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Current Issue

No. 72

Editorial by Paul Munden

A Long Vigil

This issue of Writing in Education takes its cue from Washington, DC, where earlier this year the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) held is 50th Anniversary Conference, attended by some 12,000 writers.

AWP conferences are planned years in advance. We might have expected there to be the first female US President installed in the White House. Instead there was Donald Trump, and at the close of the conference many of the delegates gathered for a “vigil and speak out” outside the presidential residence to register their belief in free speech. Organized by Split This Rock, a DC-based organization devoted to poetry and political engagement, together with 29 co-sponsoring publications and groups, the vigil featured readings  from Gabrielle Bellot, Kazim Ali, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché and others.

Afterwards, as is the way with such  gatherings, people disbanded, and those of us from overseas returned to our various homes. In a sense, however, the vigil goes on, and it’s certain to be a long one, given the worrying political situation that exists on so many fronts. But this is precisely what writers are about, and the contributions to this issue—including several of those present in Washington, taking part in panels convened by NAWE—bear eloquent testimony to such commitment.

It is, moreover, an international commitment. Current political grotesqueries on both sides of the Atlantic show remarkable resemblance to each other. And the NAWE panels included not only US and UK contributors, but also writer-teachers from Australia, Canada and China. The two sessions (described further on pages 14–15, and with detailed articles following on) considered Creative Writing from truly international perspectives, reflecting on the nature of its discourse and its relevance for those who teach and study it—and somehow need to make ends meet while forging on with a “career” characterized by considerable precarity.

What emerged, and is further clarified in this issue, is a belief in Creative Writing that is, if anything, reinforced by the deeply problematic political environment in which it must operate. As Paul Hetherington remarks about Creative Writing students:

They are equipped to appreciate the euphemistic complexities and sometimes insincere dichotomies that characterize much contemporary political language. They are able to speak back to the rhetoric and “spin” that dominates so much of the current news cycle, because they have tools to construct alternative ways of speaking. (p.42)

Alongside these articles emerging from AWP are others that strike a similar note. In his article on James Baldwin, Glen Retief states that,

in the era of Trump and Brexit, we can expect increasing numbers of young writers to be intensely angry and concerned at the state of the world. They will object to immigrant-bashing, climate inaction, extreme economic inequality, misogyny, and transphobia, and all in significantly larger numbers than their immediate predecessors. These students will wish to use their writing talents to speak out and make a difference. (p.44)

What we offer students, in preparation for this politically active life, is crucial, and the role played by AWP, NAWE and all the equivalent international organizations is of prime importance, providing students (and their teachers) with the necessary sense of community to compensate for the deprivations poor governments impose.

Later this year, NAWE will celebrate an anniversary of its own: 30 years supporting UK writers in education—and helping to connect them to others internationally. We hope that many of you will attend and make it count as an important milestone for our association at a time when it is needed more than ever. Robert Hull’s article makes clear how our very youngest writers are being poorly served by the curriculum in our schools. The British government may tear up our Creative Writing A Level but it will not succeed in diminishing our resolve or the ingenuity with which we seek to foster meaningful writing at all levels.




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All NAWE Members (with the exception of e-members signed up to receive the e-bulletin only) can download the full magazine as a PDF. No. 72 is now available, below. Please log in for the files to appear. Individual articles are also accessible.