Carl Tighe, 1950-2020

Tributes paid to the British academy’s leading expert on Polish literature and culture

June 11, 2020
Carl Tighe, 1950-2020

The UK’s first professor of creative writing has died.

Carl Tighe was born into an Irish family in Birmingham on 26 April 1950 and studied English literature at what is now Swansea University (1973). After working briefly in community theatre, he took a teaching job in Poland and went on to work in the English departments at the universities of Wrocław and Gdańsk, and the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

Although he went in and out of the country, Professor Tighe wrote this year in the Journal of European Studies, “for me the years 1973-94 were dominated by Poland – by residence, visiting, work, reading, research, Solidarność [the Solidarity movement], Martial Law and the transition to democracy. These were years of tremendous change – physically difficult, politically confusing and very, very stressful: the weather was severe, queues were endless, food was scarce, toilet paper was a fantasy, vodka was cheap, political jokes were grim, denim was ‘in’, a plastic bag was a status symbol, everyone smoked, and the backing track was Abba.”

As well as a PhD in Polish literature and communism at Manchester University (1994), Professor Tighe published widely on this theme, in books such as Gdańsk: National Identity in the Polish German Borderlands (1990) and The Politics of Literature: Polish Writers under Communism (1999), along with the autobiographical novel Burning Worm (2001). He also wrote the prize-winning story collections Rejoice! (1992) and Pax: Variations (2000), as well as crime and science fiction.

Since there were no departments of Polish studies within UK higher education, Professor Tighe was appointed lecturer in creative writing at Derby University (1998-2004). He was later promoted to become the country’s first professor of creative writing (2004-15) until he retired to pursue his own writing projects. He was also the author of Creative Writing @ University (2009) and Writing the World: Creative Writing as a Subject of Study (2014).

Julian Preece, professor of German at Swansea University, described Professor Tighe as “a unique scholar and adventurous individual, who brought back news from Poland in the last two decades of the Cold War. He knew more about Polish literature and culture than anyone in British higher education”. Professor Preece added that, “starting in 1989 and encompassing in total 17 wide-ranging articles on Polish and Central European topics, much of his best work was published in the Journal of European Studies”, where he also served on the advisory board.

Professor Tighe died of Covid-19 on 8 May and is survived by his wife, Madeleine Rose, and a stepson.

matthew.reisz@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Thank you for such an accurate evocative obituary of my dear friend, Carl. A professional passion for Poland with a great interest in European history, how democracy and freedom of expression emerge and how fragile.

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