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April 10, 2024

Writing Director Parag Budhecha Teaches All the Write Stuff

Guilford students write a lot of papers. Writing Director Parag Budhecha gives them the tools to put their thoughts onto paper.

“I absolutely loved helping other students craft their work and their words. That’s when I realized I was good at offering this kind of help and maybe I could help, maybe even teach, others how to write.”

Parag Budhecha
Writing Program Director

Within Parag Budhecha there resides a muse, albeit a small and reserved muse, who would love nothing more than to spark the next great American novel. You know, the kind of novel that propels Parag on book tours for weeks on end and has agents waiting outside her Archdale Hall office when she gets back. The kind of novel that’s optioned into a movie and has Hollywood calling to get her thoughts — Angela Bassett or Elizabeth Olsen? — for the lead.

Of course she’s wondered what it would be like to give voice to that character or find the single verb that enlivens the opening scene, sending readers on a page-flipping ride that ends with …

Stop right there. Don’t think this is the first time Guilford’s Writing Program Director has heard this question before. She does a little creative writing in her spare time, even wishes she could do more. “But that’s not what I really love,” she says. “What I Really love is helping other people write better.”

And for 13 years Parag’s been helping Guilford students do just that. She came to the College in 2009 from Duke, where she served as Associate Director of the university’s writing program. Parag’s a visiting assistant professor in Guilford’s English Department and, since 2011 has led the College’s Writing Program.

At their core, creative and academic writers require similar skills, says Parag. Both need to research their topics and discover what new ideas can be brought to the subject. “Academic writing is more about, ‘Hey, I have something to say, I have a contribution to make to this conversation I’ve been reading or hearing about,’ ” says Parag. “I like thinking about the most effective way I can get my idea across and persuade other people that I have a good idea or, at least, an idea they should consider.”

The ability to research, analyze and convey that information in clear, persuasive writing are good tools to possess, says Parag, not just over four years at a writing-intensive liberal arts college like Guilford, but in whatever work students land after college. The trick, she says, is getting students to appreciate the importance of the College’s composition and rhetoric classes that are a requirement for an overwhelming majority of Guilford students. Parag says most first-year students want to be anywhere but in her classroom researching claims and evidence, discovering rhetorical strategies, and learning to write for different audiences.

She doesn’t take this personally. Just as Parag asks her students to think about their audience before sitting down to write, she thinks about the audience in her classroom. “A lot of my students have had traumatic educational experiences with writing,” she says. “They’ve been told they don’t write the right way, or that they’re bad readers or writers. They feel like they’ve been punished for the kind of writing they do so they don’t want to be there. They don't see the benefit.”

Not initially at least. “Developing as a reader and writer is a slow burn,” says Parag. “I see some progress within a semester, but it’s not until a student’s junior or senior year when the lights maybe come on and everything comes together.

Cole Flaherty ’25, an Education major, remembers walking into Parag’s ENG 102 classroom last spring not knowing what to expect. “Each class was something new and different,” Cole says. “Sometimes professors teach the same stuff from 20 years ago, but that’s not Parag. She has really good lesson plans that a lot of students can relate to.

Parag was a sophomore at the University of Arizona when she realized she had “a gift”, as she calls it, of reading a book or an essay and putting her research, thoughts and feelings to paper. Parag's professors saw that gift , too, and made her one of the university's first writing tutors.

“I absolutely loved helping other students craft their work and their words,” she says. “That’s when I realized I was good at offering this kind of help and maybe I could help, maybe even teach, others how to write.”

That love of writing grew from a love of reading. Even as a child, Parag was a precocious reader. Her sister, who is nearly seven years older, was constantly telling her to read the book she’d just put down. “I was probably reading things way before I should have been reading them but that’s how I got hooked,” says Parag.

Parag says students today are reading and writing even more than previous generations thanks to social media. “Think about it – they’re always reading Instagram posts, and they're always texting back and forth,” she says.

The challenge for Parag is to help students enhance those Instagram Posts and texts. Earlier this spring she gave students a three-part assignment to do just that. Given the basic facts that a fictitious Joe Smith was found stabbed to death in a Greensboro Parking garage, students were first asked to write a murder story.

The story needed to include characters and their relevant background details as well as the investigation and subsequent court case. Students were then asked to write reports from four different perspectives: a detective’s report, the coroner’s report, a family member’s eulogy, and a closing argument from the prosecutor. It’s an assignment Parag uses with most of her rhetoric classes.

“I thought it was a really creative way to get us thinking about writing and who our audience is,” says Cole. “So one paper you’re writing from the coroner’s perspective and maybe it’s a lot more scientific with medical terms and then you’re writing from a family member at the funeral and it’s a little more personal. It’s a creative way for using some of the (rhetorical) principles that come into reading and writing. Her class has really helped me in other classes.”

Parag says that writing clearly comes only after students first begin to think clearly. "Those are two skills that feed off each other," says Parag.

Cole understands and appreciates what Parag has instilled in him at Guilford. "When I sit down to write, it's almost always the same," he says. "My thoughts are kind of scattered everywhere. It's the sitting down to write that helps me sort out my thoughts and connect them to the topic logically. "They may not have been written down, but Cole's words are music to Parag's ears. No matter who you are or what you want to do — a teacher, a politician, a lawyer, a business person — writing forces you to make choices and bring clarity and order to your ideas, she says.

“I want students to recognize what they're learning is going to do more than just help them in my class,” she says. “I want them to be ready to write or communicate not just for their next class or courses in their major but also when they get a job.”