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How many Cs are there in Creative Writing?
Tue 14 Apr 2015
In addition to our regular magazine columns, we're pleased to publish this report from Graeme Harper at a conference in Florida — and with news of an important new book.
This morning I am waking up in Tampa, Florida for the first time. There are quite a lot of slightly red-hued people in this early morning here. That is because when I arrived yesterday the temperature was 84°F, in what we still refer to as ‘new money’, having emigrated to the USA from the UK 4 years ago this year. These sunburnt folk were all around the hotel yesterday afternoon, which perhaps is an indication that this hotel is not all that close to the business end of my reason for being here, and much closer to the beach end!

I’m here in Tampa to present a paper on the future of creative writing and creative writing education at the ‘Conference on College Composition and Communication’ annual convention, whose theme this year, as formally announced, is ‘R&R: Risk and Reward’. Funny, being as this is Tampa, outside my window is a beach, and R&R more often is military slang for ‘rest and recuperation’. I suspect the conference organizers are fully aware of the ironic turn.

The 4Cs or CCCCs, as it is commonly known, is much more than a conference. As it announces on its website, ‘since 1949, the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) has been the world's largest professional organization for researching and teaching composition, from writing to new media.’ This means that the 4Cs precedes the foundation of the American ‘Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)’ by some eighteen years, the AWP having been founded in 1967 with the aim of supporting ‘the growing presence of literary writers in higher education’. The AWP after that, it notes, ‘has helped North America develop a literature as diverse as its peoples.’ You can perhaps already see an interestingly different intention around the work of the CCCCs to that around the AWP, these two now large and now influential organizations. There is perhaps not space here to explore that topic further, but those viewing creative writing in America from beyond its borders might be intrigued to explore the differences a little more.

In the meantime, while I have been writing, the sun has come up fully and the slightly sunburnt seem determined to take their ‘tanning’ to yet another level. I love the sun, but I’m thinking there are going to be quite a few people staying in this hotel who are not going to be comfortable in their seats on their flights home. I’m going to have to leave them to it. I want to get over to the conference – which is being held at the Tampa Convention Centre – for one of the first sessions. I plan to attend a panel entitled ‘Out of the Comfort Zone: Making Connections and Understanding in Creative Writing’. The panel outline suggests: ‘shared insight and lived experience are crucial components for decolonizing creative writing and encouraging student learning.” Sounds interesting and relevant. I’ll then head to ‘Risky Narratives: Going Beyond ‘Comfort Zones’ in The Writing Classroom’, where panelists will explore ‘risks and ethics involved with teaching and doing creative writing.’ Again, looks interesting. 

I’ll finish up today with an early evening visit to one of the SIGs (Special Interest Groups), this one entitled ‘Creative Writing SIG: Creating a Writing Space’, where there will be a discussion of the ‘ways in which fiction and poetry can energize our research and practice as teachers, scholars, and writers.’ The group is co-chaired by Ben Ristow from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Ithaca, NY and by Benjamin Miller, City University of New York Graduate Center, Bronx. Ben has been a presenter at the ‘Great Writing International Creative Writing Conference’ at Imperial College, and though I direct Great Writing I doubt Ben would expect to see me here at the CCCCs. Very few international presenters have yet make their way here, not like the AWP conference, a conference we international folk have sought out these past years. I wonder if we should, if we should embrace the CCCCs more, that is? I get the feeling ... 

Well, in a small way I will do that tomorrow. I am presenting a paper related to two books. Firstly it is responding to the 25th anniversary of the publication of Joe Moxley’s book Creative Writing in America: Theory and Pedagogy (1989) in which Joe and his contributors considered a ‘paradigm shift, a period of self-reflexiveness in which we question our theories and practices.’ I am saying that consideration was entirely correct; but, that it did not happen, the paradigm shift was thwarted. I am saying that it now needs to happen, that we can no longer say we have done all we can do to learn and teach creative writing, that our students deserve nothing less, that we can and should do nothing less, and that the time is right for further progressing our field. I candidly wonder, here in the bright beach sun, if the panelists on the panel ‘Out of the Comfort Zone’ will be in my audience tomorrow!

The second focus in my paper, and my second reason for being here (other than to launch a new novel, which I am also doing – we are always creative writers, when it comes to our professional and indeed personal lives) is to relate the paper I am presenting to a new book entitled Creative Writing and Education, which will be launched in three weeks. Having had the considerable pleasure of editing this book, I am of course entirely biased when speaking about it!  Knowing this, I will spare you a long promotional rant! Simply to, say, then Creative Writing and Education is published by Multilingual Matters and is available at all good book sites and stores, and can be bought directly from Multilingual Matters too. It contains quite a number of NAWE folks – as naturally it would – including our own Paul Munden and Maggie Butt, indeed among NAWE others. It also contains a number of folk from the USA and Australia, and from China, Pakistan, the Netherlands and beyond. The ever energetic Rob Pope, whose own work on creativity and on creative and critical writing will be known to many, suggests ‘this is a collection that will help recast the future of Creative Writing in Education at large’. We’ll see, but one thing it will certainly do tomorrow is insert a British-Australian accented voice into the annual CCCCs conference here in Tampa, Florida. Being as tomorrow is Saturday, I might then go to the beach.

Graeme Harper

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