Thinking Beyond Borders and Performing Beyond Expectations

Students entering the college environment at the University of Washington Bothell come braced for all types of academic challenges. In Kirsty Leissle and David Nixon’s Thinking Beyond Borders: Philosophical Explorations of Science Fiction course, students not only embraced these challenges, but turned them into an opportunity to be published.

“We did jump in the deep end a little bit,” laughs Professor Nixon. “But it just made sense to try. It’s rare for a student to be published before they graduate, not to mention at the very start of their academic career.”

The Monolith Volume 1: Where the Circle Ends is a collection of science fiction stories written by students in the first quarter of their first year. Devised as a way to introduce students to the impact of philosophy on morality, social conventions, and the imagination, Leissle and Nixon used the literature of science fiction and creative writing exercises to actively engage students in the issues of philosophy. “We wanted them to recognize that philosophy is more than a dry academic thing,” says Nixon. “Everybody “does” philosophy in their own lives, and Professor Leissle and I hoped to encourage an active participation in the discussions of ethics and ideals in our culture.”

In last year’s course, students were given the task of creating a collection of science fiction short stories; the quality of work the students turned in was beyond what either Professor had expected. The stories were so good in fact, they decided to publish them. After some structural adjustments, the class had formed an editorial board and selected the texts they most wanted to publish and worked on them until they were satisfied with the results. Leissle and Nixon worked out a way of publishing the collection through Amazon that would cover the cost of publication but were careful to insure that the University would not make a profit in order to keep the project small and within the hands of the students.

“I didn’t go into that class expecting to have something I would really invest in emotionally. It’s the first time I’ve taken creative writing seriously,” says Kyle Piper, author of This Walking Shell. “Working as a small group of contributors and editors with the other students was really cool, too. It’s interesting to see how different people use fiction to raise serious questions about the nature of things.”

After the success of the first class, Leissle and Nixon left the option open to publish another volume, but only when it was conducive to the students learning. Classes are always different, Nixon explains. “Certain aspects of a topic become more important, or the students respond in a way that prompts us to reorganize. We didn’t want the pressure on our students or ourselves to force the class in a direction that would get in the way of that fluidity.”

Despite this healthy precaution, a second edition is likely in sight. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised this year because the quantity of quality work from the current class is high enough that it’s going to be tough for us to choose which ones to publish.”

Click here to order a copy of The Monolith.

monolith book cover