Teaching

Photographed here is my great-grandmother teaching a one-room schoolhouse in Capetown in Northern California

My great-grandmother teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Cape Town, Northern California.

Gretchen has taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels for over a decade and currently teaches at the University of Utah and at Georgetown University. She also has taught at MIT, Knox College, University of Missouri, Barnard College, the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and elsewhere, and is frequently invited as a visiting lecturer and workshop instructor. She has taught in departments of English, Creative Writing, Comparative Media Studies, Art History, Museum Studies, Environmental Humanities, among others. Her classes often go beyond the classroom. Her class field trips have ranged from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and other sites in Boston, to the National Gallery of Art and National Press Club in Washington, DC, to the Utah Museums of Natural History and Art in Utah (including Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels in remote Western Utah), to state parks in the Sierra Nevadas of California, and countries throughout Europe, along with concerts, literary readings, and theatrical performances.

(a philosophy of sorts)

A good course or workshop is like a good story: it must weave a combination of related readings, exercises, and assignments into an overarching narrative, rather than cobble together a group of exemplars packaged by genre. Exploring the evolution of genres and disciplines and questioning their bounds, my students and I engage with open rather than closed traditions and try to thoughtfully articulate the literary, artistic, and cultural lineages out of which we write: not in a vacuum, not works of genius, but rather wedded to communities and production processes that make language itself a living and malleable medium.

Having taught at the university-level for over a decade, both undergraduate and graduate students, I have designed many creative writing, literature, and cross-disciplinary courses. My classes encourage varied explorations and range from entry-level introductions that cultivate craft and curiosity, to more advanced theme-based workshops and critical literary courses, to surveys exploring literacies of genre evolutions over history and textual artifacts across media. My rigorous and untraditional creative writing workshops (examples include “The Literary Hybrid,” “The Art of Text,” “(un)Writing the Book,”Writing in the Museum”) are bolstered by critical discourse and inquiries, where students become not only active writers but also active editors and collaborators. I am committed to the editorial process, to collaborative and varied modes of critiquing and peer review, and to traditional and non-traditional assignments, including fieldwork and archival research. My experiences with a variety of technology platforms (including Moodle, Blackboard, WebCT, WordPress, and others) allow me to incorporate listening and viewing modules among reading and writing assignments. My versatile expertise and experiences have been useful to students from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, and my student evaluations have been consistently excellent.

My hope for all of my students is to cull from my courses how to be creative thinkers, how to manifest creative thinking through writing: to be curious, to play and make mistakes and try again, to pare and polish and relish process as much as product, to seek out and participate in varied resources and experiences, to accept and give constructive criticism, to use language in innovative, thoughtful, complex yet clear ways—and to take these lessons beyond the workshop’s end. I am deeply committed to mentoring: investing in students as they investigate their craft and questions, recommending readings (and viewings and listenings), and introducing them to various contemporary literary and artistic communities to round out their sense of what it means to be a working writer and thinker. Writing (like speaking, or sign language, as the case may be) is the fundamental base of communication, so the ability to use language creatively and skillfully will benefit not only future writers, but also future scientists, artists, economists, historians, doctors, musicians, and so on. In our fractured world, the ability to communicate—across a classroom table, across disciplines, across national boundaries—holds the promise of community building. That is why to me, depending on how writing is taught, it can be more than a tangential or precious part of the curriculum, but rather centrally related to and generative for all disciplines: a way for students to explore how language can foster communication across whatever subjects and fields.

Having taught in a variety of classrooms over the years—from “bootcamp” workshops for professors and graduate students to lecture halls, from one-on-one tutorials to university classrooms (with departmental affiliations including English, Creative Writing, Art History, and Comparative Media Studies) and beyond, to ESL and GED classes, adult continuing studies, summer middle school, high school (in two departments, English and History, as well as piloting an interdisciplinary program in American Studies for three years), and other experiences, I have witnessed a variety of learning strategies and know there are as many kinds of pedagogical approaches. Just as I am committed to creative writing, I am committed to creative teaching and creative living. At a time when students’ lives are being profoundly shaped by rapidly changing information technologies, economic stresses, and other transformations, I hope their exploration of writing in many forms can help them to become conscientious consumers and interpreters of the world around them: to adapt, participate, and affect change in this changing world.

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An Interdisciplinary Project in Pedagogy: Galerie de Difformité

As one extended project in pedagogy, I gathered interdisciplinary material and digital resources around “deforming” as classes at different colleges and universities engaged my collaborative project, Galerie de Difformité. Classes have been involved at over 20 colleges and universities, including MIT, Temple University, Hamilton College, Kenyon College, NYU, Pasadena City College, University of Utah, and elsewhere, resulting in a range of projects (creative and critical writing, art, new media, curated exhibits, blogs, videos, pop-up performances, among others). Professors have presented their involvement in the project at the annual conferences for the Modern Language Association, American Literature Association, and other venues. For more about this project in pedagogy with “Resources for Teachers” (including syllabi and sample assignments), click here.

