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Students discuss The Grapes of Wrath outdoors with government professor Matthew Evangelista

A group of students with government professor Matthew Evangelista, standing, meets behind the A.D. White House Aug. 24 to discuss The Grapes of Wrath, this years choice for the New Student Reading Project. Students met in small groups all over campus, led by administrators, faculty and staff members, to discuss John Steinbeck's classic.

Why creative writing is a force on campus: Maintaining a balance between 'the mind and the heart' through storytelling

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A Louisiana Cajun, Christopher Lirette has worked on an offshore oil rig, researched his heritage in Canada and survived the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Now he is enrolled in Cornell's graduate program in creative writing, and he carries with him the life experiences that inform his poetry.

For Lirette, who will receive a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2010, drawing meaning from experience comes from writing about it. For example, he drew on a year studying Acadian culture in New Brunswick, Canada, to write the poems that became his portfolio submission to Cornell.

Lirette is heir to a long and distinguished tradition of literary expression at Cornell by writers within and outside the creative writing program, whose recent graduates include Junot Díaz, MFA '95, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."

In a February 2009 visit to campus, Díaz paid tribute to the influence of his classmates and teachers. "I received a place to write, pretty unobstructed, for three years, with funding and mentorship, and that's phenomenally important," said Díaz, who teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Our faculty members brought writers in, and it felt very, very alive. There was a level of concentration that I think I owe a lot of my abilities to."

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