Herman Carrillo: Creative writing as artful commentary

Students experience a vast array of teachers and professors over their learning careers. But there are always those precious few who stand out – the ones who made an impact not just for the facts and skills they helped us gain, but for the knowledge, life experiences and mentorship they offered. Here, we feature two professors – Joe Dymond from the geography department, and Herman Carrillo from the English Department.

Many professors have earned their reputations teaching a given skill, like how to frame a policy analysis or how to devise an economic model. But English professor Herman Carrillo tries to impart a more unconventional ability to the students in his creative writing class: how to dream.

“University students do one thing that makes life meaningful, which is, you dream. And you dream about what your life will be like after this moment,” Carrillo said.

Carrillo said he’s always been a dreamer. After working for years at HBO, he found his place as a teacher when he realized he was not surrounded by people who shared his ideals.

“I was odd and strange and a whole bunch of other things, and I read books nobody else had read and I wanted to talk about things nobody was interested in. It’s odd, I actually found a home some place I couldn’t find with other people who had done some of the same things that I did,” Carrillo said.

Also known as Hache, Carrillo is a force within the English Department’s Creative Writing Program.

“Of all the things my department accomplished during my time as chair, having Hache Carrillo join our faculty is among our best. He is an amazing writer, a generous colleague and an outstanding teacher,” former chair of the English Department Jeffrey Cohen said

Carrillo has been teaching for 10 years and is known in the department for his emphasis on “close-reading,” and his phrase, “What does it do?”

“I’m more about reading on the level of the sentence. And I slow reading down to an incredible snail’s pace before I even begin to workshop each person’s work so they’re able to read on the level of the sentence,” Carrillo said.

To show the importance of integrating one’s own voice to each piece of writing, Carrillo said he makes it a point to meet with every student twice per semester.

“Is there a mystique about people who are known by a single name? Elvis? Beyonce? Madonna? We in the Creative Writing Program have our own single-name star. Hache is what we call him, students and colleagues alike,” Faye Moskowitz, chair of the Creative Writing Program, said. “Students are grateful for his rigorous creative writing courses and for the hours he devotes to each of them, personally. His fellow teachers praise his collegiality, his intellectual and literary accomplishments.”

Carrillo is now working on two projects that are a collection of stories about Cuban Americans and their journey leaving the island, which touches his Cuban roots.

In Carillo’s eyes, creative writing is an art which he said serves the purpose of enabling people to voice their opinions about the world.

“The artist’s job is to comment on the world and provide commentary for the world, and it’s a job. Comment on the world and culture around them, the place, the space where you are, that’s your job. But you know, if we all see it in the same way, what’s the point in asking, what’s the point in looking to art?”

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