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1989-90 › Cynthia Macdonald
12th Farfel Recipient

Department of English - Creative Writing
Professor of English
College of Humanities, Fine Arts, and Communication

Cynthia Macdonald never imagined she would work for the University of Houston. She was an established poet and tenured professor at Johns Hopkins when she consulted for UH in establishing its graduate Creative Writing Program in 1978. At first Macdonald turned down the offer to direct the program and move to Texas, so far from the known literary world. When she finally relented and joined the program in 1979, her writer-colleagues on the east coast offered her their sympathies, assuming she’d failed to get tenure at Johns Hopkins.

It’s hard to imagine such a prejudice today against the program, now ranked second in the nation and home to numerous established and emerging authors. She considers herself a literary “Joanna Appleseed,” creating a community for her students and for the literary life of Houston. The community at the Creative Writing Program has had a tremendous impact both locally and nationally. Former students and faculty are widely published, teach classes in Houston and at institutions throughout the country, and participate in numerous reading series.

Macdonald’s work draws from the world around her: “stone yielding/ the language everyone understands/ but cannot speak—poets carve what/ they are not allowed to say.” Still, she cautions that “all writing and all creative endeavors must come from the self, though they need not be about the self.” As a teacher of new writers, she encourages voices that diverge from her own. “I am not enthusiastic about students who write the way I do. They have to find their own voices and their own sensibility, their own way of ‘making’ a poem. They must remember that ‘poet’ means maker.”

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