What is the Future of Creative Writing in America?

This month we published Changing Creative Writing in America edited by Graeme Harper. In this post, Graeme explains the inspiration behind the book.

Not much more than a teenager, and long before I had even visited the USA, I read the recollections of Malcolm Bradbury and William Golding, both later knighted for their work in British letters, and Golding a Nobel Laureate, about their experiences of creative writing workshops in American colleges. From their British point of view, creative writing in American higher education was certainly intriguing – a combination of vibrant literary culture making, emoting attendees at what appeared to be a self-help group, and some worrisome naiveté. In any case, as creative writers, both Bradbury and Golding couldn’t help but be fascinated by the phenomenon, as well as by its increasing popularity.

My own predilections, having been resident in various parts of the world at various times, were already eclectic; appreciating both the American point of view and the British, wondering on the attitudes of each, and thinking a critical eye might well be applied productively to either one, and both in direct contrast, and to other largely unmined evidence of how creative writing manifested itself in the world’s universities and colleges – topics that later fed into my graduate study and to my editing of the journal New Writing: the International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing and the New Writing Viewpoints (Multilingual Matters) book series.

30 years later, and me now an established resident here in the USA, in February 2017 I attended the conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the American “Association of Writers and Writing Programs” (AWP). Held in Washington DC, and billed as “now the largest literary conference in North America”, to my mind that AWP conference and its clearly celebratory nature raised more questions than it answered, and certainly spurred on the writing and editing of Changing Creative Writing in America in ways predictable and unpredictable.

Predictably, there are writers in this book, such as Kate Haake, Tim Mayers, Dianne Donnelly, Stephanie Vanderslice and Pat Bizzaro who some people will associate with the increased pursuit here of what is generally called “Creative Writing Studies”, or the critical study of creative writing practices, results and pedagogies. Many in the fields of Composition and Rhetoric in the USA will also recognize the Foreword writer, Joe Moxley, whose 1989 book, Creative Writing in America forms an intellectual and pedagogic backdrop to this current book. Less predictably, there are other contributors who might not be so well known to readers, and who are largely situated between creative and critical activities as varied (or some exploring creative writing might indeed say, “as connected”) as Literary Studies, Composition and Rhetoric, and New Media and Film Studies. These are also current voices, contributing voices, and vibrant voices, perhaps to Creative Writing Studies, perhaps simply to the question of where Creative Writing currently lives in the American educational context. All in this book pursue an investigation and a declaration of where we are now in Creative Writing teaching and learning in the USA, where the past informs this contemporary position, and where we might productively progress.

Changing Creative Writing in America is largely a positive book, celebrating what we might achieve – but it is not without its posed challenges, challenges to us all, calls for not stasis but for concerted change. It is in that challenging, in those desires for change, that we might well find the dynamic future of Creative Writing in America.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like What We Talk about When We Talk about Creative Writing edited by Anna Leahy.

Key Issues in Creative Writing

Last month we published Key Issues in Creative Writing edited by Dianne Donnelly and Graeme Harper and so we asked them to explain a little about where the idea for the book came from and how it contributes to the field of creative writing pedagogy.

Key Issues in Creative WritingA book emerges from any number of places – but often the starting point comes from a simple conversation. We probably – at least it’s likely! — began Key Issues in Creative Writing when talking about some other Creative Writing idea or ideas. Certainly, by the time we began to talk to potential authors at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Washington DC in 2011 we had a reasonable sense of the book but, as yet, no definite form or shape. There was a need even then for more conversation and, naturally, coffee!

One of the important things we discussed early in the book’s evolution was having a range of voices — those who had played a role in thinking about Creative Writing in higher education, but from different points of view, based on different experiences at different times and for different reasons. We wanted an international mix as well – not the entire spectrum of potential world voices but at least some reference to alternate national perspectives.

Of course, all this conversation, all this talking about “who”, was a mere whisper compared to time spent talking about “what”!

“Key” issues in Creative Writing – what exactly are the “key” issues, and from what point of view, and to whom, are they key? The point was largely that if Creative Writing had grown and grown stronger in and around universities and colleges then what did those teaching and writing in those places think were key issues and how had those key issues impacted on their own ways of working – whether teaching or writing? In the large part, the book began to look for issues relating to the pedagogies of Creative Writing, with an interest also in the emergence of Creative Writing research in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia where Creative Writing research has grown, particularly in relation to the growth of doctoral study in Creative Writing. An interest in both teaching and research pointed us toward a wider concept of “knowledge” in Creative Writing and this then informed much of the formative work that took the Keys Issues in Creative Writing from a conversation to a brief to authors and, finally, to a completed manuscript.

We’ve made the point in the introduction to the book, as well as in its conclusion, that we are in no sense saying that these are the only issues, or even the only key issues, in the Creative Writing. In fact, we emphasize that for us the book’s success will in some ways be measured by how many readers begin to think about what they personally consider to be key issues, whether these issues are similar to those explored by the writers in the book or very different from them. Using the word “key” was our way of encouraging others to define for themselves what might or might not be most significant to them in the pursuit of Creative Writing knowledge — knowledge about teaching and about the practice of Creative Writing itself. We hope the book will open a dialogue that continues to explore and interrogate the key issues in Creative Writing.

For more information on the New Writing Viewpoints series please see our website. Dianne and Graeme’s other books in the series can be seen below. 

Dianne Donnelly and Graeme Harper's other books in the New Writing Viewpoint series
Dianne Donnelly and Graeme Harper’s other books in the New Writing Viewpoint series