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.

What We Talk about When We Talk about Creative Writing

This month we are publishing What We Talk about When We Talk about Creative Writing edited by Anna Leahy. In this post, Anna explains how the book came together.

What We Talk about When We Talk about Creative WritingWhat We Talk about When We Talk about Creative Writing has 32 contributors, including myself. Pulling that many voices together, chapter by chapter and on the whole, took a good deal of organization and effort on my part and, undoubtedly, a good deal of patience and agility on the part of each contributor. During the writing and editing of this collection, I sometimes wondered whether I should have written a single-author book instead. I’m glad I didn’t. This book is stronger for each perspective it includes.

Ten years ago, I edited the first book in the New Writing Viewpoints series, Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom. That book had grown out of a conference panel—out of an organized, performed conversation—and, as a result, achieved both breadth and depth in ways that a single expert could not. When the dean interviewed me two years later for my current academic position, she asked about my plans for future scholarship in creative writing pedagogy and the profession. Power and Identity in the Creative Writing ClassroomI answered that, while I was considering writing a single-author book and found such volumes imperative, it seemed especially important for me to contribute articles to journals and chapters to others’ books as this field continued to take shape. In other words, I appreciated my role as instigator of conversation and was less concerned about claiming my own territory within an academic field. Because I was also writing poetry and creative nonfiction, I felt some freedom and perhaps responsibility to play in my scholarly work.

By the time the calendar rolled around to the possibility of a follow-up book for the tenth anniversary of the series, some scholars were calling what we’d been doing Creative Writing Studies. At the same time, Stephanie Vanderslice and I had begun moderating a Facebook group called Creative Writing Pedagogy, which now has more than 4300 members. I’d concluded that what I most wanted this field to be, no matter what it’s called, is a sprawling, smart, theoretical and practical conversation about what we’re doing as creative writers in the academy and why. With tenure and a track record of publication, I could push the scholarly boundaries with this new project while building on the earlier work. By including 32 contributors interacting, What We Talk about When We Talk about Creative Writing is sprawling, smart, and, chapter by chapter and on the whole, useful.

I invited all contributors to the previous collection to contribute to this new book, and those who were still working in the academy have added their voices. I invited some longtime collaborators of mine as well, and I invited new voices that were emerging in the field. As large as this group became, it remains not inclusive enough, an issue with which I grapple in the book’s conclusion as well as in some other chapters. Inclusivity is, to my mind, the most pressing issue for creative writers in the academy to address over the next ten years.

I’d like to think that the lists of works cited are also a form of collaboration. These represent texts and, by extension, authors we’ve invited into our conversations. We’ve worked with each other as contributors and worked with the references we’ve used. These references are additional voices and perspectives for readers to seek out and work with as well.

The mode of conversation used for this book is an invitation for engagement. What We Talk about When We Talk about Creative Writing enters into the now widespread and ongoing scholarly conversation about creative writing pedagogy and the profession. I want it also to instigate further conversation among creative writers who teach and graduate students in creative writing, too. In our field, there exists plenty of room for more voices, more questions, more possibilities to spin off from the analyses, ideas, and practices we document in this book. Let’s keep talking!

Dr. Anna Leahy, www.amleahy.com

Creative Writing Pedagogy on Facebook (you must be logged in to request to join; send a message to a moderator if your request isn’t reviewed within a few weeks): https://www.facebook.com/groups/39509228012/

For further information about the book please see our website or Anna’s own website.