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You are here: Home > Writing in Education > Writing at University > Writing in Practice > Previous Issues > Vol. 3 > Out of the box and into the woods: Creativity and academic literacies
Out of the box and into the woods: Creativity and academic literacies
Author: Ian Pople
Ian Pople uses a systems model of creativity to map how the practice of creative writing may allow creative writing students who are non-native speakers of English to negotiate both their writing and their identity within the UK higher education system.


The systems model of creativity developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi presents an elegant approach to the production of creative works. This article maps Csikszentmihalyi’s three elements of creative production, that is domain, field and individual, onto models of academic literacy, i.e. a student’s relationship with the institutions of higher education and how that relationship is negotiated by the student. This mapping suggests how the practice of creative writing may allow creative writing students who are non-native speakers of English, attending a particular UK institution of higher education, to negotiate both their writing and their identity within the UK HE system. The article attempts to lay the ground for such negotiation by reporting and discussing comments made by students in both semi-structured interviews and in the commentaries they add to their final creative writing portfolios.


Keywords: systems model of creativity; academic literacy; non-native speakers of English



Csikszentmihaly’s systems model of creative production has been described as “a straight forward structure to analyse creativity in cultural production in a form that is simple and elegant” (Fulton and Paton 2016: 28). The model posits three essential elements which interact to locate an individual’s creative production. The first of these is domain, which is the element which “encompasses existing traditions and conventions” (Fulton and Paton 2016: 29). And Sawyer glosses this further as “the set of conventions, past works and standard ways of working” (2012: 265). What is clear here is that creativity produces little that is novel unless that novelty acknowledges what has gone before it. Csikszentmihaly gives the term “field” to “the social group responsible for the verification of creativity” (Fulton and Paton 2016: 29). This group may thus be responsible for “gatekeeping”, a term I shall discuss further below. As Sawyer puts it, “The field judges whether or not it’s novel, and whether or not it’s appropriate” (2012: 216). The final element in the model is “individual”, that is the person who creates novelty and variation within the system. In this model, each of the three elements affects the others and is in turn affected by them.

This essay seeks to use Csikszentmihaly’s systems model to explore the idea of “academic literacy”, defined by Lea and Street in a now famous article from 2006 as being “concerned with meaning making, identity, power, and authority, [which] foregrounds the institutional nature of what counts as knowledge in any particular academic context” (2006: 369).The Foucauldian origin for this kind of definition seems palpable; it suggests that the institution decides what constitutes knowledge, and that academic literacy is a way of “coming to terms” with those institutional decisions[i]. Clearly, this perspective feels that the institution “holds all the cards”. And here Foucault describes “fellowships of discourse” whose function is “to preserve or to reproduce discourse, but in order that it should circulate within a closed community, according to strict regulations, without those in possession being dispossessed by this very distribution” (Foucault 1972: 225-26).

The systems model may map onto academic literacy, as academic literacy also presents a domain, the institution of higher education, with its own “conventions, past works and standard ways of working”. However, notions of academic literacy may problematize the systems model. In this essay, “domain” is more specifically defined as “academic writing” in the sense that the academy presents such writing as having a set of established conventions and expectations. As such, “academic literacy” is not only a way of negotiating with the domain of higher education by adopting certain of its norms and expectations. Academic literacy is also a way of working within and with those norms and expectations to produce texts that are conventionalized in particular ways and therefore acceptable to that academy. The adoption of norms and expectations is likely to be undertaken by negotiating with the “field” that controls those norms; that is, the tutors and/or academic guardians of the domain. The individuals, here, are non-native speaking students who undertake creative writing courses at the University of Manchester. These students are not only undertaking creative writing courses but are also engaged in the process of acquiring academic literacy. In the context of this essay, the acquisition of academic literacy may well be literally that, the acquisition of a range of what are considered to be “appropriate” writing skills. Thus this essay hopes to show some of the ways in which creative writing practice may help individuals to negotiate with—and critique—not only field that controls entry to the domain, but also the domain itself.

