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Rethinking Creative Writing
Stephanie Vanderslice
In Rethinking Creative Writing NAWE member Stephanie Vanderslice challenges the myths surrounding creative writing and, through case studies of best practice, provides a vision of how creative writing programs can engage with contemporary culture. Available to NAWE members at 36% discount with free delivery in the UK.
Rethinking Creative Writing in Higher Education: Programs and Practices That Work

"This is a brave, serious, passionate and entertaining book" – Dr Steve May, Head of Department, Creative Writing, Bath Spa University.

“Thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and [an] altogether important book” – Erika Dreifus in Practising Writing.

In this passionate, iconoclastic, survey of Creative Writing as an academic discipline, Stephanie Vanderslice provides a provocative critique of existing practice. She challenges enduring myths surrounding creative writing – not least, that writers learn most from workshops. Through case studies of best practice from America and elsewhere, Vanderslice provides a vision of change, showing how undergraduate and postgraduate programs can be reformed to re-engage with contemporary culture.

Publisher: The Professional and Higher Parternship
Available in paperback, ISBN 978-1-907076-31-2.
RRP £25
Special offer price to NAWE members, 36% off: £16.00
Reviewed as below in Writing in Education No. 57, together with Creativity in Language & Literature (Palgrave, 2011)

Many of the contributors to Creativity in Language & Literature, amongst whom are practitioners who will be familiar – Patience Agbabi, Graeme Harper, Mario Petrucci, Fiona Sampson and Michelene Wandor – focus their enquiry upon the interplay between reflection and accident. They are often concerned with the differences, if any, between worked and spontaneous metaphor and related tropes in both everyday speech and writing, and indeed upon the extent to which creativity itself can only be understood in terms of metaphor. The inevitability of this habit resurfaces in Stephanie Vanderslice’s Rethinking Creative Writing, which argues passionately from her own experience, as both student and teacher, for a review of the centrality of what she calls ‘the amorphous workshop method’ to creative writing practice, at least in Higher Education in America, where of course it originated, and the UK.

Vanderslice challenges the idea of the workshop as ‘sacred space’ and seeks, like Pope and others above, to see creative writing as a practice, or perhaps even a set of acquired skills at undergraduate level, fully integrated into contemporary culture. The image she offers for the classical workshop is borrowed from Tom Kealey:

‘When you’re a writer in a workshop, its like driving a car with twelve people in the backseat, all of them telling you which way to go. They all may actually be giving good directions and driving instructions but if you listen to all of them you’re likely to crash the car.’

So much for ‘sacred spaces’! And she adds to this a recurring sense that programmes and workshops are simply badly organized or not engaged with (‘my work had not been read’) by the workshop leader who is perhaps the driving instructor or mechanic in this analogy. She is right to remind us of the dangers of complacency, particularly the refrain that ‘creative writing cannot be taught’ both by its champions and detractors, and the need to reconsider approaches, not least in providing excellent case studies of practices in institutions which she sees as having moved beyond the ‘ivory tower’ or at-the-feet-of-the-great-(male)-writer syndrome. But much of the integration and reconsideration she argues for, including the differentiation of undergraduate from Masters programmes, genre specific modelling and comparison, the focus on transferable and employability skills embedded perhaps in writing for other media or in publication projects focused as much on process as on product, is familiar certainly in the HE sector in the UK. Her call for ‘a culture of reflection’, despite the anxieties about what we mean by reflection and the claims we make for it as a post hoc activity, raised not least by Wandor, is a good one. However, because of the work done by Harper and others in establishing benchmarks for creative writing as a practice, we might feel – and clearly his and the other contributions to Creativity in Language & Literature suggest as much – that such a culture, with all its debates and disputes, does exist.

In one final down-to-earth trope, Steve May suggests in his Foreword that reading Vanderslice’s book is ‘like a hotelier experiencing a visit from … [a] deeply expert …unfailingly helpful but always … painfully observant Public Health Inspector’.  This image might be said to work for both books reviewed here, but only in the sense that the ‘rooms’, rather than ‘sacred spaces’, in which creativity in language occurs, however much we might argue about the décor or who should be allowed to book in and on what terms, are, in fact, in pretty good shape.

Paul Wright
Rethinking Creative Writing
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Sat 12 Nov 2011
The Professional and Higher Partnership
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