Students’ creative writing flourishes in Levinthal Tutorials

April 30, 2023, 10:58 p.m.

Each year, a select group of undergraduates are offered the chance to work one-on-one with Stegner Fellows in poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction as part of the Stanford Creative Writing Program’s Levinthal Tutorials. Students accepted into the program spend their winter quarter under the mentorship of their Stegner Fellow for five units.

Levinthal Tutorials are structured like independent studies, and Levinthal students meet one-on-one with their Stegner Fellows each week for two hours. Laney Conger ’24, who did a Levinthal Tutorial in poetry this past winter, said that she appreciates this one-on-one aspect of the tutorial.

“It’s easy to get stuck writing for a weekly workshop with a weekly deadline and a whole circle of feedback. It’s helpful, but it’s often not how the writing works outside of an academic environment,” Conger said. “You have to learn how to be self-motivated.”

Revision is another key aspect of the Levinthal Tutorials, according to Stegner Fellow and poet Ajibola Tolase. “Anyone can write a poem, but good poems are rewritten,” Tolase said.

Conger had a poem due every week, as well as a reading, to discuss with her Stegner Fellow, poet Alison Thumel. “I really benefited from the program,” Conger said. “[During] my last session with Alison, we just talked about MFA programs, and I got a lot of good advice about future steps in the writing world,” she added.

Austin Araujo, a Stegner Fellow who focuses primarily on poetry and essays, said that the Levinthal Tutorials are a great introduction to being a mentor. “I think I started understanding the magnitude of what the program means as I was doing it,” he said. “The tutorials can be very meaningful for both the Stegner and the student.”

Araujo loves to teach and appreciates the opportunity to be a mentor. “Seeing people come into their own and become writers is great,” he said.

Levinthal students are tasked with creating their own syllabi for the quarter, and Stegner Fellows suggest additions or edits to the plan. “We’re trying to get to that theme that I call an artistic instinct,” Tolase said. 

According to Tolase, Levinthal students typically write around 50 pages or 10-20 poems in the ten-week quarter. Tolase added that different students may, however, come in with different goals. “Some people will come in and say ‘Hey, I’m working on this novel.’ Stanford students are very ambitious in that way,” he said.

Divya Mehrish ’25, who did a Levinthal Tutorial in creative nonfiction, wrote nine short stories and read five books, along with additional readings suggested to her by Tolase, her Stegner Fellow.

Mehrish said that Stegner Fellows select the Levinthal students they work with in part based on how well they connect with the students’ writing samples. She added that this creates an authentic bond between the Stegner Fellow and their Levinthal students.“You’re really able to carve out this unique dynamic with your mentor,” Mehrish said, “It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity I haven’t found anywhere else at Stanford.”

Araujo emphasized that Levinthal Tutorials are not just for English majors. “One of my Levinthal students was a data science person, but they’re into writing poems,” he said. “That’s one of the great things about being at Stanford: people are so diverse.” 

The Creative Writing Program will be hosting a reading of Levinthal pieces from winter quarter on Thursday, May 18 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Jen-Hsun Huang building.

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