Rationalising the absurd

I am a writer, researcher, and teacher of writing at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute.

I believe in good writing. I believe writing can be taught. I think the perfect sentence exists, and I look for it constantly. I believe that knowledge is more interconnected than we can imagine. I think that the only way that writing can ever be learned is by writing, writing so much that your fingers hurt, and then writing some more. I think that teachers of writing need to write frequently to understand their students. I believe that research aids and supports the development of writing. I think that regardless of the question, more education is the answer. I believe in poetic grammar, extra innings in baseball, the power of compliments, soul mates, and that some feelings stay with you for a lifetime.

Short Bio: Dr. Ryan Thorpe teaches humanities and writing courses at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute. He is the poetry editor of The Shanghai Literary Review and manages a public workshop for anyone interested in creative writing. He writes columns for The Global Times and Sixth Tone, has published in numerous literary journals, and is currently working on a creative writing textbook. He holds a BA in English and theater from Trinity University, an MA in creative writing from Texas Tech, and a PhD from Oklahoma State University with concentrations in creative writing and TESOL.




Shanghai Literary Review

Poetry Editor

Shanghai Creative Writing Workshop

Founder and Director

Recent Publications

Newspaper Columns:

Metacognitive Elements on the Gaokao

The Role of Chinglish in China

How Gaokao Fails to Prepare Students

Learning about Tomb Sweeping

How a Digital World Changes Reading



Money for the Dead


The Funeral of a Rice Farmer




University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute


Kyungbook National University


Oklahoma State University


Daegu University


Texas Tech University



Oklahoma State University

Creative Writing, TESOL PhD-2016

Texas Tech University

Creative Writing, Fiction MA 2009

Trinity University

English and Theater, BA 2006


Writing Classes

Academic writing, Research Methods, Business Writing

Creative Writing

Introduction to Creative Writing, Creative Non-fiction


Introduction to Theater, Shakespeare Studies, The Literature of Love

Technical Writing

Introduction to Engineering (Tech Comm), Graduate Level Introduction to Tech Comm


Business Writing, Introduction to Writing, Introduction to Speaking

Presentation Skills, Graduate-level Pedagogy Theory




As a professor, I have taught many different subjects including creative writing, literature, composition, theater, linguistics, and technical writing. Regardless of the specific class I am teaching, a few key concepts inform my teaching process. I believe that:

  •  each student can have and develop strong, original opinions.
  •  students improve while actively engaging with the material.
  •  making the material culturally apply to my students has value.
  •  students should fail boldly inside of an education setting.

I want students to believe that they can have original opinions, but at the same time, I want them to realize the difficultly of having original thoughts. By engaging critical texts, reading published material about a chosen text, and discovering a topic that requires additional explanation demands time and patience. I challenge students to look at problems in new ways, and I structure my assignments so that sets of skills must work together to create something new and original.

I desire for students to participate actively in the classroom. When I think about my favorite professors, I remember the ones who pushed me to get out of my chair, to say something, to act out a scene, to participate in some way. The kinetic interaction with the material increases retention, class atmosphere, and motivation to understand the text. I also try to limit my own lecturing time. I do lecture during most class periods, but I try to keep that lecturing time to a minimum. If students are completing the assigned reading, then class time is better suited for utilizing that information and applying it towards a classroom activity.

I have taught in several countries during my life, and I have found that what works at one university does not mean that it will work at another. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and American students all approach the classroom differently with conflicting interests and bases of knowledge. By taking a little time to try and find readings and assignments that will speak to my students on a more cultural and personal level, student engagement and interest increase. In China, we looked at Chinese science fiction alongside American science fiction to see how cultural sci-fi actually was. In South Korea, we crafted family stories in my creative non-fiction class because the family unit in Korea is so strong. Considerations my students as people with distinct interests and backgrounds gives my classroom a more active environment that I always desire.

I also believe that students should find the courage to fail boldly in classroom. By saying this, I do not mean that I enjoy watching my students fail. Instead, I mean that education serves as an opportunity for students to try new activities, ideas, and projects in a safe environment, and a good university gives students the opportunities to keep trying new and bold experiences that they might hesitate to try on their own.

Education should be challenging. When facing challenges, people sometimes struggle at first, but that difficulty is the origin of real development. When a class is easy, students learn nothing. Instead, the moment when they have to fight to learn something, when they struggle, when they tackle an idea to the ground and hold it for a moment to understand it, that’s when education is happening.




This blog is dedicated to thoughts and reflections on the art of writing, teaching, and developing as a professional. These are small reflections that I generally give at the end of class, but I’ll be collecting them here.

2003, 2017

Jesus and Cannonballs

In a recent Sam Harris article, he cited the statistic that twenty percent of Americans believed that Jesus was going to come to Earth and judge the souls of the living and the dead within [...]

503, 2017

The Spiel

For ten years, I have been teaching, and at some point, I gave the first spiel. I don't know when exactly it was, but it happened. As class started to wind down, I sat on [...]

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Please feel free to contact me with any questions, information, or opportunities regarding my teaching, research, or writing. This form has trouble at times, so I’d encourage you to email me at thorpe.sjtu@yahoo.com.