Creative writing might allow students who are non-native speakers of English to examine their relationship to the academic literacies they may encounter when attending academic courses both in the UK and in their home universities. These home universities may also be where, as we will see below, the domain of writing, be it in Europe or in the Far East, is even more rigorously bounded than in the UK, and where boundaries are confirmed not only by the field of tutors who police those boundaries, but also by the effect that policing may have on the perceptions of the students themselves.

The essay will begin by using a systems model of creativity to suggest how academic literacy may be situated in the academy, and how creative writing might relate to that. The essay will finish by examining comments from a group of these students, comments taken from the commentaries, or “supplementary discourses” (Sheppard 2003) that students write as part of their final portfolio submissions for a credit-bearing course in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. The essay examines comments from interviews the author has conducted with some of these students. These comments show how such students, usually from Europe but also from Korea, Japan and China, may view their creative writing as critiquing the academic literacies they have encountered.


Domain: the place of writing in the academy

As noted, Csikszentmihalyi suggests that the domain is a conventionalized, even reified area of culture. It is the entity which the creative writer looks towards in their production. Csikszentmihalyi defines creativity as “any act, idea or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one”. He also defines a creative person as “someone whose thoughts and actions change a domain, or establish a new domain”, whilst adding the caveat that “a domain cannot be changed without the explicit or implicit consent of a field responsible for it” (Csikszentmihalyi 1997: 28). Pope, too, places emphasis on change as part of a definition of creativity: “Creation involves interaction and exchange, not just action and change. This is as true personally (within the person) and socially (between persons) as it is physically and biologically (of machines and organisms)” (Pope 2005: 191; his italics). And it is noticeable here, how Pope’s emphasis is on the personal and social nature of the domain and the change enacted there.

The power dimensions of the “domain” might be suggested by mapping “domain” onto the notion of “communities of practice”. Cox defines “community of practice” as “situated social construction[s] of meaning” (2005:527). And John Swales elaborates this construction by suggesting that such communities require: a broadly agreed set of public goals; mechanisms of intercommunication; participation which provides information and feedback; particularized genres that communicate its aims; a particular and often acquired lexis; and a threshold level of competence in the content and discourse of the community (Swales 1990: 24 – 27). Swales’ vocabulary picks out a range of ideas that constitute that community: it is “broadly agreed”; there are “mechanisms” of communication; its particularization communicates a set of aims; its vocabulary is “often acquired” and requires “competence”. Such terms may also suggest where the locus of power exists and the mechanisms through which such power operates.

Such “epistemological issues and social processes” might stretch “communities of practice” between “domain” and Csikszentmihalyi’s next category, “field”. Even the nomenclature might suggest this; “domain” might suggest something with boundaries which may have or acquire an element of fixity. A community of practice, on the other hand, by emphasizing “community” and also “practice”, suggests an inherent instability involving a communal group who are engaged in a practical process. And Hyland and Hamp-Lyons warn against seeing such communities as monolithic and static. They warn that these communities are not “determinate […] and predictable arenas of shared and agreed-upon values and conventions” (2002: 7). Thus, such communities may be seen more as a space, an arena, with struggles taking place within, rather than a single discourse community with a common process and teleology. This space of engagement is also touched upon in Lea and Street’s own suggestion that students who approach such communities must involve themselves in a “more complex, nuanced, situated” space which contains “both epistemological issues and social processes, including power relations among people, institutions and social identities” (2006: 369).


Field: the tutor as gatekeeper

Students as novice or neophyte writers may approach these domains with some trepidation; they may recognize that the particular tribes inhabiting those spaces speak a particular dialect. Students may well simply not be able to speak this dialect, and this inability is particularly so where the student’s first language is not English. This article asks, in part, if creative writing will help such students move away from a bounded, domain view of writing. Creative writing, here, is somewhat loosely defined as the study of writing which is essentially non-transactional and thus may have little defined purpose beyond its own creation. By transactional text, I mean either verbal or written text, with which these students negotiate the information needed to carry on day to day living, such as going to the shops, taking buses, negotiating council tax with the landlord.

