Second Language Creative Writers

Next month we are publishing Second Language Creative Writers by Yan Zhao which explores the creative writing process for non-native speakers. In this post, Yan explains a bit more about the background to the book.

Second Language Creative WritersMore than a decade ago, as a Chinese undergraduate studying English language and literature in Beijing, I first started writing stories in English for my coursework. In addition, I wrote and performed several short plays in English with some classmates as part of our participation in the English department’s drama competitions.

I then went to the UK. During my doctoral study on Applied Linguistics there, I attended an English creative writing course which was held every Tuesday night, and among the 16 students altogether, I was the only non-native speaker of English. In nearly every session, a few students would be asked to read out their short stories to the whole class, which would then be followed by peers’ and teachers’ comments. From the first class, I always felt a great sense of anxiety because I could not quite comprehend or appreciate other students’ written work the way the rest of the class did (or appeared to do). I was anxious also because some day it would be my turn to read.

How would the others consider me as a writer, or evaluate me as a person from another culture? To be specific, how would they speculate upon the content and language of my story, e.g. the previous knowledge and ideology that I had brought to writing it, and the sophistication or rather naivety of my English language? What should I write and how could I conform to this community’s endorsed voices and practices? These issues returned to me when I became an ESL writing instructor myself, attempting to bring creative writing into the classroom.

This book Second Language Creative Writers tells the life experiences and writing processes of 15 motivated ESL creative writers. I aim to raise the awareness about issues of multiple identities and self-positioning in a particular context. Through the participants’ own lens the study considers:

  • How were these writers’ work and themselves perceived by the surrounding communities?
  • How did such perceptions influence their story creation processes? Are L2 creative writing processes unpredictable and whimsical?
  • Most crucially, could we see a pattern in how L2 creative writers describe their life experiences? Similarly, could we see any pattern in the writers’ lines of thoughts while writing the stories?
  • In other words, could L2 creative writer identities and writing processes be explored in systematic, vigorous, yet ethical manner?
  • Finally, in what ways could the above insights inform writing pedagogy, especially given the recent movement of ‘creative writing across the curriculum’?

For more information about this book please go to our website or contact the author directly:

Dr Yan Zhao
Xijiao-Liverpool University, P. R. China

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