Sydney Krehbiel has come a long way as a writer in her eight years at SIUE, and she wants to help other SIUE students discover the worlds of creative writing.
Krehbiel is now in her second year of the English Department’s masters of fine arts program in creative writing. Now she is reviving ELLA, the defunct student organization for fans of English literature and language, with an emphasis on creative writing for students of all majors.
ELLA, which stands for English Language and Literature Association, was active at SIUE since at least 2013, which is when its Facebook was created. But at the end of last year, it was announced that ELLA would be dissolved and merged with Sigma Tau Delta, the English honors society.
But only English majors who had met certain criteria could join Sigma Tau Delta, while ELLA had been open to all majors.
“I would say that it was much less a demise than a hiatus, as the former excellent leadership moved on to new challenges and the student organizations serving the needs of English majors and minors evolved,” faculty advisor Geoff Schmidt said.
This semester, the students in the new MFA creative writing program decided to revive it, with a focus on the value of creative writing for people in all majors and vocations.
It’s a value Krehbiel knows well. She was always writing as a child, from Harry Potter fan fiction to undergrad stories about female self-discovery. Her growth as a writer through her undergraduate experience at SIUE led her to the MFA program, which requires a “Writer in the World” project on literacy in the community.
Krehbiel launched a writing program with the St. Louis Science Center.
“I never thought there should be a separation between the arts and science,” she said.
She presented the concept of writing programs based in the sciences, and the Science Center approved it.
It’s that concept — that creative writing as a form of expression can be for anyone — that Krehbiel wants to bring to the new version of ELLA as she takes over as president. You don’t have to be a certain major or even a certain type of person to be a writer, she said; If you write, you’re a writer.
Myra Lei had a different journey to the same place. Lei is also in her second year as an MFA student, having completed her undergrad at the Beijing Film Academy in China and two masters degrees at the University of Idaho: one in English and one in teaching English as a second language. Then she came to SIUE for the MFA program, and is assisting Krehbiel as vice president of the new ELLA.
English is Lei’s second language, and her early writing was in Mandarin, which she would then translate to English for workshopping at her American institutions.
“I mainly write about female experiences, girls coming of age and their relationships with their families, and gender pressures in society,” Lei said.
She wants students to know that even though English may not be their native language, they can learn to express themselves creatively in English. It was tough for her at first, she said, but if she can adapt, they can as well.
“No matter what other field or profession you have, somewhere down in your thoughts or your heart, you have a story to tell,” Lei said. “People might think, ‘My story is not interesting or unique enough to tell.’ But every person’s experience has value.”
And creative writing doesn’t just have to be short stories, Lei said. It can be flash fiction, novels, personal essays and creative nonfiction, poetry and more. They all have value, Krehbiel said.
“I’m super happy that Sydney is taking over, with plans to shift the emphasis of ELLA towards facilitating creative writing readings and workshops and outreach efforts,” Schmidt said.
Krehbiel plans to begin with meetings, for organizational purposes and for writing sessions and sharing work. She hopes to organize used-book sales and a trivia night to raise money for open mikes and public readings, similar to last semester’s public reading for the MFA program.
The first meeting will be at noon Friday, Feb. 7 in Peck Hall 3117, for explanations, introductions and planning, Krehbiel said. It’s open to any student of any major.
“For me, the value of writing is healing,” Krehbiel said. “It unburdens your soul … When you have things burdening you and you can write about them, it can help you. I would love to give that tool to anyone that needs it.”