Students as novice or neophyte writers may also approach these domains and recognize Cox’s sense of the situation of such a domain as bounded. Such students may well be aware of the field which lies between them as individuals and that domain, a field which is normative, with gatekeepers. Novices who wait at those gates and boundaries are likely to learn the acceptable levels of community literacy to be allowed in (Borg 2003: 400). Lave and Wenger (1991) suggest that those who wait at the gates are engaged in “legitimate peripheral participation”. Here, these novices are learning to move into their chosen community by “continuous, active, engaged, situated and identity-forming process – in contrast to the then-dominant cognitive view” (Cox 2005: 528). So those novices and neophytes may come to offer their own stamp on the proceedings of that community. However, they usually have to, as the jazz world would put it, “pay their dues”.

In the academic community, such legitimate participation, such “dues paying” will necessarily include undergraduate and postgraduate study, and, at a further stage, the delivery of conference presentations and publishing papers such as this. How, then, does this engagement with Csikszentmihalyi’s “field” affect those who choose to participation in the study of creative writing in the academy? And who are the gatekeepers in this field?

In two recent articles, Mansoor (2010) and Tay and Leung (2011) reflect on how teaching students to write creatively in English as a Second Language involved non-native speakers in a struggle with their ingrained notions of what such a domain might involve. These notions also seem to reify the field that already exists, i.e. the teachers who teach creative writing in the university. Mansoor describes a creative writing course introduced at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan. However, at the very beginning of her abstract, Mansoor comments that creative writing

does not elicit a very enthusiastic response from Pakistani students [and] because of weak language, the students feel pressurised at the very onset. [In addition,] the teacher thus faces an uphill task since his/her job becomes manifold, i.e. a teacher has to help the students in the areas of vocabulary development, minimising first-language interference, in developing a practical approach to grammar that assists in sentence construction as well as an innovative, liberated, out of the box way of thinking and expression and in retaining the interest of the students (Mansoor 2010: 201).

How “pressure” might affect creativity we will examine below, but it is clear in that first sentence that both students and tutors make evaluative comments about what is “weak”, and such an evaluation is inevitably predicated on internalized and normative ideas of ‘strong”. “Strong” might be seen as fluency and capability absorbed from the context of the learning and that universal gate-keeper, the exam system. It is noticeable that Mansoor describes the teacher’s role in terms of improving the students’ English. The transition from “weak” to “strong” is seen when Mansoor feels the need to add to the students’ language stock in both lexis and grammatical knowledge, and to improve their grasp of syntax. Yet, that “weak/strong” binary also overlaps with a need to avoid L1 interference and the possible inter-language which might result.

On top of the technical job that Mansoor suggests the teacher must perform, the creative writing teacher here must also liberate the student’s imagination, and move it “out of the box” into a state of liberation. This movement may be entirely counter-intuitive to the student’s own notions of what writing may be. Mansoor also comments that “most of these students view creative writing as a domain that is inseparable from correct grammar and vocabulary”, and obstacles in these areas push the creative aspect of writing into the background (2010: 206) Thus the “domain” of creative writing remains bounded by the very normative and assessable field, the “box”, that Mansoor hopes to move the students beyond.

Tay and Leung also comment that students in Hong Kong come to creative writing with a normative perspective, that of excessive respect for the instructor. Here, the students’ own attitudes further reify the field, seeming to corral the creative writing tutor within it. Such figures “tell [students] which parts they need to rewrite, and how they should do it […] to the extent that even in creative writing classes, students regard the instructor’s written remarks on the paper as the rule to follow” (2011: 107). Tay and Leung report this attitude in the context of creative writing lessons given by the poet and novelist, Shirley Geok-lin Lim. Lim widens this portrait out by comparing her Hong Kong students to her American creative writing students. While the American students would approach Lim for individual tutorials, the Hong Kong students did not. For Lim, this lack of approach was because of the Hong Kong students’ inability to create a particular relationship with the tutor (Lim 2001, cited in Tay and Leung 2011: 107). These students, perhaps, did not see their creative writing as so individual that they could use it to bridge into a more rounded relationship with the teacher. For them, the tutor was indeed a gate keeper who was keeping her hand firmly on the latch of the gate, with the tutor on one side and the student on the other.

