Helping students find a voice
by Susan Shelly
Simone Banks, M.F.A., understands the power of writing and its ability to awaken in students a voice they never knew they had.
“I’m interested in helping students find their writing voices because that enables them to tell their stories and the stories of others,” says Banks, who joined the Albright College community as an assistant professor of English in August. “Giving voice to those stories is powerful.”
Banks, along with Connor Basset, Ph.D., assistant professor of English, is developing Albright’s creative writing program, which will enable students to earn a minor in creative writing. Classes are set to begin this spring.
Banks, 37, grew up in Philadelphia and Harrisburg and in 2006 graduated from Temple University, where she majored in journalism with an art history minor. While working as a music journalist in Philadelphia, she earned a master’s degree in arts administration from Drexel University.
After a job promoting the arts with a Philadelphia nonprofit, Banks moved to Los Angeles, where she was employed for six years in the entertainment industry as a film marketer. All the while, however, she was being pulled toward something different.
“I was a creative writer, but I never really made time for it,” she says. “I always loved writing and I decided I was going to get serious about it.”
She enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at Louisiana State University (LSU), not anticipating that her career trajectory was about to take a sharp turn.
As a requirement for her master’s degree, Banks had to teach some classes at LSU.
“I wasn’t really excited about that because I’d never had any interest in teaching,” she says. “But I found out I loved it.”
She worked as a graduate teaching assistant at LSU while completing her degree, after which she was hired there full time as an English instructor.
“I never set out to teach, but I realized it was exactly what I wanted to do,” Banks says. “The role of a teacher involves so much more than teaching. We are resources for all sorts of things.”
After teaching through the pandemic at LSU, Banks is excited to be at Albright, where she envisions great opportunities for students within the creative writing program. Her goal, she said, is to coax students out of their comfort zones and help them find ways to celebrate their work.
“I’m planning to organize events for students to showcase their work and let others see what they’re doing,” she says. “I want them to be able to share their writing and interact with one another. There are so many opportunities to explore.”
She also will cultivate classrooms in which students feel safe to express their ideas, visions and dreams.
“A creative writing classroom has to be a safe space because students are writing from their hearts,” Banks says. “The classroom may be the only place where they feel they have a voice, and as a teacher I feel I need to nurture that.”
She values Albright’s willingness to accommodate students’ particular interests, noting that the creative writing program will be open to any student — not just those wishing to enroll in the minor.
“This is a school for curious students,” Banks said. “I encourage my students to be as curious as possible.”
In addition to teaching, Banks is keeping up with her own creative writing in the form of a collection of poetry called “motherwoman” and working on the outline for a novel.
“I enjoy writing across disciplines, so it’s been fun diving in an out of these two projects,” she said.
Meanwhile, she is looking forward to establishing a sense of normalcy in teaching and learning following the disruption of the pandemic.
“I think it will take some time for students to reacclimate to the style of pre-pandemic learning,” she said. “They’ve been through a lot, and I want them to know that I’m a resource for them.