Why I... I believe creative writing has re-established the role of the university

January 18, 2002

In our university we acquire lecturers' body parts and trade these on the open market. Hearts, lungs, livers, eyes. We call this "re-establishment". It is part of a government-approved scheme and entirely above board.

We have a great senior lecturer refurbishment programme, and a Committee for the Advanced Development and Activation of Virtual Academe (Cadava) that re-establishes the minds of ageing professorial staff as searchable web-programmes. This is a space-saving marvel. Needless to say, our Centre for the Re-establishment of the Academic Body (Crab) has been well funded by economic research councils. It houses prize-winning specialists in now unpopular fields who have re-established themselves, horizontally, in other institutional occupations. We regularly hold meetings about the re-use of our vast estate, most of which we have turned over to the subject of creative writing.

Here, indeed, is the pinnacle of re-establishment, our finest achievement to date. The vast acreage of what was once a traditional institution trying to assert itself in modern academe is now given over to writing stories about drug-ravaged rock band members named Mookie and cute Cornish farm girls with lazy morals. Our professor of modern history has started writing gory film scenarios with titles such as Armageddon 2 and sending them, via his Los Angeles agent, to Steven Spielberg. "Tank" Horton, our head of sports science, has turned into a prolific and popular Mills and Boon author, while our vice-chancellor has re-established himself as a performance poet named Lenny. University Council meetings are now conducted entirely in loud, barking free verse.

It is because of all this, I guess, that we have come into confrontation with the Arts and Humanities Research Board. Its members worry that all this creative writing is somehow unravelling the academic rigour of our core subjects, such as English literature. But we reply that creative writing is the greatest of our re-establishments, in that it both re-establishes and leaves in place what was already there. And not only the subject of English literature, but the core of other renowned academic fields. I think of the steady re-establishment, through creative writing, of our law students' love of the inventive lie; of the bulging, piscatorial waists of our oceanography postgraduates, which we have re-established with rollicking sea yarns; and of the weary eyes of our sociology scholars for whom, they say, the writing of fiction has re-established the dimensions of fact. What creative writing has done for the re-establishment of our school of accounting and financial administration goes without saying.

Our creative writing has reached into the world of work too and re-established entire bodies of our graduates. From book editors to car showroom clerks, we have sent out graduate students bearing the complexion of Seamus Heaney and others with the lyrically hefty shoulders of Toni Morrison. We regularly show, through our own creative writing, the heart of Anne Tyler, the memory of Salman Rushdie and the nose of Tom Wolfe. We have arranged a placement in a film company for an undergraduate who bore the imagination of Michael Crichton. Yes, creative writing has set the pace for re-establishment here, trading on the various parts of the vast body of academe. The government is happy because enrolments are up. Our Office of Conferences and Events is beyond impressed. After all, in what other subject can you host a conference and have attendees registering from so many other disciplines? That is the core of re-establishment. It is about using the university for what it was intended - the renewal of our human capital. We have re-established that here most obviously through creative writing. It appears to be raising the worth of us all.

Graeme Harper Director Centre for the Creative and Performing Arts University of Wales, Bangor.

The conference Great Writing 2002! What is a Postgraduate Degree in Creative Writing? is being held at the University of Wales, Bangor, on January 19 and 20 .

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