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Upcoming & recent courses include: “Writing and the Museum,” “Creative Nonfiction Workshop,” “Tectonic Essays: Environmental Humanities,” “Forming Fictions,” “Writing as Archaeology,” “Gender and the Body in Art History,” “The Literary Hybrid,” and “The Art of Text.”

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Sample teaching evaluations:

From University of Utah (graduate courses in Environmental Humanities and Creative Writing):

“Gretchen was so generous with organizing field trips/guest visitors to come speak to our class about whatever topic we were focusing on that week. If was extremely helpful to have a hands on component to learning. The end project was a refreshing twist on the normal long form essay and it was fun to see what my fellow students were also producing. I think its a pity when we don’t get to see what our colleagues are working on and Gretchen did a great job providing us with plenty of opportunities to get group feedback.”

“The various creative approaches to the writing process were super helpful in my own writing, and I gained various tools I hope to use in future writing projects. The diversity of readings also provided useful examples to not only think about various environmental humanities topics but also inspiration for my writing.”

“This was the best writing class I’ve ever taken! It was creative and fun, but I also learned a lot. I’ll always remember the silent class day, the raisin day, and all of the amazing guest speakers and field trips! The weekly excavations were fun and helped me think more creatively, and the final projects were very rewarding. If I become a teacher, I want my class to be just like this!”

“Tectonic essays was a course that felt perfectly designed for my interests. I found the readings to be especially wonderful and informative, and the excavations to be both fun and productive. I enjoyed the field trips to the different museums on campus and appreciated the focus of the course on the resources and spaces on campus, since I think grad students have fewer connections with campus space.”

“This was an incredible class. It forced me to experiment with new ways of writing and researching, but I still think that I produced a piece of writing that is uniquely my own.

“The instructor fostered an environment of creative exploration that made me feel comfortable with failure in a way most classes don’t support. It was clear that a lot of thought went into each class and assignment, as each week felt distinct, providing me with a new valuable skill and/or insight to apply to my writing and creative endeavors beyond this course. The instructor’s passion and dedication to the course and the students came out clearly, which I really appreciated.”

“Without a doubt the best teacher I’ve ever had, and I mean that most sincerely. Thank you again!”

“Gretchen was extremely enthusiastic and supportive of our creative explorations. I appreciated her ability to maintain that support while also giving constructive criticism/feedback on papers. It helped me to look at my writing in a more critical way, which of course is always extremely helpful.”

“She very much cared about the students and helping us connect our work to our larger interests. She also designed field trips and guest speaker visits that were really awesome opportunities and supplemented the readings really nicely.”

“Gretchen was amazing! I’m so glad she’ll be coming back next year. We need her here at the U. Can’t we keep her?”

“Gretchen was one of the kindest, most intellectually generous instructors I have ever worked with. Not only was it a joy to be in her class, but the academic rigor was exactly the right degree of challenging. I look forward to seeing her around next spring!”

“I couldn’t overstate how helpful the class and instructor were for my creative work. Her honesty, boldness, and creativity as a writing teacher were perfect for me. I am extraordinarily grateful to Gretchen Henderson as well as the humanities departments or bringing her here for us. She has already had a larger impact on me than most. Truly she is a talented educator. I loved approaching our projects from very different angles. I felt she led us in very interesting and engaging directions then gave us freedom to truly experiment with our own voices. We (I and my peers) were very fortunate.”

From Georgetown University (undergraduate courses in Creative Writing and Museum Studies):

“I gave Professor Henderson all high overall ratings, but she truly deserves amazing, incredible or a box to check to say that she is the most phenomenal professor at this university. I looked forward to this class as the best part of my week (not just of my classes, but actually the best part of my week. The readings were relevant and incredibly engaging. I looked forward to doing them for class (which does not happen often or ever). I wanted to produce high-quality work in this class because I wanted Professor Henderson to respect me and my writing. She demanded an extremely high level quality of work. I’ve never had a teacher or professor that is able to connect so well with students and be so actively engaged in our lives, hopes, dreams, fears, and still demand high-quality work and be able to be serious with us when need be. In many writing courses, I become frustrated because I feel the grading is so subjective, especially creative writing. In this course, her feedback never felt condescending and she found the medium between giving constructive feedback and not personally attacking our beliefs or personal experiences. The class environment was truly incredible. She crafted a community that I haven’t found anywhere else at Georgetown. That classroom was a safe space, and it’s something I can’t describe to my friends easily. Again, cannot speak highly enough of her. Amazing class. She was so readily available for help and so genuinely invested in the quality of our work.”

“Professor Henderson was one of the most encouraging and inspiring professors I’ve had here. Her enthusiasm for learning, reading, writing, and asking questions was amazing. She was always helpful and gave great feedback on work.”

“Professor Henderson is the absolute best. She challenges all of her students and takes careful steps in encouraging and supporting everyone. She shines light on many important questions, and teaches in an immersive manner that is intellectually stimulating. She is an absolutely brilliant mentor who is both understanding and kind.”