Students who come to the UK as “non-native speakers” inevitably come up against the fact that the “field” and its literacies are different in the UK to their own university systems. Many such students may be taught in large institutions where their contact with tutors is limited. Some of these students say that they spend four years at an institution where no one actually knows their name. Lecturers stand at the front of large, overcrowded lecture theatres, and are uniformly addressed as “professor”. Students may only be assessed once a year by exam, and their essay, or formative output, may often be minimal. In the UK, a British tutor might actively encourage students to call them by their first name only; such a tutor is often at pains to learn their students' own first names. Feedback may—and the “may” needs to be underlined—be correspondingly more “intimate”, in the sense that it is more closely directed at an individual student’s product and the individual student’s process of production. In this attempt to reduce the distance between the student and the tutor, previous notions of academic literacy are clearly challenged, challenged to the point where, just occasionally, a kind of culture shock kicks in. The old certainties are no longer at hand, and uncertainty may well be coupled with the experience of living away from family for the first time. All these factors will affect the students’ attitude to the discourse world in which they work.

Voices from the teaching of academic writing also contribute to the establishment of field which selects the nature of the domain of writing that these students encounter. The British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes (BALEAP), EAP’s equivalent to NAWE if you will, has created a “can-do” list as part of its review of the assessment of academic writing. This “can-do” list contains a list of skills that “non-native speaking students” will need to have if they are to succeed in a UK academic community. BALEAP, operating as monitors, as the “field” for the “domain” of academic writing, do ask for “independent thinking” as one of their “can-do” requirements, and define that kind of thinking as the ability to: 

  • Think creatively
  • Recognize the extent to which an individual interpretation and/or response to a question is required as opposed to a model answer
  • Accept the possibility of different perspectives and explore these
  • Be self-critical (BALEAP 2013)

Individual: the novice creative writer, writing in a second language

Creative writing as a discipline may offer more than the obvious responses to those criteria, and not only responses which point towards the individual as creator. The writing occasioned in the creative domain, for example, may attempt to be individual with regards to the individual’s interpretation of the stimuli proposed by the tutor. The better writers will have a range of possibilities in their writing. In addition, creative writing, as a discipline, is often about more than writing.

One way in which the individual may work out their own relationship with the field is through the workshop aspect of creative writing teaching. Workshop participants usually discuss their writing with others in workshops of varying kinds and with varying dynamics. Interestingly, the BALEAP statements suggest ways in which the interaction within the workshop may affect both the writing and skills around the writing. That the creative writing may emerge from “thinking creatively” is an assumption that the very wording makes. But the interaction within the workshop may suggest other creative ways of working the material, e.g. through the responses and suggestions of other students to each student’s writing. Those suggestions in and of themselves may suggest a widening of imaginative and creative parameters around a text, a widening which may enable further creative engagement with other texts. When BALEAP asks the student to recognize both the need for individual interpretations and different perspectives, it points to the very heart of the workshop. Here, the student will bring in a text which is a product of their own creativity, but which may then be furnished with a range of perspectives. The internal and external negotiations with those perspectives will, we have to hope, give the writer ways in which to be self-critical.

It is clear that in the workshopping of writing with peers, perspectives are immediate and may be affecting. For students whose first language in not English, the workshop is often a new and, initially at least, a threatening experience. These threats may be the obvious ones: lack of fluency and articulacy in the language itself, the fear of making mistakes, and having pronunciation that others find difficult. These are threats that such students perceive on a daily basis during their time in the UK. Such “language learners” may have difficulties with transactional communications, even if most of them have very high language levels. And these can be existential threats, daily transactional threats to an identity that has been acculturated over the student’s lifetime.

In terms of the academy, these threats may impinge on success in the domain. As Polly, one of my writing students, writes:

And due to the competitiveness in schools I often get disappointed when I get the English writing score from teachers because I failed to write in an academic way. Things have changed after attending [creative writing] course. I love writing the thoughts in a creative way without limiting the mind.

