Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A New Centre for New Writing

I was prescient that the University of Manchester would have to up its game a little with the appointment of Martin Amis as a "professor." Here's the meat - they've just advertised a 0.65 post as a Lecturer in Creative Writing to help develop the University's "Centre for New Writing," though at little more than 15k for the privilege, it probably rules out such literary heavyweights as, oh, me! The new centre has 2 other writers alongside Amis, Patricia Duncker, who was at UEA, and Vona Groarke, a poet. I'd not heard of the latter, though she appears to have come through the "irish studies" route, and not read either of them; but Amis apart it seems a quite typical department, probably 3 parts pragmatism to 1 part bohemian. The university will, I'm sure, make money. What interest me more is that use, again, of the term, "New Writing." This follows on from East Anglia's "New Writing Partnership", and, if you go back a bit, the British Council's "New Writing" anthology. When we started "Lamport Court" it was deliberately given a longer title, "Lamport Court New Writing." I felt then, as now, that "new" had 2 meanings -: new as in new voices, and new as in innovative. It's not something you can necessarily create as an editor, but you can foster it. The "new writing" phrase in Academia seems a lot less "new" than that. It's not merely age - Amis and Duncker were born a year either side of 1950 - but a sense that any cultural movement needs a changing-of-the-guard, a kicking over statues, where the previous generation simply don't understand. There's been quite a lot on the blogs recently about the meaning of "literary" - I've always felt the term is self evident - but even in the 20 years since I left university, the counter-cultural novel of the 50s and 60s, whether "Last Exit to Brooklyn", B.S. Johnson, or "The Dharma Bums" has risen in significance, from being seen as maybe something worthy of thematic study ("the beats", "modernism") - and certainly not literary - to being the only literary writing that has lasted. So, here's to new writing! (But not too much of it.)

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