If there’s one thing faculty member Shawn Kerivan has artfully mastered, it’s the power of living creatively.
“The way I teach my classes and lead my life is from the point of view of a creative writer,” says the Stowe-based author. “I try to find the creative approach to everything first and find the energy there.”
Kerivan teaches at CCV in Morrisville. He started in the Learning Center’s writing lab eight years ago and moved quickly to teaching foundational courses, then English Composition, and after a couple years it morphed into “basically every writing course available.”
“I never thought I would teach,” Kerivan said. “But creating a teaching practicum for my MFA in creative writing turned me on to it. It’s really blossomed into something completely unexpected while I continue to write at the same time.”
Born and raised in Green Harbor, Massachusetts, Kerivan recalls listening to baseball games on the radio at night when he was 10 years old.
“The next day, I would get The Boston Globe and read the stories about the games and I was always shocked at how different the writers’ stories were from the games that I had heard,” he said. “So I would sit down and rewrite the baseball stories during the day.”
An avid reader early on, Kerivan credits the emergence of his writing career to that love of literature. After studying broadcasting and journalism at the University of Maine, he spent some time as a ski instructor back in his home state and then began writing full-time when he moved to France with his wife, Chantal. He published his first short story in 1992 and has since published dozens of articles, columns, and short stories.
In 2000, Vermont and its ski hills were calling and he and his family made the decision to buy a small bed and breakfast in Stowe. Fourteen years later the Auberge de Stowe is going strong, as is Kerivan’s writing. Published in 2007, Name the Boy: Short Stories, a collection of stories from his MFA thesis at Goddard, is now in its second printing. His memoir The Innkeepers Husband: Undercover with an Unconventional Innkeeper, available as a Kindle book, followed two years later and in 2012, he published Creative Writing in the Real World: A Reader for Writers, which he describes as a hybrid of both a memoir and creative writing instructional text.
And there’s more to come. A novel he’s just finished, an adventure/thriller in the early stages of editing, is a bit of a departure from his past work. Also forthcoming, from a small publisher which he helped to found, the Vermont Press, is a memoir of the first five or six years owning the Auberge de Stowe.
“That’s when basically everything went wrong,” he said. “It was a constant struggle, and it was really eye opening for me to go through this with a young family. It was stressful and exhausting but ultimately rewarding.”
A similar kind of reward comes from teaching his classes, particularly Seminar on Educational Inquiry. Most students take the course the spring before they graduate, he said, and the anxiety and energy in that class are palpable.
“I love working with that anxiety, not in a malevolent way, but in a creative way,” Kerivan said. “I want to show them that what they are still doing is learning and exploring and growing as people and students.”
He says one of the most powerful moments happened this past spring, during one student’s presentation of her paper. The topic was the misunderstanding of transgenders and was a very personal account, as the student had recently completed her own transition. Though the other students in class knew her, many before the transition, Kerivan was not sure how the class would react when it came time to present.
“We’re still in the early stages as a society of understanding and accepting this, so I was kind of on alert, wanting to make things go smoothly,” he said. “She spoke of how she had suffered, but that now she was suffering much more happily. At the end of the talk students stood up and clapped and people were crying and hugging her and it was really just a wonderful moment.”
Though something that powerful doesn’t happen every semester, Kerivan says many of his students have gone through a lot to get to the class.
“There’s a lot of scar tissue on display and chewed fingernails and broken computers and relationships that need repair once the class is done,” he said. “And it’s not uncommon for students to make really wonderful and heartfelt presentations about a topic they struggled with but ultimately succeeded in writing about.”
Kerivan points out that facilitating that writing and those conversations might be a very different experience if it wasn’t at CCV. He says at the beginning of every class the connection and rapport that’s developed by the shared experience of trying to make a living in Vermont wouldn’t be possible in a traditional academic setting.
“There is definitely a wall between the professional academic who is a theoretician and the students who are sort of there on bended knees hoping for some unspecified kind of wisdom or knowledge,” he says. “Whereas here at CCV, there is definitely an active pipeline of exchange going on between the faculty, who are actually practicing what they preach, and the students. I’m in their community; I see them before, during and after their time at CCV. And I don’t think that is a very common experience elsewhere in academia.”
Kerivan’s experience is one which is echoed by many who have connections with the college, and like the others, he always has great things to say about CCV.
“There is this great companionship and fellowship among everyone that teaches and works at CCV,” Kerivan says. “There are great resources, tremendously talented people that staff CCV and I think that’s a big surprise to folks sometimes. I love talking about CCV.”