Polly does not yoke writing “in an academic way” with “limiting the mind”. But these thoughts do flow together for her. Polly suggests how one kind of academic literacy in one writing domain (she is from Taiwan) operates: here, competitiveness replicates and probably reinforces those binaries of “strong/weak”, “succeed/fail” we’ve seen above. Polly sees those binaries reinforced by the sense of pitting one student against another in those competitions, competitions built by the gate-keeping teachers around writing “in an academic way”. For Polly “things have changed”; the creative writing course has allowed her to think and to write her thoughts without those perceived limits. What is of further interest here is that fact that, even though she has experienced failure within one particular system, Polly has taken the opportunity to operate within a different academic domain, that of the University of Manchester. Thus academia, per se, does not seem at fault, it is the system and the field it generates which may be problematic.

Success or failure within the domain may not always present itself as a set of binaries. Succeeding may well involve a negotiation around Lave and Wenger’s legitimate peripheral participation even at the undergraduate level. At this level, there is, perhaps, an even greater sense that identity formation and re-formation is integral to that participation. This forming may be because there is a greater sense of transition from school or work into the academy, a transition which might be seen as part of the movement to maturity involved in moving “up” into higher education. When interviewed, two students from Germany, Eva-Lotte and Lisa, suggested that pre-conceived notions of style may impinge both upon the field’s sense of itself and the identity of the novice writer. When asked about the relation of academic writing to creative writing, they commented:

Eva-Lotte: There’s a clear line between the two. And when you start putting too many adjectives in your academic writing, then they can mark you down. [Why?] Because it’s more a journalistic approach, maybe. It’s a more creative approach to writing. And this is what they criticise in Germany about my writing. Because I came from a newspaper where I wrote so many “yellow press” stuff. And I came back to uni they were telling me… [Lisa:  … sounds like a recipe from a women’s magazine…] Yes, that’s what one tutor told me. It was so embarrassing, but I can”t help myself, it’s just the way I write. And it took me some time to get rid of all this women’s magazine lingo to write academically.

Lisa: There is a link between the two because I totally like to start my academic essays with something just a little broader. And start from the broader point then get to the topic itself. May be start with a quote and incorporate a little bit of that creative writing. Not write a story but just as a starting point. I think it gets the reader’s attention.

Eva-Lotte: I also like to start with a quote in academic writing.

Here, Eva-Lotte’s peripheral participation in the academic domain in Germany is initially deemed “illegitimate”. She considers her initial engagement to be “a more creative approach” conditioned by her experience in writing for the “yellow press”, or the tabloid, or “red-top” press. Her previous experience, her previous identity as a writer, is dismissed by one tutor as “women’s magazine” writing. Leaving aside the rather sexist dismissal of the writing, Eva-Lotte’s writing is also situated within another illegitimate domain, that of the recipe book. Such a dismissal might seem the product of the tutor’s all-too-ready wit, a characterization too far, perhaps. However, the tutor’s comments position him or her in clear opposition to Eva-Lotte, who seems to adopt this opposition herself with that initial comment that “there’s a clear line between the two [types of writing, creative and academic].” The effect on this student is to question her identity as a writer, evidenced by her embarrassment, and the phrase “I can’t help myself, it’s just the way I write”. As we can see here, Eva-Lotte adopts the tutor’s characterization of her writing by repeating it as part of her struggle to rid herself of “this women’s magazine lingo” and to “write academically”. It is interesting here that she herself identifies with the colloquial register of “lingo”, as against the more formal phrase “to write academically”.

It might seem that Eva-Lotte’s “academic literacy” has become reified into a kind of submission to the power structure of the domain. And we might see that submission in similar terms to Polly’s need to succeed within the field’s constraints. Polly sees success in terms of scores, of passing and failing, of a particular field’s demand for a particular kind of literacy, a literacy in the more general understanding of the term. Eva-Lotte sees success as an internalization of a set of values, the values of “academic literacy” which Lea and Street adumbrate. Polly sees creative writing as a liberation of the mind. Eva-Lotte, on the other hand, seems to posit creative writing as a different genre. However, we might hope that at some point in the future she will see that creative writing, journalism and academic writing are varieties of writing over which she has choice and control. Perhaps she will see that control over these varieties as part of a writer’s education in the domain (Paton, 2016: 118).

