Purdue Profiles: Brian Leung

November 25, 2014  

Brian Leung

Brian Leung, professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program. (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke)
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Brian Leung is an award-winning fiction writer and a lauded teacher whose focus on challenging one's self goes both ways.

Leung, who has been professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program since August, is the author of two novels and a short story collection. As an author, Leung often challenges himself to write from a perspective outside of his personal experience. As a teacher, he often passes this challenge on to his students. Leung urges them to embrace experiences and perspectives outside of their comfort zones to create writing that evokes the human condition in profound ways.

What are some details about the Creative Writing Program?

Purdue's Creative Writing Program offers a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry and in fiction, and it enjoys a national reputation. All of our graduate students receive financial aid packages that include tuition remission and teaching assistantships, which provide a stipend. While they're here for the program's three years, we encourage our students to focus on having a literary experience while really connecting with their fellow writers, our faculty members and the community at large.

One thing that's unique about our program -- and I think it's one of its most attractive assets -- is that it's compact. Each annual cohort has just four fiction writers and four poets. That allows us, as faculty members, to really focus on our students' individual growth and to give them one-on-one time that will help them grow as writers.

What other resources does the Creative Writing Program offer its students?

Through our program's various events, we offer students a unique opportunity to work and interact with the members of the Greater Lafayette community. For example, each fall we hold a Writers' Harvest in Lafayette. For that event, some of our student writers, faculty members and even writers outside of Purdue give readings, and the price of admission is a donation or canned goods. All proceeds go to Food Finders Food Bank.

Our graduate students also have the opportunity to work on the Sycamore Review, which is Purdue's acclaimed literary journal. It has an excellent national reputation, and it's a great way for our graduate students to gain professional experience in print and online publishing.

In addition to our graduate program, Purdue offers a creative writing undergraduate minor and major for students who want to focus on writing poetry and/or fiction. The Creative Writing Program is an asset to undergraduates, too, because it allows them to have contact with our very talented graduate students as well as our tenured faculty.

As a writer, what themes and topics do you pursue?

Reviewers talk about my efforts to write outside of my subject positions, and I'd say that's often an aspect of my work. I've written from the perspective of characters who share my experiences before, but I like standing in others' shoes. I'm interested in having my students do that, as well, as a way to push themselves as writers.

I always believe that students should honor their identities in their writing The old adage says that writers should write what they know, and I support that, but with a caveat. Eventually, you cease to be interesting as a writer if you're not trying to know -- and therefore write about -- new things.

The creative writing classroom is a really important space to explore what it is to be human. Once our graduate students have finished the program, I hope they walk away with an expanded and profound understanding of the human condition.

What are your plans for the program's future?

I want to continue to raise our program's profile. Toward that end, the program is co-sponsoring the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in 2015 in Minneapolis. That's a major event that will help us continue to gain exposure.

Further, I'm interested in continuing to develop the program as a community resource. We're doing that through some of our annual events, but I want to explore ways that we can become further integrated into the fabric of Greater Lafayette.

I'm also interested in cultivating a student body that represents diversity and difference, and I want to promote the program as one that's interested in the issues in this area.

Here at Purdue, there's a clear commitment to diversity. As a member of the LGBTQ community, it's very reassuring, and for me it really affirms that I'm in the right place. What's more, the Department of English has been incredibly kind and welcoming to my husband and me. I'd like to continue to cultivate that sense of welcome and openness in the program however I can.

Writer: Amanda Hamon Kunz, 49-61325, ahamon@purdue.edu 

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