The Creative Writing program at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, created in 2001, is a rigorous, accelerated discipline for highly motivated students who want to study the art and craft of writing. CW maintains a total enrollment of about thirty students. As with all arts disciplines at Ruth Asawa SOTA, admission is by audition, and class takes place in the afternoon, following the morning’s academic classes and lunch.
CW students work closely with artists-in-residence — working writers representing a variety of genres. Creative Writing I students (generally freshmen and sophomores) will spend much of their time working directly with Heather Woodward, Program Director. After demonstrating the requisite development in both writing and individual maturity, students move in the junior year to Creative Writing II, where the majority of instruction is with one of our artists-in-residence. The two sections do combine at various times in the year.
Before graduating, all CW students complete a Senior Thesis, an important component of the CW program. Working under the individual mentorship of an established writer in the community, each senior C-dub will produce a manuscript of substantial length that demonstrates the writing skills developed while in SOTA Creative Writing. The manuscript can be a collection of poems or short stories, a play, a novella or novel. Students design and create chapbooks or other publications as the culmination of their thesis, the release of which we celebrate with a reading.
In addition to the daily schedule, students are presented with many options – some mandatory – to attend readings and other literary or artistic events in the city at large. For example, Creative Writing partners with San Francisco Art & Film; students are required to attend their Cine Club film screenings and write responses to the films. Creative Writing also has three performances scheduled each year, and in each case the week prior is devoted to preparation and rehearsal.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Is SOTA a typical San Francisco high school, with admission by choice/lottery?
No. Admission to SOTA and Creative Writing is by audition only. More information is available on our Audition page and in the Apply tab of the main SOTA website.
What kind of writing goes on?
Creative Writing focuses primarily on poetry, prose, and playwriting. However, many CW artists-in-residence work with innovative approaches that cross traditional arts boundaries.
Do I have to perform?
Performance is an important element of SOTA’s Creative Writing program, and definitely not optional. The department produces three shows each year, and students also appear at off-campus readings and events throughout the City.
What if I have other talents and interests?
No use denying it: the arts disciplines at SOTA, including Creative Writing, make significant demands on student time. Still, many students continue to participate and excel in areas beyond their emphasis. C-dubs have been dedicated dancers, musicians, and photographers; they have donated significant time to community groups; they have interned at museums throughout the city; they have participated in Mock Trial and the theater. It’s not always easy, but possible, and can add perspective and depth to the work produced within the department.
Are Creative Writing students published?
CW students are heavily represented in umläut, the literary magazine produced by the department with submissions from students throughout the school. CW students have appeared both in print and in countless web magazines, and have received awards in many local, regional, and national contests.
What are the expectations for involvement beyond the classroom?
San Francisco is a dynamic city and CW students are urged to take full advantage of the opportunities it offers. Frequent field trips to readings, art installations, lectures, plays, etc. help students see themselves as part of a larger artistic community. We also venture beyond the city. At the beginning of each year the department takes an overnight trip to the Marin Headlands. In 2017 we spent a week in New Orleans, visiting with the creative writing departments of two high schools, participating in a literary festival, and engaging in a range of cultural activities.
Are there opportunities for parent involvement?
Yes, parent help is welcome, needed, and, dare we say, expected in Creative Writing. Parents serve as liaisons between department head Heather Woodward, the PTSA, and other parents; they provide publicity for performances, and sell concessions at these same events; they lend their time on audition days to speak with parents of prospective C-dubs, and lend their homes for various department events. Grant applications written by parents — along with financial contributions from parents — have funded artists-in-residence and department supplies and software. To emphasize the importance of parent involvement, at least one parent/guardian is required to meet with director Heather Woodward at the outset of the prospective student’s audition.
What about college?
Many parents wonder how college opportunities are affected by the intense, early focus of an arts school education. We can say that CW grads overwhelmingly go on to higher education, and do so at a wide range of national and international schools. The list of schools accepting SOTA C-dub graduates includes Harvard, Yale, Columbia, NYU, Princeton, Sarah Lawrence, McGill, University of Edinburgh, Mills, Bard, UC Berkeley, UCLA and others. Individual effort always trumps program elements, of course, but C-dub applications certainly get a boost from the emphasis on high-level writing and analytical skills, from close contacts with working writers, and from four years of internship, community service, and performance experience.