Lisa’s view of the difference between creative and academic writing might be seen as a little more nuanced, particularly as Lisa’s view of what is creative seems to be as much concerned with structure as it is with style. She seems to suggest that creativity involves an appeal to the reader’s attention. And again, we might ask whom she might picture as her reader. Since she does situate these texts as “academic essays”, we might assume that the reader here is the tutor. Lisa’s situating of the discourse raises an interesting scenario, as Lisa regards the academic reader as someone whose attention needs to be actively engaged. She does not suggest that the writing needs to be “sold” to the reader, although salespersonship might be the implication. Lisa almost paraphrases Hesse’s comments on the need for writing to require the attention and approval of potential readers. Here, “creative writing” is distinguished from “academic writing” on the level of the performative, whose perlocutionary force, in Austin’s terms, is to gain the reader’s attention (Austin 1976). However, it is also noticeable that Lisa is likely to use a quotation for that purpose. Again, Lisa does not discuss the need for the quotation to be apposite, but clearly it would need to be. That necessity is not an either/or but part of a continuum of appositeness, where Lisa’s creativity may be limited to the choice and the use to which she puts that quotation. That continuum of appositeness may limit the choice and use of the quotation because of Lisa’s particular attitude towards the institution, that attitude itself another kind of academic literacy.

Paton, in her study of fiction writers in Australia, comments that it is the publishing industry which controls the expression of creativity for these writers. “Without some form of engagement with the support and judgment of the field, the writers in [her] study could not remain a part of the system of fiction writing nor have their works considered creative” (Paton 2016: 121). For the creative writing individuals in this study, this engagement may be what Cox, Lave and Wenger characterize as “legitimate peripheral engagement” and may map quite closely onto identity formation within and around the academic field. A difference here might be that fiction writers in Australia might well be subject to the pressures of editors to change their writing. As Paton puts it, “writers engage with editors to improve the story or text further before publication. (Paton, ibid). What “improve” means, however, is a moot point, as many a fiction writer will attest. For novice writers, “improving” will mean bringing the writing into line with the academy’s expectations. Yet, for such neophyte writers, the inner changes to identity might be deeper and have larger, different consequences in terms of success and failure. It is at this point that creativity is profoundly involved. A student’s independence, both emotional and intellectual, may be coterminous with their ability to evoke and sustain their creativity, and in that evoking become and be original. This identity process may become recursive; where the student feels more independent, their creativity may feel more viable, and where they are more creative, their independence may feel more sustainable.

At the same time, there may be “no escaping” the field of the institution. The students will have made a commitment to the academic institution in which they find themselves. This field, as we have seen, will have a variety of feedback mechanisms which affect the student. The modern university is now much more adept at interacting with the student. VLEs, tutorials, feedback, group and task-based activities have moved the tutor from the somewhat remote issuer of lectures and exam marks, as in the past, to the much more engaged and, possibly, “available” tutor of today. In addition, most universities are glued to the results of the National Student Survey, and the other departmental, school and faculty-based surveys which these universities use to elicit student feedback. Whether such mechanisms actually increase the responsiveness of the institution or merely metastasize its power structures and control mechanisms in ever more subtle ways is a moot point. In the age of the home student loan and with more attention being paid, in theory, to the student as consumer, such mechanisms may only proliferate, particularly where consumers themselves are glued to the rankings of both department and university, especially at post-graduate level. Is this a genuine symbiosis, or is it a move into another form of “academic literacy”, another example of the pressure which Mansoor’s students felt? And what is the relationship of creativity to these new and evolving academies? They are examples of Hyland and Hamp-Lyons’ indeterminate arenas, and Lea and Street’s nuanced spaces with their “epistemological issues and social processes” (2006: 369).

Such students can articulate such epistemological issues around identity formation in profound ways. As Francisca comments:

As a foreign student, I experienced the condition of foreignness not only in analyzing texts in a foreign language, but also writing in a creative way, as a sort of “exile” from myself. […]  Interesting, I noticed that such a sense of disconnectedness existed more in the abstract sphere of thoughts and memories than in the objective world in the academic setting.

Later she states:

Furthermore, I could cultivate both an insider’s and an outsider’s attitude to myself and the world around me. It was in such a textual space that I discovered how we are all, even if at different levels, “foreigners to ourselves”.

