Faculty: Terrence Cheng
Terrence Cheng received his BA in English
from Binghamton University (State University of New York), and his MFA
in Fiction from the University of Miami, FL, where he was a James
Michener Fellow. In 2005 he received a Literature Fellowship from the
National Endowment for the Arts. The author of two novels, he is currently Acting Associate Dean in the School of Arts and Humanities. Previous to this appointment, he served in the Department of English as Assistant Chair, and Chair.
My approach to teaching creative writing is similar to that of a coach teaching and training athletes: hard work, discipline, repetition. I deal with every student as if he or she wants to be a serious writer whose work will be considered “literary.”
But what is “literary”? Undoubtedly there is a battle being waged in the creative writing classroom, one between “literary” and “entertaining,” drama versus melodrama, innovation versus cliché. The struggle can be found in every story that is written; and even then, definitions are subjective and fluid at best, and so maybe the only truly tangible benefit to such a discussion is that the discussion is taking place at all.
In the process of such discussions, I try to help students by giving them advice, showing them where they are overstepping or trying too hard (dramatic possibility versus the suspension of disblief/plausibility), or when they are not doing enough to make the world that they are trying to create come alive. I try to guide them down a practical yet philosophical path that I personally believe (due to my own trial and error) is productive and potentially successful. I try to make my students better readers by discussing specific elements within fiction, such as character development and conflict, empathy, action and climax and epiphany, all of which are necessary components along the journey of the dramatic arc. By becoming better readers, I feel I help them become better writers. When they learn to identify the basic tenets of dramatic writing functioning at a high level in the works of great writers, it gives them something to strive for and an example to operate by for their own work.
I consistently tell my students that writing is hard and that it often feels remarkably “uncreative” because of the countless rewrites and edits and revisions every piece must go through. This is necessary because too many student writers believe that “creative” means you can put anything down on the page, and because you put it down it is “creative” and thus worthy of every reader’s praise. And so I say on the first day of class: “If you want someone to read your work and automatically nod and smile and pat you on the head, then show it to your grandmother. But don’t show it to me.”
Because my classroom is dedicated to the practice and execution of craft, and craft cannot be learned or developed without thick skin and an open mind. I tell them that if they want to get rich, they should go work on Wall Street; and if they want to be famous, they should sing or dance or act or play ball. But if they love writing and reading, if they love characters and words enough to push themselves to try to create something new, to find a way to create in a way that only they each and individually can, then they should write and understand that the journey is the only thing that a life of writing can guarantee.
In the end, of course, I recognize that I cannot teach talent, or desire, or instill a work ethic if one does not exist innately. But I can help students look deeper into their own hearts and minds, help them try to identify what it is that is important to them that is truly worth their time and effort to write about; and then help them do what it is they want to do, and do it better.
- Sons of Heaven. New York: William Morrow, 2002. (Reprinted in paperback, HarperPerennial, 2003; Xlibris, 2007)
- Deep in the Mountains. New York: Watson Guptill, 2007.
- International Editions of Sons of Heaven
- Anak-Anak Langit. Jakarta: Serambi, 2005.
- Le Etudiant Chinois. Paris: Mercure de France, 2003.
Short Fiction and Essays
- "In San Franscisco." Ruminate Magazine, Issue 27, Spring 2013: 24-27, 33-38.
- "The Birthday Girl." Georgetown Review, Volume 14, Spring 2013: 79-96.
- “The Girl.” Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry, Volume 56 Fall/Winter 2012: 123-140.
- “The Merchant.” Glimmertrain, Vol. 79 Summer 2011: 7-27.
- “The Boy.” Glimmertrain, Vol. 72 Fall 2009: 207-227.
- “The Big Con: China's Historical Sabotage.” The Chronicle of Higher Education May 29, 2009: B10-B11.
- “Gold Mountain.” Bronx Noir. New York: Akashic, 2007. 26-51.
Short Essays (published by Glimmertrain Press, monthly e-bulletin reaching 60,000+ readers):
- “Writing 9/11”, June 2011
- “Rejection”, February 2010
- “Idol Worship”, July 2008 (also noted in Duke University's TIP Independent Learning Course, "The Writer's Journey Volume 2")
- Kong, Belinda. Tiananmen Fictions outside the Square: The Chinese Literary Diaspora and the Politics of Global Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011. 21.
- Berry, Michael. A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. 354-359.
- Jensen, Lionel M., and Timothy B. Weston. China’s Transformations: The Stories Behind the Headlines. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. 174.
- Totten, Samuel, and Jon E. Pedersen. “The Evolution of an Educator.” Researching and Teaching Social Issues: The Personal Stories and Pedagogical Efforts of Professors of Education. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005. 154.
- Manning, Amy Lillian. “Cheng, Terrence.” Encyclopedia of Asian-American Literature. New York: Facts on File, 2007. 39-40.
- National Endowment for the Arts, Literature Fellowship, 2005-2007
- William Van Dyke Short Story Prize, Ruminate Magazine, Second Prize, 2013 ("In San Francisco")
- Rick DeMarinis Short Fiction Contest, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, Finalist, 2012 ("In San Francisco")
- Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction, Nimrod International Journal, runner-up, 2012 (“The Girl”)
- Excellence in Teaching Award, Lehman College, 2009
- NAIBA Book of the Year Award in the Special Category for Bronx Noir, Fall 2008 (“Gold Mountain”)
- Family Matters Award, Glimmertrain Press 2008-2009 (“The Boy”)
- Barnes & Noble 2002 Discover Award: Honorable Mention (Sons of Heaven)
- Junior Library Guild selection, June 2007 (Deep in the Mountains)
Last modified: May 21, 2013