You could call Dr. Richard Matzen, Jr. a writer’s writer –- practitioner of the craft across multiple genres, longtime professor of writing, founder of Woodbury’s Profession Writing program, and scholar of writing pedagogy.
Funny thing is, in an area as subject to flux as academia, he’s been on this course since his career began.
During his post-graduate studies, Dr. Matzen identified a critical need in universities serving students for whom English was a second language: specialized writing instruction to help them succeed at the college level. And for him, it has always been the writing program, an “independent writing program,” not an English department.
Dr. Matzen’s other goal was to be a published writer, and here again, he’s solidly on plan. In June of 2017, he made a return to publishing –- and, as he says, non-academic writing — with the release of “Going,” a new collection of narrative poetry. “Going” immerses readers in the world of the Los Angeles commute and shares the story of a 50-year-old commuter who stops the commute, joins park life, and experiences jazz, the landscape, and his parents’ deaths.
After growing up in rural Indiana, Dr. Matzen, inspired by artists and jazz musicians, published poems, poetry books and jazz articles in the Pacific Northwest during the 1980s, among them “The Artist’s Album,” an illustrated prose poetry chapbook. He’s also the author of “Mona Lisa,” a novel. Some 30 years later, his desire to write poetry was rekindled to the point that in 2009, he began to write “Going.”
His forthcoming book from Utah State University Press, “Weathering the Storm: Independent Writing Programs in the Age of Fiscal Austerity,” goes to the heart of the matter, addressing the value of independent writing programs. The book tracks their fate during the economic downturn and assesses their future, suggesting that interdisciplinary connections are vital to writing programs’ future.
Two principles form Dr. Matzen’s approach to helping students – especially first generation college students – master the kind of writing required in college level course work, and be able to write effectively in their career fields once they graduate.
“My practice has been to learn exactly how well students write or speak and then create individualized lessons that are new but within their grasp,” Dr. Matzen says. “Second, lessons need to prepare students for the kinds of writing they will actually do as they move through their college career.”
Although useful for the numerous international students on U.S. college campuses, writing programs matter to virtually every student, he suggests. Students often arrive at universities unprepared for the level of writing the curriculum demands, giving rise to writing programs that touch all disciplines.
After recently stepping down as co-chair of the Professional Writing program, Dr. Matzen is continuing to help augment it. He’s now working with Will McConnell, chair of the Interdisciplinary Studies program and associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts, to pilot a first-year experience/learning community. He’s also assisting with developing first-year composition courses —- all in support of Woodbury’s multicultural, often multilingual, first-generation students.
“To welcome students to the university and retain them is, I think, very rewarding,” Dr. Matzen says.
And definitely something to write home about.