Sunday 15 April 2012

The point of universities and how that works for creative writing

If you want to follow a curriculum, you go to school or an FE college. When you get a degree at a university, you’re getting a slice of the raw knowledge straight from the researcher’s mouth. It’s true that several researchers in the same disciplines will be coming to the same conclusions at the same time, and yes, they read each other’s books and attend the same conferences, but all researchers have a unique pool of interests and expert knowledge that they pass on directly to their students.
They’re even expected at times question the status quo. They’re allowed to investigate the mating habits of a frog that lives only on small island off the East African coast, though they won’t get the mega funding for that that an industrial partner might offer for an alternative to fossil fuel.
In creative writing also, the research feeds into to what we teach. Lecturers in creative writing become skilled in that critically reflective process described in my previous blog post Whycreative writing at university? They reflect on their own work, on the work of the students they teach and on the work of the published writers they read. They are permitted to identify rigour that produces something that has merit but may not have a commercial life. Yet they also recognise the commercial industry for what it is and can work with it and around it.
It’s no accident that the University of Salford, where I currently work, hosted a conference about the small press recently. The small press also is able to operate beyond the constraints of the more commercial industry.  It tends to be less worried about financial success, has fewer overheads to cover, is more forgiving towards writers who don’t sell well and is more open to innovation and experimentation than the Big Six.
The university, then here, just as in other contexts, understands and describes what is and tries to find out what may be. It’s pushing a boundary or two, taking knowledge to a higher level, experimenting and reporting back. Students in creative writing can be involved in that process from the beginning.                 

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