Amy Sage Webb
A man is trapped in a cave filling with water. Five people are attempting to dispose of a dead horse. A woman in the shower hears a frightening noise. Drama. Intensity. Difficult situations. These are the types of circumstances Associate Professor Amy Sage Webb, co-director of the creative writing program at Emporia State University, deals with on a daily basis.
And, yes, every student taking her intro class must suffer through the infamous “Dead Horse” assignment.
Every student in her advanced fiction class must terrify a woman in the shower.
What’s so compelling about these student-written stories that keeps Webb coming back to the classroom for more?
“It’s play,” she explains. “I don’t have big political agendas.” To her, it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps her interested, the excitement of sleuthing solutions.
Whenever a general principle is challenged in class or by a student’s work, she goes back to the drawing board to test it and see whether it’s always true. For example, the general rule that the characters need to be doing something (the object lesson of the “Dead Horse” assignment) for drama to happen is a theory she is currently testing by attempting a story about a man who is trapped in a cave filling up with water.
“You have a dramatic situation there,” she explains, “but it’s not interesting.”
The key, she discovered, was traversing the character’s past through his mind. “It’s turning out like a memoir.”
Webb also loves teaching simply for the experience.
“It’s one thing to say a student has mastered a certain course or material,” she says, but it’s the light-bulb moment of recognition that’s the payoff: “The first encounter with a new sound is special.” Although she’s taught in a variety of places, including classes for delinquent girls and in a women’s prison, ESU is uniquely appealing for Webb.
“I like knowing my students well,” she says. At ESU she teaches intro classes, oversees graduate theses, and does everything in between. “You don’t get that kind of experience at bigger schools.”
Sometimes the friendship extends beyond the ESU college experience. Her office door and cabinets are littered with memorabilia from her students, much of which was acquired after they had graduated and moved away. A picture of her with a former student is clipped up by her computer.
“We take a picture in front of this restaurant every time I visit Chicago,” she explains. There’s an obvious hint of pride as she points to it.
So what now? How will all of this affect our world? Webb describes her view of the future as “optimistic” and “inspired.” She’s working on a pedagogy and theory book, as well as a short fiction one.
It’s her students, however, who fuel her future plans. “It’s exciting to watch an entirely new generation of writers.”