When English Professor David Athey was named winner of the Charles & Hazel Corts Award for Outstanding Teaching, his students praised him for his unconditional support and genuine interest. They complimented him for critiquing their work with the ultimate respect and “promoting the love of literature in an organic way.”
He founded the Living Waters Review, PBA’s literary journal, which he continues to advise. Read more about how Athey has cultivated a culture where creative writing thrives in the Q&A that follows.
What led you to teach at PBA?
In the late 90s, I was an artist in residence at the Dreyfoos School of the Arts (in West Palm Beach) and then a language arts teacher there. In 2003, I began teaching at PBA.
What led you to found Living Waters?
There has always been a wonderful group of talented writers and artists at PBA, and I founded Living Waters Review to help showcase the best of that creativity. Student Literature Night had already been happening as an open-mic poetry reading, but I tried to make it a more wide-ranging event, including fiction writers, essayists, and singer-songwriters. Some of the performers have included Mike Donehey (of Tenth Avenue North) and Zach Williams (of The Lone Bellow).
How have you seen Student Literature Night and Living Waters Review grow and improve since you started?
I love this question! Every year, I’d chat with (the PBA president) about how Living Waters Review and Student Literature Night were “the best ever” and how to make the next ones “even better.” After all these years, the pressure is really on! However, most of the students have a profound understanding of professionalism, taking their art, writing, and public performances to the highest levels.
What do you enjoy about teaching at PBA?
I really believe that PBA students are some of the finest people on earth–exceptionally polite, respectful, smart, creative, and full of faith, hope, and love. They really can change the world for the better.
How do you incorporate faith and learning in your classes?
There are thousands of great books, stories, poems, and essays written by extremely talented Christian authors. Incorporating those into my classes is not difficult, except for deciding which ones to use. Christian culture is a treasure house of the best art and literature.
What’s your secret to encouraging young writers while providing the feedback they need to learn and hone their craft?
The main thing is to identify strengths. Just like in life, it’s the strengths that will bring about success. Yes, we want to eliminate the weaknesses, but too much focus on those will kill creativity. The classroom needs to be a happy place first, and then a sort of gym where a little pain (critiques and revision) causes artistic gains.
What is your proudest accomplishment as a professor?
I let out a joyful pterodactyl whoop whenever a student gets their first publication in a national or international literary journal. That’s happened about a hundred times now. And Joey Hedger, one of my favorite students ever, just sent me his first novel. EEEYYYAAAHHH!!!
Former PBA President Dr. Paul R. Corts and his wife, Diane, established an endowment to provide the annual Corts Award in honor of his parents and in recognition of their commitment to higher education.