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Wright strives for Monmouth education to fuel lifetime of learning

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College English professor David Wright helps students discover ideas that he hopes will stay with them long after they graduate.

“A hope I have for students is that they will experience enough richness in what we read and enough power in what they write that they will want to continue these habits when they leave the classroom, whether they are English majors or not,” said Wright, who was recently promoted to associate professor of English.

Wright said time is the test of that hope.

“I love to hear from alums who have continued to find stories and poems that affect them, or who have taken up writing again after a time away from the classroom,” he said. “I think we should give them course evaluations 10 years after they graduate and see what has remained with them. It would be terrifying but potentially awesome to hear how their education has evolved in their lives.”

If Wright had been surveyed 10 years after graduating from college, he would have had glowing remarks for four “undergraduate mentors.”

“They showed me what it looked like to bring together real intellectual curiosity and creativity with a love for drawing other people into the conversation,” he said. “I hope I do even a portion of that for the students I get to work with here at Monmouth.”

Beyond comfortable

Wright’s students may not know where his teaching will lead them initially, but he hopes he’s built enough credibility with them that they’ll get on the same page, or at least understand that page better.

“I try to get students to trust me that the process we’re undertaking together will have results that they can’t quite see at the moment,” he said. “So whether it’s first-year composition, American lit or advanced creative writing, I hope they’ll trust – when they feel disoriented by a reading or a writing exercise – that I’ll eventually help reorient them.”

That all has to do with expanding their minds and going to places with which they aren’t familiar.

“I think that if we only do what is immediately comfortable for us, we’re very unlikely to grow much as writers, readers or human beings,” said Wright. “But it’s also not fair to disorient folks and never give them some guidance or tools to get back on track.”

To supplement classroom exercises, Wright organized a Writers@Monmouth, a series that has brought a stream of accomplished mentors to campus over the past five years.

“When I came to Monmouth College (in 2013), my colleagues encouraged me to keep building our creative writing offerings,” he said. “It’s been exciting to have the support to keep bringing visiting writers to campus. We’ve had more than 30 poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, children’s authors and playwrights here since I arrived. It’s been rewarding to see how our students eagerly embrace their work and their advice.”

Wright is also rewarded by the work he does as the faculty adviser for COIL, the College’s literary arts magazine.

“It’s been energizing to watch student writers, artists and editors envision and produce great issues of COIL,” he said. “I’m eager to see where both COIL and Writers@Monmouth go in the coming years.”

Pull of poetry

The son of two teachers, Wright grew up in Washington, Ill., enjoying writing and singing, and he majored in English and music at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill. But he soon realized that “pulling all the poetry books off the shelf in the library and losing track of time” was more important to him than the hours required to be a successful musician.

“So reading poems and trying to write them became central to me,” he said.

Before coming to Monmouth, Wright taught at a comprehensive community college, a faith-based liberal arts college and a major state university.

“None of them felt like the fit for me that Monmouth College has been,” he said. “Our blend of diverse students and the engagement of my colleagues here have made this an academic home for me. I grew up in central Illinois, and it’s invigorating to be part of contributing to an institution that grounds itself here while trying to send our students out to be generous contributors to the world. That sounds idealistic, but that’s OK. I’m an idealist.”

Wright said that adding to the fit is the “close, respectful working relationships we get to have” within the Monmouth community.

“I especially like being connected to people who read passionately and differently than I do,” he said. “I regularly get challenged by my colleagues and students in the English Department to go beyond my prefabbed ideas about the text. I also have benefited enormously from other artists on campus – colleagues in theatre, music, the visual arts – in ways that have made me write stuff I wouldn’t have written otherwise. This really is a place where people receive one another’s presence generously. I hope I can contribute to that spirit of collegiality, as well.”

Wright’s mother, 1957 graduate Nancy Clark Wright, is pleased he made his way to Monmouth’s campus.

“When I got the job, she said, ‘Oh good, now you can get a bagpiper to play at my funeral,” he said. “I told her she didn’t have to wait until then before she got to hear the pipe band.”