He is a smart and worldly man, but John Warner confesses he knew nothing about ghost hearts and the reanimation of dead organs using stem cells until now. It was news to him, too, that girls suffer an inordinate number of concussions from playing soccer because their necks are generally weaker than boys of the same age.
Such is the education you receive when you teach academic writing to college freshmen and allow them to choose their own research topics.
“I end up being exposed to a lot of ideas I never even knew existed,” says Warner, who has been a visiting English instructor at the College for two years.
A frequent contributor to the online magazine The Morning News, Warner has been anthologized in several collections and has served as the editor-at-large of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, a popular humor website founded by acclaimed novelist and friend Dave Eggers. He is the co-editor of a new collection, The Best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, published in March, and he’s also authored a handful of books, including his novel, Funny Man (2011), and Fondling Your Muse: Infallible Advice From a Published Author to the Writerly Aspirant (2005), a guide of fake writing advice.
The advice he gives in his introductory and advanced writing courses at the College, however, is a little more serious. He knows the responsibility he has to inspire students not just to write, but to keep writing: It was a college writing course that unexpectedly took hold of his own imagination when he was young. Later, when he found himself scribbling short stories on legal pads during his spare time at his job with a big law firm, he decided to explore his creative impulse. He ended up earning an M.F.A. and carving out a teaching career. These days, he manages to write a column and blog for Inside Higher Ed and a weekly book column for the Chicago Tribune while also teaching several courses, including one in fiction writing.
“It’s basically a semester-long conversation about writing fiction,” says Warner. “It’s really exciting for students because they’re not usually asked to be creative in school.”
When it comes to teaching writing, Warner possesses a philosophy that is both droll and sincere, emphasizing the satisfaction that can be attained, for both student and teacher, when effort is made to improve one’s writing over the course of a semester.
“Education is a process, not a product,” says Warner. “If the process is good, there’s a better chance the end product will be good.”
And the process in Warner’s classes couldn’t be better: After all, both he and his students learn something new every single day.