From the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop (postgraduates with M.F.A. and/or Ph.D. across genres: nonfiction, fiction, poetry, theater, book arts, digital arts, and others):

“I loved the attitude of play, of productive failure and corrective, creative embellishment—I’m learning to think about my text as material not only in forming it but also in revising and deforming it. Conferences were really helpful; I loved having open studio time; the space of the workshop was so friendly and warm and engaging that many of us stayed in the studio through meals, late into the night. This is perhaps the most productive creative environment I’ve ever encountered.”

“Endlessly inspiring in terms of ways to approach a problem — Great resources — Thinking associatively, visually, beyond the obvious, more subtlely, more nuanced — Felt incredibly pampered + inspired + pushed in a good way — Gretchen’s breadth of knowledge, enthusiasm, professional supportiveness very much appreciated — Amazing in all categories.”

“The freedom to play. ‘Play is the highest form of research,’ someone said early on, and that’s what I saw happen. We worked our asses off, and we failed sometimes and surprised ourselves a lot and built new wrinkles in our brains. I stretched myself more in new directions here than I have in a long time. I found I was able to get to the essence of much of my work in a way I usually don’t. Fantastic instructors Gretchen and Ellen were responsive, adjusted assignments according to our progress + were well prepared + full of surprises. Created a calm, safe atmosphere for trying new things.”

Many more excellent teaching evaluations, available upon request.

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Other recent courses from MIT (Cambridge, Massachusetts) include:

“Creative Writing & Visual Culture: Writing in the Museum”

“Curating” has become a buzzword that extends beyond museums to the realm of thrift-stores, performances, blogs, and other venues. This weekly seminar explores a range of literatures that utilize curatorial strategies and navigate “object lessons.” Drawing upon museum studies, visual culture, and cultural studies, we will ground ourselves in a historic rhetoric of wonder (via global explorations, memory palaces, curiosity cabinets, natural and artistic collections), visit museums at MIT and around Boston, and examine creative writings that imitate museums, enact curatorial gestures, and/or try to dismantle such structures. What objects and genres constitute these collections? What is (de)privileged or (de)possessed by framing literature in a curatorial context? How do authors and/or readers become engaged and implicated in the forms and contents of their projects? How can we navigate and appropriate these forms to curate our own narratives, poems, essays, and cross-genre projects? In addition to analyzing literary works and participating in related exercises, the class will visit actual and virtual galleries to engage these considerations and questions in the arenas of fine art, science, and pop culture. As a final project, students will curate their own creative writing collection as manuscript, chapbook, book-object, blog, or documented display. To see a video of the final exhibit, see below or click here:

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“Creative Writing: (un)Writing the Book”

Looks like a book, feels like a book, reads like a book, but: what constitutes a BOOK? This weekly creative writing workshop explores and plays with the material and historical components of the BOOK in order to derive and (re)generate individual and collective writings. Each week, we will read authorial appropriations of bookish components (for instance, using the index as a means of memoir, sequencing stories and poems exclusively through footnotes, treating the colophon as a pet that needs to be tended), taking apart the BOOK in order to put it back together again: in reimagined ways, shapes, and forms. One week we will study variations of back matter (synopses featured on the back covers of books) in order to write some of our own—for non-existent books—thereby co-creating a phantom library. Over the semester, we will ponder and pander to the book as object, as history, and as mystery to consider where this technology has come from, to envision where it might go. From Gutenberg’s printing press and its revolutionary reproductions, to Tristram Shandy’s famous “marbled page” (unique to each volume), to our current culture of technotexts and collaborative narratives (even a Twitterature version of Tristram Shandy), we will develop a repertoire of book-related vocabulary and a range of experimental approaches to creative writing practice. Historical alterations in storytelling, poetry, the essay, and hybrid genres will give us cues about how to turn the physical BOOK inside out, remaking it materially and conceptually into a final project. Using the malleable medium of language, we will ask a recurring question: What is a BOOK? Is it an artifact on its deathbed or a durable technology evolving into future forms?

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Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop (Gambier, Ohio)

–Summer 2015 and 2016: “The Art of Text” blends techniques of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual arts to generate creative writings through the art of the book. Using a range of exercises and materials, we will push into new terrain through textual and visual explorations. Whether you are a writer curious to write in more genres, or an artist wishing to deepen your engagement with text, this workshop promises to open up a variety of creative practices to generate new content and form. Co-taught with book artist, Ellen Sheffield. 

–Summer 2013 and 2014: “The Literary Hybrid/Book Arts Workshop” 

KenyonReviewWritersWorksyop-LiteraryHybridBookArtsKRWW-Postcard___

A sampling of additional semester-long courses at various universities (University of Missouri, Knox College, Barnard College’s Center for Research on Women) include undergraduate and graduate-level:

  • Fiction Writing Workshops
  • Poetry Writing Workshops
  • Creative Nonfiction Workshops
  • American Literature Surveys
  • Literature courses (e.g., “Reading the Body”)

Invited lectures, classes, and workshops across genres and disciplines (creative writing, literature, museum studies, art history, health sciences) at a range of universities, including New York University, Hamilton College, Berea College, and elsewhere.