-David Fahner, contributing writer
Frederick Melancon is a creative writing instructor at Mississippi College. He grew up in New Orleans, La. Melancon remembers a ride home from grammar school with his grandmother one afternoon. She asked what he wanted to do with his life when he grew up.
“I want to be a writer,” he said.
“You don’t want to do that,” his grandmother told him. “Writers never see the money they want and are never understood in their own time. Figure something else out.”
But from that moment on, Melancon set out to become a writer.
Later in school, Melancon tutored struggling students. “When I was high school I was involved in a program, National Honor Society, that would have us help tutor other struggling students, and there was a time when I was with a girl and I was helping her with chemistry class and it sort of clicked. I explained it to her in a way that I thought, ‘Wow! That was a good explanation,’ when chemistry really isn’t my deal, and she passed the class. When she came to me she had an F, and when she left she had a C. I had a hand in that,” said Melancon. That was the experience that led him down the path of teaching.
Melancon had written a little in high school, but it wasn’t until the University of New Orleans, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, that he began taking writing classes and really started to care about his writing. He was influenced by Dr. Roslyn Foy, who took the time to read his work and give him feedback and encouragement.
After receiving his Master of Arts and Teaching at Southeastern Louisiana University, Melancon took additional coursework at the University of Southern Mississippi in English with an emphasis in creative writing. There he met Steven Barthelme, who was a powerful influence. “The first time I met him, he told me I was a horrible writer. I appreciated his honesty,” said Melancon. Barthelme really changed the way that Melancon approached the craft of writing, and the change was good because he began to really pursue the art.
Teaching creative writing at MC was a good fit for Melancon with his background in writing and teaching. “Creative writing generally employs the same techniques as most other persuasive writing. We are trying to persuade our audience into believing the nonsense that we are putting forward in our story in the make-believe world,” said Melancon, “The story has to be put forward well; you have to do it well; you have look at it critically; you have cut out the chaff; you have to find what is good about; and you need to put that forward just as you would if you were putting out an application for a job.”
In addition to teaching creative writing at MC, Melancon works for Jackson Public Schools in adult beginning education, along with a class for intervention for people trying to pass the GED. The course is an added supplement to help people that are generally older, who have dropped out of high school or have failed a few times. One student that he was very proud of is a grandfather that decided it wasn’t too late to learn to read and enrolled in the program. Melancon finds the job to be quite rewarding.
In closing, Melancon gave this tip to students who are studying to be writers or teachers: “You’re making a choice to not make millions, which is alright. You just need to come to terms with that. Do what you do, but do it well.”