chera’s behalf, you can email Dr. Neil Terry (Provost of WTAMU), or Jessica Mallard (Dean of the Humanities).

Correspondence

I have been bestowed with the pleasure and special grace of corresponding with a few people in my life. Email is the the wrong medium; although, that’s the form it takes. How is it that the same inbox contains a thousand advertisements, a few tedious meetings being scheduled, a steady supply of rejections, and very occasionally a letter from a friend that must have taken hours in the composition and a lifetime for the understanding (but also, beautifully, a schedule for a meeting)?

One man’s attention to the world around him conveyed in the grammar of his note begs me to raise my attention. I cannot write rote sentences in reply; it would be an ingratitude for the gift. The proper register is not a missive, but poetry. If, in the infinite variables of time and taste, there are people who read what I write, I’d lay these letters next to anything else I’ve written. If, as the canon of Scripture maintains, that letters written between people could be the breathed Word of God, then I’d hope that these letters last forever.

Each click that tosses an email into the virtual trash robs me of time to respond in kind to my friend, but I suppose I have all the time there is.

Happy New Year

Hello all that may be reading this on a social media outlet. In 2020, I’ll take time off from the normal social media retinue. There are reasons which are well documented by everyone who decides to take time off from social media.

I’ll write more at this website, which will post to those accounts, but I will not be checking Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Right now, those accounts exist to point people back here where I hope to write longer thoughts.

If you’d like to get in contact with me, then please reach out to sethwieck (at) gmail (dot) com.

Critics

For an art scene to flourish, there have to be good critics. I’d bank that they’re as vital to local art thriving as the artists. They criticize when work comes up short and call the artists to better realize their ideas. They also understand the context in which art was created, so the work can be exported to an audience that wouldn’t have otherwise appreciated it.

I don’t know what Tom Mooney thinks of my stories, but I’m glad he has a copy.

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