Justin Staley is a WRD professor who teaches first-year writing, The Crack of the Bat: Writers and Writing on Baseball, and Sports Writing In America: Myths, Memories, Heroes, and Villains. He has spent the better half of a decade with DePaul, where his background in creative writing provides a unique experience for FYW students. Because so many students simply don’t like to write thanks to unfortunate preconceptions, it’s up to him to upset these notions and assist them in reconsidering their position towards writing. By exploring new genres, assigning unconventional essays, and adding a creative element, he helps students overcome their fear of writing by teaching them how useful, powerful, and entertaining it can be.
Because of his teaching methods and relaxed class environment, many students have embraced writing, which is in no small part due to Justin’s reflective nature. Through writing, no matter the genre, he inevitably finds an opportunity to step back and ask himself, “How does this affect me and, more importantly, those around me?” Writing allows him to embrace humanistic values, particularly social responsibility. Because everyone exists within a series of communities, people have a distinct responsibility to remain aware of those around them. For Justin, that comes through writing. Because of his self-awareness, embracing Vincentian values is no struggle.
Since debuting in Autumn 2014, Sports Writing In America has garnered a great deal of success, matching (and in some cases exceeding) the high acclaim students give to his FYW and focal point classes. Justin’s classes are offered regularly throughout the academic year, providing countless students the opportunity to embrace writing and grow as individuals and community members.
Below are excerpts from the Sports Writing In America syllabus. Immediately, delightfully unconventional aspects make themselves known, telling students that any interpretations they have about the strict and rigid nature of writing need to be challenged. Enjoy.
The influence of sports as an American institution is far-reaching and powerful, with the writing on these sports helping establish and cement this influence. In this course, we will reflect on the ways that sports has both reported on and impacted sports through the lenses of cultural, social, and economic events and issues throughout America’s history. You will read, analyze, and discuss multiple genres of writing including reporting, memoir/nonfiction, and argument, in the form of classic sports columns, essays, audio and videos clips, and profiles of the heroes and villains of the sporting world. From boxing to baseball, football to soccer, and beyond, you will develop greater insight into how writers report stories, create compelling narratives, and posit effective arguments. By composing your own writing in these genres on the sports of your choice, you will enter into the discourse of sports writing, exploring the role of sports as part of your own life, as well as part of the wider cultural institution in America.
Cell phone use is not permitted at any time during class. Detach yourself from your phone and be ready to think and speak. Use your phone once, and you will likely get a warning; use it twice and you will be asked to leave class. We will be working in the computer lab or on our laptops most of the time, but that does not mean you should be on the computer while I am talking or the class is having a discussion; if you are not in class to pay attention, leave. I assure you that Facebook will be there (everywhere) when you are done with class; you can check it then.
Since this class will include only minimal amounts of lecturing, our discussions will be our primary means of digesting the course material and the success of this course relies upon your active and informed participation. You must engage in meaningful, courteous, and well-informed dialogue with each other. In order to be adequately prepared for our discussions, you should have an ongoing dialogue with the readings by annotating (writing in the margins of the text or taking notes in a separate notebook, which I will sometimes check for participation points). I dislike when discussions have to “run through” the teacher (i.e. me asking a question, receiving one answer, and then repeating the process), so our discussions will ideally run through you all. Focus on the discourse by building on what other students have said, agreeing with them by adding new points, and disagreeing with them based on your own ideas or interpretations of the class or the readings. The more participants we have for our discussions, the better those discussions will be, and the more you will learn to challenge your own ideas.
I understand that it can be difficult to work up the courage to speak in class. As an undergraduate I sat in the back of my classes and hoped that the teachers would never call on me. Even when I felt like I had something to say, once I thought about saying it my heart would pound and my palms would sweat, and before I knew it, it was too late. But being able to articulate your ideas is a skill worth developing in your social, academic, and professional lives. I encourage you to try to overcome this fear.
Writing is a process. Very little writing is great in a first draft (Hemingway rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms 39 times because he “couldn’t get it right”). In fact, a lot of first drafts are quite shitty. But all good writers revise, and revise assiduously. Revision means to “see again.” Revision is not only a good thing, it’s a must. Revision does not mean simply fixing spelling errors or grammatical mistakes (that’s called editing). Rather, revision calls for you to challenge the ideas that are already on the page, to question what isn’t (and why), and to strive for clear and meaningful writing throughout a piece. These are all part of what I call “substantial revision” or “genuine revision,” and they should be part of what you do anytime you write something for which your mission is clarity and depth, for this class or otherwise.
The more you treat writing as a process, the more you challenge your ideas and the way in which you present them, the more you pull and prod and cut and paste and think and rethink, the better writer you will become.
Curated by Tim McElroy