Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Beginning Conversations

I'm hopefully going to blogging a little about this years New Writing Worlds on Writers' Centre Norwich's own blog, but have a few thoughts I wanted to put down here. Every year since it began, a wide range of internationally based writers - 18 countries this year, I think was said - are invited to Norwich for what is, essentially, an extended literary conversation; a mixture of shared salon, private interchanges and public readings. It's refreshing after being at so many conferences where everyone is tapping and twittering away, to find that the best interaction here is to listen. The digital interventions can come afterwards. This year, the salon's theme is creative writing - but despite taking place at the home of the UK's first creative writing course, UEA, it doesn't feel at all insular. I've noticed recently how many arts and cultural institutions are having to deal with how the "art" is exploding out from the venue; the same, slower, but meaningfully, is happening with the kind of discourse and practice that you find on a creative writing course. Here at UEA, the discipline was always embedded, within the English department, but I know that's not common everywhere. I wonder what a 21st century liberal arts department (it seems a better term than humanities) might really look like? In creative disciplines, like writing, the short, sharp intervention of an M.A. is, I think, not so vital as the opening of doors and pathways that the course might provide. Here's where social media and the creative writing degree can have some exchange, I think - the "people ecology" that is being fostered by these connections between writers at UEA this week, are not dissimilar to what happens elsewhere. It might be that the transmission mechanism's are necessarily email or older formats, rather than twitter, or instant messaging, but the connections are still there.

For me, the real privilege is not so much the discussion, interesting as it is, but the beginning of the conversation, and that, of course, brings us back to the work. Many of the writers here this week are also reading. I particularly enjoyed the poems of Priya Sarukkai-Chabria and Rukmini Nair last night, two Indian writers writing and reading in English. These weren't translations but originals, and the translation, if there is one, needs to take placein the poets' minds, translating their culture into a language that has its own historical weight.

I was reminded, during this morning's discussion about whether or not creative writing could be taught - a necessary enough jumping off point - of the piece that was written for the Times Higher during my M.A. at Manchester in 1998, with writer Lee Rourke erroneously referred to as a former electrician. I like how in the accompanying profiles our ages are all given - makes me feel very old.

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