Top Of Their Class.

Distinguished Teaching Award

John Peterson. Photo by Kathy Sauber.

John Peterson

John Peterson remembers his first powerful experience as a writer. He was in the sixth grade, and his teacher asked the class to write a story from the point of view of a quarter. In Peterson's story, the quarter gets stuck in astronaut Neil Armstrong's boot and ends up on the moon. Through that assignment, he learned he could let his imagination go wild and still (which surprised him in the strict setting of his parochial school) win praise from his teacher.

Now a novelist and an expert on the teaching of both expository and creative writing, Peterson has found his niche as a senior lecturer at UW Tacoma, where he has been largely responsible for designing the writing curriculum. Winner of UWT's Distinguished Teaching Award for 2002, Peterson brings respect and enthusiasm to his teaching, and students reciprocate—he's been nominated for this prestigious award three times previously.

Hired at UWT following a national search in 1996, Peterson holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and a B.A. in literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz. His fiction has been published in anthologies and journals, and he has a novel, The Underwater Circus, currently with his agent in New York. It's a challenge, he admits, to balance his work as a writer with his work as a university teacher.

Through writing exercises, the criticism process, feedback, revisions, careful honing, I began to see that life, like stories, can be shaped, molded, edited, revised.

"I love to teach," he says. "That might be a liability to my fiction, but it's a respected and traditional way to integrate a career into the practice of writing. I like being a part of that tradition."

Peterson, who came to Tacoma from the University of California, Irvine, says he was attracted to UWT primarily because of the interdisciplinary teaching philosophy that makes the instruction of writing something that takes place not only in English classes, but across the curriculum.

"They had really taken the best of writing scholarship and put it into the academic structure of the program."

Peterson has advised UWT's student newspaper and currently advises Tahoma West, the campus literary magazine, which won a national design award last year.

Students who nominated Peterson were eloquent in his praise. One graduate, now working in the juvenile justice system, wrote that the foundation Peterson gave her allowed her to make changes in her own life and guide others to examine their lives: "Through writing exercises, the criticism process, feedback, revisions, careful honing, I began to see that life, like stories, can be shaped, molded, edited, revised."

One of Peterson's fortes is helping students overcome the fear of sharing their writing with others. He also works hard to see that their writing finds a venue beyond the classroom. His students appreciate his tough evaluations, but say he has a special knack for being a kind and gentle critic.

"What's really important to me," Peterson says, "is the human contact in the classroom that sets up the effectiveness of my written response to papers."—Jamie Martin-Almy, UW Tacoma

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