"AN Interview with Devon James & Rachel Barton"
By Destiny Hall
The names “Devon James” and “Rachel Barton” passed from mouth to mouth like some sort of legend. I’d hear my teachers reminisce about the students from semester’s past and occasionally see shadows of their legacy etched in clubs around campus. I couldn’t seem to escape their memory. I didn’t know who the dynamic duo were, but I knew if you wanted to succeed within the Writing Arts program you’d have to be somewhat like them
When I finally met these ladies, I felt myself become intimidated. I was in the presence of self-confident women who knew where they were going in life. Later on, when the awe wore off, I learned other things- Devon had a witty sense of humor and Rachel had a willingness to help a certain underclassman. Multiple times. Suddenly the mysterious Rachel Barton and Devon James became less of a legend and more of a tangible success story. I thought the Rowan community as a whole would be amiss without a reflection of her achievements at Rowan so I decided to interview them about their experiences around campus.
Could you tell me a little bit about your time within the Rowan
Writing Arts program?
Devon: “I came into Rowan for my undergraduate degree as a Writing Arts major, and all the classes I took clicked for me right off the bat. I started taking Creative Writing courses as soon as I could, then as I became immersed in the more upper level coursework I realized I wanted to continue my coursework as an MA student. I had additional credits coming in to the program and then took summer classes through the Degree in 3 program. I realized there was also a 4 + 1 Program, so I decided to combine them into the 3 +1.”
Rachel: I guess I slid into the major a little later. I did the bulk of my English degree as a freshman and sophomore, then most of my Writing Arts degree as a junior and senior. I liked Writing Arts so much that I kept tacking on extra interests, even though my credits didn’t necessarily advocate for that. Hence, I’m finishing with a minor in Creative Writing and a concentration in Publishing & New Media (which I know they’re calling something else now.) I’ve found the Writing Arts department to be perhaps the best in the entire university. Finding a collection of well-qualified professors so genuinely interested in their students and the success of those students is quite rare and precious.
What was a memorable (or favorite) Writing Arts class that you took? How did the class impact you?
Devon: “In all honesty, all of the courses I’ve taken in the Writing Arts program were memorable but here (in no order of importance) are some of my favorites: Evaluating Writing (undergraduate), Poetry Workshop (Undergraduate), How Writers Read (undergraduate), Genre Fiction (graduate), Publishing (graduate), and my current graduate level independent study. These classes were all a mixture of extremely fun and extremely interesting. In evaluating writing, I learned about different lenses to apply to my reading of a given text, and I found that immensely helpful and fun to try out. Poetry workshop was one of my favorite courses because I love writing poetry and the way the course is structured helps for getting feedback on your work as well as suggestions for broadening your reading list. In Genre Fiction I learned so much about the genres Horror, Fantasy, and Mystery, and overall just had a blast. Publishing gave me a lot of useful insight as far as how to find a career in publishing, as well as what to expect if I am ever to be published. And, of course, I love my independent study because it has given me the freedom to explore different books of poetry and the ways they are structured which is not only interesting to me but deeply useful for my Master’s Project and beyond.”
Rachel: “This is such a hard question. It’s like when you ask someone their favorite book and they suddenly can’t remember a single book they’ve ever read. I can definitely tell you I don’t have a least favorite class. I particularly enjoyed all the classes that taught across genre, like Writers Mind, Intro to Writing Arts, and Writing, Research, & Technology. I’ve also enjoyed the more analysis-based courses, like Evaluating Writing, which I think combine my majors in Writing Arts and English.”
What has Rowan University Writing Arts program taught you about careers in Writing?
Devon: “The department has taught me how to be flexible with writing and the ways to translate writing into different formats and genres, which in turn broadens the possibility for writing related careers.”
Rachel: “I believe every Writing Arts class I’ve taken has incorporated information about careers and/or transferable skills. In fact, I would say the most important lesson was transferable skills. Everything you learn in Writing Arts is based on clear communication and how communication is evolving. If you understand that, you can apply those skills in any career. Many people think Writing Arts can only apply to writing, editing, and publishing book. They may not know about technical writing or grant-writing or marketing. I remember when I interned at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural History, they asked about my major: ‘Writing Arts? What does that mean?’ When I explained the major as well as the possible concentrations within it, multiple people working there exclaimed, ‘That’s exactly what I wanted to do. Instead, I had to become an English major.’”
Do you have any advice for anyone who wishes to be successful within Rowan Writing Arts?
Devon: “I would say, in order to be successful in writing arts just do your best and do what you love! I have a passion for poetry, and I have found a way to incorporate it into a variety of my coursework in some unexpected ways which has been beneficial for my growth as a writer, and I got out of my classes what I wanted to get out of them because I was able to orient my work towards what I love to do. Another piece of advice is to say yes to as much as you can handle. There were times where I didn’t know how I would manage it all, but I always figured it out and I am so happy I did not turn down the opportunities I found within the Writing Arts Department.”
Rachel: “I would recommend that students entering the Writing Arts program take advantage of every opportunity they can. Professors are always sharing chances to do readings or submit your work somewhere. Within Writing Arts, you can also take graduate-level courses as a senior by using senior privilege. Through senior privilege, I was able to take Editing the Literary Journal with Katie Budris and Publishing with Megan Atwood. Not only have these classes been extremely illuminating, they have also provided other opportunities, like interning with Glassworks magazine. Most of all, I would recommend getting to know all of your incredible professors. They have experience with writing, publishing, and various writing-related careers; they want to share that with you.”
What are your plans after graduation?
Devon: “I plan to continue teaching (I began teaching College Composition I in the Teaching Experience Program) and to send out my writing for publication. Within the next couple of years I plan to return to school for my MFA in poetry.”
Rachel: “After graduation, I will be spending the summer interning in Dublin with Imperic Media, a digital marketing company looking to incorporate storytelling into their website. In the fall, I will begin my MFA in Creative Writing at NYU.”
It was interesting to interview Devon because of her background. I forget about poets within the Writing Arts Department and it’s nice to see a poet that is so notable throughout campus. It just goes to show that the unofficial moto within the Writing Arts Department is true-you have to follow your passions. But, something I learned from Devon is that you have to be willing to put the work in behind it.