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The Art of Composition

In a way, every Bard College at Simon’s Rock student is a writer. From the moment students arrive on campus they’re immersed in intensive writing workshops, whether they plan to study writing or not.

“We live in an age of spin. We’re surrounded by information—not just novels, but news articles, press releases, advertisements. It’s vital that students learn to read below the surface,” Brendan Mathews, writing and literature faculty member explains. “Literature is one of the ways for us to learn about language and its usage, its mechanics. Among other things, it teaches us how to avoid being ‘spun.’”

A college that builds an academic community on a foundation of writing and reading is exactly the kind of place where aspiring writers tend to feel comfortable. Add to that the opportunity that students have to study closely with faculty members like Mathews, and it’s easy to understand how Simon’s Rock boasts an alumni roster that includes people like Joel and Ethan Coen, Alison Bechdel, and renowned linguist, John McWhorter.

They are learning the art of composition directly from faculty who are active in their field—professors who are not only teaching, but publishing. Mathews is no exception. His work is appearing in some of the country’s most revered fiction publications. In Art of Composition pull quoteOctober, his short, “My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened with the Lion Tamer” will be included in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Short Stories 2010—one of the most prestigious American literature anthologies published today.

It’s not the first time his work has been recognized by Best American Short Stories. In 2008, two of his stories were named among the anthologies “100 Distinguished Stories” that made up the pool of finalists. In the introduction, guest editor Salman Rushdie wrote that he was “kind of sad” not to have included one of them. “I know how he feels,” Mathews says. “I was kind of sad, too.”

The allure of the writing program at Simon’s Rock goes beyond the impressive credentials that its faculty boast—a huge draw for many students is the access to these writers/professors. Here they enjoy highly personalized attention that nurtures their development of self and their writing. When students enroll in one of Mathews writing or literature classes— like The Art of Fiction or Fiction Workshop— they study closely with him and fewer than 15 other students.

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