The write stuff?

Academic authors to debate the pros and cons of creative writing courses. Hannah Fearn reports

October 21, 2009

Lecturers will put up a spirited defence of creative writing degrees at the Inside Out Festival, the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange-curated event that showcases the cultural contributions of the capital’s universities.

The week-long festival provides a series of cultural events for the public throughout London on university campuses and at leading venues such as the National Portrait Gallery. On 23 October, at the close of the event, creative writing lecturers from Goldsmiths, University of London will gather at Somerset House to debate the question: “Can you teach creative writing?”

Blake Morrison, former literary editor of The Observer, author of And When Did You Last See Your Father? (2006) and professor of creative and life writing at Goldsmiths, will argue that creative writing is a talent but can still be taught, in common with other creative skills such as playing a musical instrument.

“No one thinks that in painting or music you can’t be taught. In creative writing there are techniques that can be learnt and basic skills that can be imparted,” he said.

Maura Dooley, poet, author of How Novelists Work (2000), lecturer in creative writing at Goldsmiths and another speaker at the Times Higher Education-sponsored event, agrees.

“In many ways you can’t teach creative writing, but there are things about writing itself which studying creative writing is very helpful for,” she said.

“What’s great about it is that for once in your life you’re with a group of like-minded people. For a short time, when you come together, not only are you sharing experiences and learning from each other in a more formal way, but you have the companionship and the network that can sustain you for a long time ahead.”

But Professor Morrison will also warn festival goers that the popularity of creative writing courses could lead to worrying changes.

In the US, where creative writing is taught in many universities, budding student writers increasingly find themselves pushed out of mainstream publishing.

“That hasn’t happened here yet, but it would be a worry if the only way for someone with a creative writing MA to get published was through the university press. That would be a dismal development,” he said.

“The other worry is that the lecturers we have increasingly will be people who have done creative writing masters and PhDs and have never been outside the academic sphere.”

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