From wiki page about Michael Crichton":

In 1988, Crichton was a visiting writer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

What does exactly the term visiting writer mean?

Does it mean he was there on a visit once or twice?

Or does it mean that he was there a permanent visitor for the whole year(1988)?

Or is it the some kind of a contract with the MIT? E.g. to give lectures on writing for the whole year 1988 to the students?

Thanks for the clarification.

  • 3
    It's like a Visiting Professor, except the professor is an author, and not necessarily an academic. Typically the V.A. teaches advanced writing courses, usually creative writing like stories or novels. – John Lawler May 22 '13 at 19:58
  • So, does it mean that "visiting writer: is someone who is a writer and he is asked to give some lectures for the university? – Derfder May 22 '13 at 20:06
  • He is asked to come and be there for a while and to do some teaching -- usually not just lectures -- for the school. – John Lawler May 22 '13 at 20:44
  • "not just lectures" can you explain it a little further, please? – Derfder May 22 '13 at 20:54
  • 1
    Teach involves students; lecture does not. – John Lawler May 22 '13 at 22:21

The term is context specific. As evidence of such, this is what I found when I tried to ascertain what Michael Crichton's position was as a Visiting Writer at MIT in 1988.

  1. Harper Collins' biography for Crichton is the most factually accurate, in that I can find no evidence to the contrary. It says:

    He taught courses in anthropology at Cambridge University and writing at MIT.

  2. In this case, Visiting Writer does not mean that Crichton was an MIT Visiting Artist. The MIT Visiting Artist program does include writers, see "literature". However, the roster from the program's inception in 1961 through 2013 does not include Crichton.
  3. Crichton may have been a Visiting Writer for one of the sections of the MIT Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. I could not find any mention of his name associated with the program when I searched the site. I also searched MIT's publicly accessible content using the MIT custom Google search engine (the only option offered), but found nothing associating Crichton with any writing programs at MIT.
I don't question whether Michael Crichton had an affiliation with MIT in 1988. Harper Collins is credible, and was not specific, unlike others who followed. It is difficult to ascertain exact scope of such terms as Visiting Writer though.


I happened to find this thread while doing a little research for my MIT dept (the descendent of the old MIT Writing Program), and the most authoritative/detailed answer I can find comes from the 1998 "Reports to the President", wherein every department writes up their activities from the prior 12 months. On page 121 (PDF) it reads:

Two completely new and highly successful presentations occurred in the past year. One was Course 21S47, "The Art of Revision," an intensive six-unit writing seminar taught by author and motion picture director Michael Crichton and jointly offered by Concourse and the MIT Writing Program.

I might check with the Institute Archives to see if there's a course catalog with the description for 21S47, but "21S" refers to a course of study leading to the Bachelor of Science in Humanities and Science.

  • Interesting piece of historical data. If you can find contemporaneous information about what Crichton's position was called at the time, you might have a a decisive answer to the poster's question about the original meaning of the term "visiting writer." – Sven Yargs Feb 4 '16 at 23:46

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