In Lea and Street’s terms, what “counts as knowledge” for Francisca is a sense of foreignness which impinges on her sense of identity through her language use. Textual space – what a fascinating phrase – shows her how both she and others may live with a sense of inner exile when that textual space is creative. That creative, perhaps created, textual space may also be an abstract realm of thought and memory. And yet, that space also allows Francisca to view herself with both intimacy and distance. Thus, Francisca gains self-knowledge which the “academic setting” and, perhaps by implication, academic writing doesn’t allow. This is not knowledge as constituted by the processes of academic literacy, that is, knowledge released through the processes of the academy, but knowledge obtained through creativity. In BALEAP’s terms, Francisca’s interpretation is already one which is individual, although it might also be seen as solipsistic, the knowledge remaining defined within the purview of the student creator.

Francisca sees that knowledge as the creation of an identity which is permeable both to the outside and the inside. At the same time, she is even able situate her view in Joycean terms, above and behind his handiwork, if not quite invisible or refined out of existence (Joyce 1946). If the situation of academy and student is becoming more symbiotic, then an individual such as Francisca gains knowledge by using her sense of dislocation and dissonance to her own advantage. Francisca develops her own epistemology by cultivating her own awareness of how she relates her creativity to herself and the world around her, becoming a foreigner to herself. The academy and its literacies have become a refracted world, from which Francisca gains identity by learning the literacies of the self; what Francisca is creating is an ontology of the self, a way of being.

Such a literacy of the self, enabled by creative writing may be seen in Ryoko’s comments:

Through each process, I got new path that leads me into myself. Inside myself, there is what is needed for the draft as it was came from there after all. My writing is outward by inward. Rather than getting more and more things to put in the already born draft by walking around, I talk with what is already there. Therefore, as the writing goes my draft gets nearer to me. They become something I experienced, heard, smelled, learned, saw, tasted and touched. It is the metamorphosis of inspirations into experience. They are no long something to think about but to be known. Through the metamorphosis they are structured, ordered and connected. Fragment pieces of texts are gradually woven into a story. If the story doesn’t allow an expression, it must be re-examined. What does it exactly stand for?  What is beneath it? Simple neglect must be avoided, as it is not from outer space but from me. It should be revealed and appropriately expressed as part of the story.

Ryoko expresses, with extraordinary beauty, I feel, the process which many writers either go through or aspire to. Here the process of inspiration is a profound engagement with the self, with what is inward and present in the writer. Of course, this is an articulation of what the Romantics saw as creativity ab nihilo, from the deepest resources of the self. And this kind of creativity has been criticized ever since as inevitably acculturated, and historically and economically situated. But Ryoko goes beyond that kind of view of creativity by carefully examining the process itself: the sense of the draft from inspirations which then become experienced, reified. Through the process he calls “metamorphosis”, logic, order and coherence are brought to the fragmented texts. There is then an absolute sense that there is meaning and story in the writing.

Here, the text is not from “outer space”, with some nebulous origin which is not interrogated; the text has meaning which must be “revealed” as part of the story itself. Ryoko is actually writing about that process which many feel, that in the writing itself, the writer will discover what it is that they are writing about. The literacy of the self which Ryoko espouses is a literacy of the self as narrative. Ryoko is creating a narrative of the self as an indeterminate arena that is traversed and re-traversed to find meaning, to create an epistemology of the self, which has its own ontological story and coherence.

What these statements bear witness to are the ways in which creative writing may help novice writers engage in Lave and Wenger’s “legitimate peripheral participation” and gain a perspective on the academy and the kinds of writing it demands. What these witnesses suggest is that creative writing may not only help such students to get “out of the box”, but may also help them critique the box itself. When such writers consider the nature of their creativity it is not simply the domain which such considerations may critique, but the very existence of the domain and their relation to it. What they are engaging in are not merely academic literacies and the critiquing of those literacies, but a deeper critique of their selves in relation to those literacies, the creation of a larger literacy of the self.



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Ian Pople teaches at the University of Manchester, where he runs creative writing modules for non-native speakers of English, and teaches English for Academic Purposes amongst postgraduates. His PhD was on the British poet, Roy Fisher. Ian is a Senior Fellow of the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. His own poetry has been published in many countries and in book form by Arc Publications.