TEXT review

Inventive means to please

review by Dominique Hecq


Creative Writing Innovations: Breaking Boundaries in the Classroom
Michael Dean Clark, Trent Hergenrader and Joseph Rein (eds)
Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2017
ISBN 9781474297172
Hb 243pp AUD97.20


Creative Writing Innovations: Breaking Boundaries in the Classroom offers a discussion of pedagogies of creative writing that heightens teachers’ awareness of the traditions on which their practice draws and suggests how certain innovations might enhance students’ experience. Though styles range from the scholarly to the colloquial, what first strikes the reader is the confidence in the epistemological status of Creative Writing studies deployed throughout the book. From such a position, the essays question entrenched pedagogical practices and explore frequently innovative solutions, echoing and broadening current international debates. Note that, except for Hazel Smith, an Australian based at the University of Western Sydney, individual authors all teach in the US. This said, their concerns and ideas are familiar ones, especially as articulated and focused in the Introduction. The editors ask:

As scholars and writers, we are now more than ever invested in questions of the possibilities of our field. If we decouple creative writing from the goal of literary publishing, what else can we accomplish? And perhaps equally importantly, how do we go about accomplishing it? (2)

The book sets out to answer these questions from a variety of perspectives arranged in four streams: ‘Rethinking the Workshop’, ‘Expanding Genre’, ‘Creative Collaborations’ and ‘Identity and the Creative Writing Classroom’. The editors, Michael Dean Clark, Trent Hergenrader and Joseph Rein, have done an impressive job in the conceptual design of the collection and in their cogent introduction. Each chapter, elicited from new and experienced teachers, presents a case study and, as a bonus, provides an appendix, a set of exercises, an interview or an experiment, whereby readers might extend their understanding of the possibilities of curricula development.

This review does not have space to discuss key points in each chapter, which readers can find in the Introduction, so I will give a brief overview of the book and dwell on those that I found most advance debates in their respective areas.

The first section begins with the fraught topic of the workshop and offers alternatives to this model as suited to different levels of learning. Tim Mayers identifies the problem spots of the traditional workshop and outlines a multi-generic process-oriented pedagogy designed for relatively inexperienced, and sometimes resistant, writers. While his ethical position is to be commended, it is surprising to see that his bibliographical notes omit the work of John Berman and Mark Bracher, notably Diaries to an English Professor (Berman 1994) and Radical Pedagogy (Bracher 2006). I mention these works not because I want to show off, but because these are also relevant to chapters by other individual authors, as we will see shortly. Graeme Harper’s contribution is refreshing for its candour and daring. Indeed, he proposes to recast the workshop as an unworkshop that focuses on the individual experience of students and goes so far as to suggest we teach in a classroom without walls. Though his approach is most enticing, I wonder how the unworkshop would work in the corporate university where every move one makes needs to be accounted for. Like Mayers, Derrick Harriell argues for an alternative model of the workshop and suggests ways of turning failure into success, conjuring up Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968).

Two contributions stand out in the second section devoted to expanding notions of genre: Hazel Smith’s ‘Musico-Literary Miscegenations: Word and Sound Relationships in Creative Writing Pedagogy’ and Michael Dean Clark’s ‘Sequential Experiences: Course Design as Resistance in Creative Nonfiction’. In their varying ways, both chapters deliver a valuable contribution for scholars, teachers and even students in the field, invoking as they do the synergy between the creative, the practical and the critical, bridging the gap between practice and theory, technique and expression, craftsmanship and art, maker and user. In their respective contributions, Smith and Clark offer productive moves towards a pedagogy which might enable students to integrate skills and poetics. Smith advocates an exploration of the oft-overlooked expression of sound in creative writing by requiring students to work in intermedia contexts while Clark advises on ways of sequencing course work that fosters creativity in the process of developing students’ understanding of the slippery nature of genre.

For readers intent on writing their ‘impact and engagement statement’, section three will be of particular interest. Mary Ann Cain’s ‘Collaborative Story Writing’ and Trent Hergenrader’s ‘Steampunk Rochester: An Interdisciplinary, Location-Based, Collaborative World Building Project’ cover fascinating questions regarding collaboration as the engine of creativity. Cain echoes Bracher’s project of dismantling binaries and attending power structures in pedagogy through the use of a ‘third factor’ that would highlight identity formation in intertextual practices and promote an active dialogue between poetics and practice. Hergenrader’s meticulous account of an interdisciplinary project, on the other hand, shows the accreting and synthesising power of the imagination at work only to disturb the field of generic expectations. Like Harper, Janelle Adsit interrogates the question of educational environment. In particular, she questions the hegemony of the visual in pedagogies of creative writing, performing a neat turn that speaks back to Smith’s contribution. Unlike Harper and Smith, however, Adsit’s goal is political: she is clearly committed to eco-poetics and environmental writing.

Identity is grist to the creative mill, and so it is the subject of the final section of this volume. Given the magnitude of the issue in the US and elsewhere, the texts in this section feel under-researched. Tonya Hegamin makes a worthwhile point, though, when she rejects the idea of ‘the perfect draft’, arguing instead for authentic speech patterns and diverse expression of identities. ‘Gender Identity and the Creative Writing Classroom’ by Chin-In Chen engages with LGBTQIA research and provides a fascinating case study that raises more questions about the implications of identifying with a group and the nature of agency in creative writing than it answers. As it should be.

This collection, focused on ‘breaking boundaries in the creative writing classroom’, contains some provocative essays that interrogate the uses and misuses of pedagogical tools. It also draws together disparate threads in testimonies and homages, suggesting the creative entwinements at work in the writing process. My only reservation about this book is its insularity. International scholarship as deployed in journals such as TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Courses and New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, barely gets a mention, let alone Writing in Practice: The Journal of Creative Research and Axon: Creative Explorations. This said, the diversity of style and content in Creative Writing Innovations reflects the passion and commitment of teachers to their discipline. And that is a joy.


Works cited



An award-winning poet and fiction writer, Dominique Hecq is also the author of The Creativity Market: Creative Writing in the 21st Century (2012) and Towards a Poetics of Creative Writing (2015). Creative Writing with Critical Theory: Inhabitation, co-edited with Julian Novitz, is forthcoming.


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Vol 22 No 1 April 2018
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Reviews Editors: Pablo Muslera & Amelia Walker