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John Morrell

“I am excited to both celebrate and amplify the work going on to continue to make writing central to our academic program across all areas.” 

Loomis Chaffee has long prided itself on teaching students to write well, across the curriculum, not just in the courses that naturally come to mind.

Building on that legacy is Director of Writing Initiatives John Morrell.

“I am excited about the writing that happens in some of the subject areas we might not imagine,” John said. “We imagine it often in English, in history, in the humanities, but here at Loomis it is happening in the Math department, the Science Department, the dance class, the performing and visual arts, everywhere. I am excited to both celebrate and amplify the work going on to continue to make writing central to our academic program across all areas.”

After graduating from Hamilton College, John taught at the high school level, then studied at Vanderbilt University, where he earned an advanced degree in literature and taught as part of the program. He was head of the English Department at Loomis from 2015 to 2018. He then taught literature at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Mass., where he helped to direct the college’s Writing & Thinking program and served as associate dean of studies. He returned to Loomis in the 2022–23 school year. He says he never really felt like he was away; a part of his mind was always at Loomis.

Beyond his role as the director of Writing Initiatives, John is on the English faculty, where he teaches the Literature and the Environment course; and the History, Philosophy & Religious Studies faculty, where he teaches the Blackness in America course.

“Like many teachers I was inspired by my own teachers, both in high school and college,” John says. “My father is an educator as well, and a lot of my family on his side are educators. It is a vocation that is both familiar and has value in our family.”

John says one of the writers who has inspired him is the award-winning science fiction author Octavia Butler. 

“I came to know her work through the dissertation work I was doing in grad school around climate change and science,” John says. “She had an incredibly creative mind in terms of speculative fiction and using speculative fiction as a mirror into reflecting the present.”

John tries to make writing as comfortable as possible for students. He knows it is a process. In every step of his journey, from high school to college and then from college to graduate school, he says he realized he had a lot of room for growth.

“Writing is so malleable,” John reflects. “You can put your thoughts down on paper, and you can go back and reshape them to say what you want to say.”

 There are many opportunities for writers at Loomis. There are multiple school publications and various contests, including the Katharine Brush Flash Fiction contest at Loomis and outside contests such as the regional Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, in which Loomis students won more than 40 awards in 2023.

The Writing Initiatives program runs the Writing Studio, a peer support resource staffed by juniors and seniors who must apply and then receive training as writing consultants.

“It is hopefully creating a community of writers, and it is providing an authentic audience for students working on their writing,” John says. “They can come at any stage of the writing process and with writing in any discipline. They will not necessarily get a subject-area expert as their writing consultant, but what they will get is an interested listener who can ask questions that will help them clarify their ideas.”

The Literature and the Environment course that John teaches combines a few passions.

“I’m interested in novels and films that imagine climate-change scenarios and looking at those alongside public policy documents and some of the scientific literature that uses scenario planning as a way of imagining different futures,” he says.


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