AcademicsAug 3, 2022

updated Nov 20, 2023

Celebrating Student Voices

Emily Pulfer-Terino ’97 and the formative power of writing

(Amy Inglis ’08 — Avida Love Photography)

By Liz Kulze

Emily Pulfer-Terino was a boarding student at Miss Hall’s when she went to see her then English Teacher, Michelle Gillett, give a public reading of her poetry. Gillett, who taught at MHS from 1984 to 1995, was an award-winning poet, an artist, and an advocate for women in the arts, and she published several books, prior to her passing in 2015.

“She was a big inspiration,” Emily says. “It was amazing to have a working poet as my English teacher.”

Ask me about creative writing at MHS

Flash-forward years later, and Emily has followed in Ms. Gillett’s footsteps, teaching courses in Literature and Creative Writing at MHS and regularly publishing her own poetry in various literary journals. She is also the faculty-founder and advisor for Girls Right the World, an online literary journal celebrating female-identified writers and artists and edited by MHS students. The journal, which Emily founded in 2015 with students Alicia Bravo ’16 and Anna Ngo ’16, has expanded to have a global reach.

It’s her passion for voice and personal expression that ultimately led Emily to pursue a career in Creative Writing, both as a poet and as a teacher. After graduating from MHS at just age 16, she went on to study Literature and Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College and ultimately earned an M.F.A. in Poetry from Syracuse University. Afterward, she planned to teach at the college level, but when she returned to MHS for her 10-year reunion, she learned the School was looking for an English Teacher. “I applied for an interview a few days after the reunion,” says Emily, who is now in her fifteenth year at MHS. “It was really intimidating, because I was applying for a job with my old teachers!”

Miss Hall’s has evolved a lot since that time, as has the place of Creative Writing in academics, both nationally and in the MHS community. Though there were no Creative Writing course offerings when Emily first began teaching, she and Phoebe Goodhue Milliken ’37 English Department Chair Julie Schutzman were instrumental in advocating for its inclusion in the Academic Program, first as an elective in 2011 and, most recently, as a Hallmark Course, now in its second year.

“Reimagining Creative Writing as a Hallmark Course has really helped signal that it’s a serious enterprise,” Emily says. “Writing can be fun, but it can also be very serious and critical. A lot of the skills and faculties that are brought to bear in essay writing, critical analysis, and research are also integral to Creative Writing.”

In the course, students develop their voices through the study and writing of poetry, spoken word pieces, short stories, nonfiction, and experimental forms. There is also a collaborative element, as students workshop each other’s work, learning how to give and receive feedback in order to help imagine opportunities for revision.

In a recent class, students read from love or anti-poems they were working on, while their peers responded by shouting out what moved them or what they thought was working well. “I appreciate the shifting perspectives,” one student said. “I like the use of repetition and internal rhyme,” said another.

Emily notes that there’s a unique inclusiveness inherent to a Creative Writing classroom, as it provides opportunities for students who love to talk, but also for those who are more reticent — but have a lot to say.

“There’s a particular way in which students transform in a Creative Writing class that feels really exciting and individualized,” she explains, before noting the role Creative Writing also plays in helping to establish connection and community.

This was especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, when teachers and students were forced to embrace remote learning. During a time when many students were left feeling isolated, the English Department made the decision to offer more opportunities for Creative Writing in all of their courses, in order to best support students both academically and emotionally.

It was a time that reminded Emily of the curative value of personal expression and the importance of making space for student voice. “It was a refuge,” Emily says, of her Creative Writing class during the pandemic. “The empathy born of sharing people’s personal stories made our classroom a wonderful space.”