Potash Hill

Bronwen Tate Finds Permeability in Writing

By Emmett Wood

Bronwen Tate explains a close reading exercise during a writing class. Photo by Kelly Fletcher“This is a place where I don’t have to choose between the different interests that I have,” says Bronwen Tate, who joined Marlboro as writing professor in the fall. “Instead of feeling like I’m being pulled in too many directions or like I’m spreading myself too thin, I feel like I can do all this work and enjoy it.”

In keeping with the traditional flexibility and individuality that goes into classes at Marlboro, Bronwen plans on helping students hone their writing skills in the broadest of ways. In the fall she was already teaching several tutorials with seniors in their final semester, as well as a writing seminar on food and culture and a workshop course on narratology and narrative craft.

“I’ve been working with first-year students for the past three years,” says Bronwen, who came to Marlboro after teaching in Stanford’s interdisciplinary critical-thinking program, Thinking Matters. “So to work with students who are at different points along the way and to see the progress of students who have been with a project for a while is really great. I have students who haven’t done much creative writing at all, and others who are on Plan and have full novels under their belts. So I’m trying to bring everyone into the conversation, make it useful, not get anyone freaked out or make others bored.”

Bronwen received an AB in comparative literature from Brown University, then spent time in Italy teaching English as a second language before returning to Brown to complete an MFA in literary arts. After a year teaching community college in New York City, she went on to earn her PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University, with a dissertation titled “Large as Life: The Scale of Post-1945 American Poetry.”

While her workshop course last fall focused on narrative prose, Bronwen is a published poet. Various selections from her current poetry manuscript, Probable Garden, a recent finalist or semifinalist for several book awards, have appeared in journals including Denver Quarterly, Lit, and the Laurel Review, as well as in chapbooks Vesper Vigil and Like the Native Tongue the Vanquished. At Marlboro, Bronwen takes an interest in many forms of writing and enjoys bringing them together in diverse ways.

“I’m here to teach writing in a lot of different ways, and I’m excited to be in a place where there is this kind of permeability of writing, where creative writing isn’t over here and scholarly writing over there. I like to think across genres. I’m really interested in empowering students to write what they have a hard time putting language to, what feels urgent and real for them.”

Bronwen’s future plans for classes include a poetry workshop as well as a multi-genre workshop with a focus on environmental crises. “In my upcoming classes I plan to include realistic fiction, fairy tale/fantasy fiction, personal essay, and poetry. I really just want to encourage students to try out a bunch of different genres and think about them. I’d like them to think about the audiences writers are attempting to reach, what different genres can achieve and what they can’t, and then pick a genre that they feel excited about exploring in a longer project.”

Bronwen is enjoying the opportunities to learn and grow that come along with beginning at a new school, such as introducing a pop-up class on Cultivating a Daily Practice in response to student interest in National Novel Writing Month (see page 24). “My mantra is that in ‘beginner’s mind’ there are many possibilities and to the expert there are few. I am trying to embrace everything with a spirit of, ‘how can I contribute to things?’”