TEXT review

Stimulating viewpoints and future directions

review by Marcelle Freiman


Creative Writing and Education
Graeme Harper (ed)
New Writing Viewpoints 11
Multilingual Matters, Bristol UK 2015
ISBN 9781783093526
Pb 201pp GBP89.95


For the eleventh volume in the New Writing Viewpoints series, Graeme Harper invited a wide range of creative writing teachers, academics and practitioners to contribute essays and commentaries addressing the major theme of ‘Creative Writing and Education’. The conjunction ‘and’ allows for some openness towards the concept, resulting in contributor essays on learning and teaching in a great variety of educational and national contexts, and on implications of assessment, as well as future directions and technological impacts on writing. There are also reflections by ‘writers who teach’, essays on the institutional ‘pipeline’ of schools, tertiary and higher degree research, and a number of innovative case study practices brought by teachers to fields of teaching practice. Where individual teaching practice is related, what is most notable is the reflective responsiveness of these teachers to the needs of students and to the ethics of teaching and learning creative writing.

But this is not really a ‘how to teach’ book – we have many of those already. Rather, this volume is an attempt to engage conversations about the relationships between education and creative writing, and it amply shows the readiness of the discipline to self-transform in response to change and increasingly culturally and technologically varied contexts. Some of the most interesting contributions show interventions by teachers who think in great depth about their educative role. North American poet Katharine Coles’ commentary ‘Against Carefulness’, for instance, addresses the need to encourage risk-taking in writing – in response to the often good, but not ‘white knuckle’ excellent workshop writing produced by university students. As most creative writing teachers recognise, with the established institutionalisation of creative writing, hierarchies of teacher / student and assessment requirements exacerbate this problem. Coles posits some confronting ideas for shifting the focus towards maximising the chances of real creativity in her students, which involves teachers taking risks as well.

This kind of responsiveness is indicative of the variety of individual voices in the collection. Philip Gross’ wonderful Twitter poem ‘Accounting for the Unaccountable: A Forward in 42 Tweets’ sets the tone for the collection by speaking to the complexities, paradoxes and ambiguities of creative writing in education that are borne out in what follows. This poem should be read by all teachers of creative writing.

Essays from teachers and academics in Israel, China, Pakistan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom confirm the growing international reach of creative writing as an academic discipline (sometimes in its infancy). From these contributions it is clear that creative writing education is underpinned by the decades of work done in establishing the discipline in Australasia, the UK and the US. While the North American approaches have often differed from those in Australasia and the UK, mainly due to institutional differences, there is evidence in this collection of a dialogic engagement between these ‘major players’, which I think is new and for which we should thank the editor. I was also very interested in the experience Fan Dai brings to creative writing at Sun Yat-sen University in China. Introducing Chinese language and bilingual studies to English language writing is innovative, as is the use of the workshop method within a traditionally regimented, hierarchical education system. Students respond to the first time they are permitted to bring their own subjectivity and life experience to their writing studies. Teaching between cultures and languages can produce unique creative results, as we see in Asma Mansoor’s commentary from Pakistan, ‘Tracing Roots in a Foreign Language’, which relates teaching students writing in the ‘in-between spaces’ of multilingual experience. The internationalisation of creative writing is a welcome development that I anticipate will continue to the point where it can emerge beyond the excellent frameworks established by the ‘major players’. While PhD candidates completing at Western universities expand the discipline globally when they find work or return to these centres, local teachers and academics are also emerging from the programs and from other disciplines to become future teachers.

This book is organised in what seems a slightly haphazard way, brought about as Harper himself notes in his ‘Introduction’, by the project’s somewhat open (and complicated) conceptual premise. Reading it from cover to cover though, one encounters a mosaic – a clamour of voices and passions as well as some unevenness. With chapters and dialogues interspersed with less formal individual commentaries that speak outside the strictures of essay format, the tone shifts, lifts, settles and disrupts in often pleasing ways. Beginning on a disruptive note (Gross’ Twitter poem) certainly makes one want to read on, but at times the experience can be disappointing. This occurs mainly with the dialogues, where several contributors bring thoughts and ideas to quite loosely-defined topics. While the individual statements here are of depth and interest, they are hard to put together because the overall structure of these pieces seem to lack focus.

At other times, one is definitely uplifted. An exciting contribution on interdisciplinary collaboration is Toby Emert and Maureen Hall’s essay ‘Greater Satisfaction from the Labor: Creative Writing as a Text Response Strategy in the Teacher Education Classroom’, which theorises and illustrates the use of creative writing tasks to stimulate critical thinking in the analysis of critical material. This approach would, I think, enable creativity to be brought to learning critical thinking in any discipline. In this case, students write ‘found’ poems on slivers of text they have highlighted in their reading of a set critical chapter. The process and outcome becomes an enabler that leads the authors to ‘recognize the potential of creative writing, when used as a teaching strategy, to amplify the act of learning’ (59).

Another intervention is Paul Munden’s commentary ‘Poetry by Heart’, on a National Association of Writers in Education project (re)introducing the memorization of poetry in British schools to enhance learning. Memorization requires close attention to language and structure, and Munden emphasises how this project can extend ‘our sense of match between memorization and comprehension, a match that suffered a temporary split at the time of Britain’s postwar education reforms’ (70). This also highlights the recognition of creative writing as part of English curriculum in A Level secondary education in the UK. Maggie Butt in ‘Taking Creative Writing Seriously in Schools’ outlines her design of the British A Level Creative Writing curriculum, including strategies to include some aspects of creative writing into exam conditions. This will be of interest to those involved in secondary and tertiary creative writing assessment.

Nigel Krauth’s ‘The Radical Future of Teaching Creative Writing’ notes the differences that new and multimodal media are making to reading and the production of stories – the incorporation of visual media and ‘apps’ as integral parts of some published creative texts. Clearly, creative writing needs to engage more closely with other media. While the industry word at this point is that e-publishing is ‘stabilising’, print output is definitely experiencing change and Krauth’s suggestion that new media and creative writing should be taught together is one call to a future vision – even if English academics and creative writing teachers might find this a scary prospect, as Krauth acknowledges. Looking to the future in terms of both textual production and learning and teaching, is nonetheless necessary. Kevin Brophy and Elizabeth MacFarlane explore the need to respond to the increase in online learning environments and the currency of the ‘flipped classroom’ in ‘Redesigning the Lecture in a Cyber World: A Creative Writing Case Study’. While the demands for these changes come from universities, the fact is that most students now engage with their textual worlds and learning predominantly in digital formats and encounters.

Jeri Kroll’s measured and very informative contribution, ‘Originality and Research: Knowledge Production in Creative Writing Doctoral Degrees’ grounds education as practice and research. This is a perfect essay to pass on to doctoral creative writing students and their supervisors. Overall, this book will be of great interest to all involved with creative writing and education as it moves into a future of very rapid change. While its tendency is to sometimes lose focus, it offers a great deal that is new.


Dr Marcelle Freiman is Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at Macquarie University and, as past Chair of AAWP, a member of the AAWP Advisory Board. Her current research interests include: cognitive approaches to creative writing; ekphrasis; post- colonial literatures, and poetry. She has published articles in TEXT, in New Writing: The International Journal of Creative Writing and contributed chapters to Creative Writing: Theory Beyond Practice (eds Brady and Krauth) and The Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet (eds Cousins and Howarth). Her poetry publications are Monkey’s Wedding (1995) and White Lines (Vertical) (2010) and she has published numerous poems in literary journals including Antipodes, Southerly, Westerly, Mascara Literary Journal and Cordite.


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Vol 20 No 1 April 2016
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
Reviews Editor: Linda Weste