Some may say it is cliché to say an organization becomes a family, but that is exactly how Chase West describes the Islander Creative Writers.
“We became such a tight close-knit group, really we’ve grown into a family and being able to have these experiences where we can connect to others with our writings,” said West, senior English major. “Just shows that writing in every way, shape or form just opens doors and it’s just a gateway, so that’s the impact it has had on me.”
The Islander Creative Writers is a group at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi that serves to develop and promote creative writing. The student-led organization hosts events to create a space for creative writing, host fundraisers for local shelters and edits and publishes in the “Windward Review.”
“It’s not just sitting around shut up in the middle of nowhere writing all the time, crying over my work… we’re here having a good time. We’re here writing about stupid things,” said Caitlin Shamess, junior English major. “I mean we’re doing a bad Gaiman challenge tonight. We all read work from each other and we’re supposed to do a terrible parody version of their work so that’s going to be exciting.”
The Island Creative Writers does not just specialize in fun. The organization also works on the “Windward Review,” a national literary journal that focuses on the South Texas experience. Dr. Robin Carstensen, assistant professor of English, said the journal publishes a wide range of authors, from nationally recognized writers to local talent and students. According to the “Windward Review” website, the journal publishes poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction. The organization strives to promote student publication through outreach on campus, at local high schools and community colleges.
The organization allows students to get hands-on experience by placing them in the editing chair. Shamess said being in the organization and working on the “Windward Review” allows students to get valuable experience related to teamwork, working with editors, how to network and the publishing process. As an associate editor, Shamess’ job is to make tough decisions.
“That is one [of] our things, we don’t want to throw it out because we don’t like it,” Shamess said. “If it’s good, if it does do something to me like makes me feel something, maybe I didn’t want to feel it but it did a good job, so I want to give that credit.”
The head editors first look at pieces submitted to the “Windward Review.” Rebekah Bluestein, senior English major and Jacob Mann, junior English major, are the editors for 2017-2018. After a piece makes the initial round of judging, it will be reviewed by three other editors. The piece is either accepted or given back to the author with suggested changes.
Members of the group stressed that the organization was much more than just writing, judging and editing other’s work. For some members, the group has become friendly faces and therapeutic.
West said the first day he read one of his pieces he got unexpected support from a stranger. A student told West that even though she came from a different background and could not understand his upbringing, he would always have a friend in her.
West, one of the organization’s social media correspondents and a passionate reader and writer, has been able to heal through the organization.
“I really picked up the pen again when I could just write creatively, and I expressed those interests to Dr. C right away, that I really had a knack for creative nonfiction and to say it’s beyond therapeutic is an understatement,” West said. “Honestly, I mean once you get started it just flows and I’ve had moments where I’ve had writer’s block, but there are so many times when I just get started and I’m just channeling these memories and it just comes out like nothing.”
After working hard on these pieces, the organization hosts events that give students the opportunity to share their work. On Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. the organization partnered with local nonprofits to promote their work and to raise money. The “Switchgrass Review” is sponsoring the event.
The “Switchgrass,” much like the “Windward,” is a collection of poetry. On World AIDS day, both literary journals partnered with the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation and the Women’s Shelter to raise money and awareness about women’s health issues. The event was open to the public and encouraged the community to come out and read their works about women, the South Texas experience, fall and much more. West said the evening was a fun-filled night of food truck food, moving readings and fall festivities.
As college students, many find this organization and its opportunities as a foundation for their future.
“Publishing and improving my writing are my two main goals,” said Elena Contreras, junior English major. “I’m hoping getting involved will give me other opportunities because it’ll look good on my resume.”
For those hesitant to join, West said the organization is diverse and accepting of people from all walks of life.
“There is so much writing in any field, more than you can imagine,” West said. “We are able to connect to English majors who do nothing but write and we’ll connect to people who aren’t even in school who just write for pleasure and have always dreamt of being published and submitting their works. So that’s what I’m saying we have quite a diverse group of followers.”
Submission for the Windward is currently open and closes on Jan. 6. For more information on submission guidelines, go to www.windward-review.com/submissions.html.