TEXT review

Did anyone mention the marketplace?

review by Jeremy Fisher


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Dianne Donnelly and Graeme Harper (eds)
Key Issues in Creative Writing
Multilingual Matters, Bristol UK 2012
ISBN 978-1-84769-846-9
Pb 208pp GBP19.96


This volume, edited by Dianne Donnelly and Graeme Harper who are both establishing significant profiles in research on creative writing, offers some topics of worth. Both editors contribute two chapters each and collaborate on the introduction and conclusion. Other chapters come from Mimi Thebo, Steve Healey, Katharine Haake, Stephanie Vanderslice, Indigo Perry, Nigel McLoughlin and Patrick Bizzaro. Indigo Perry’s and Graeme Harper’s Australian connections are the most significant Antipodean contribution to this book, though Donnelly and Harper, in particular, both refer to Australian research in their chapters and, happily, it is not ignored by other writers. The teaching of creative writing in the US, the UK and Australia is consistently referred to, so the book offers quite a bit for Australian readers.

The introduction and chapter one examine the history and development of creative writing courses in tertiary institutions, with chapter one, by Donnelley, taking a more theoretical approach. Given her interest in the use of the workshop model in teaching creative writing, it is only natural she spends some time on this matter. She also considers the options for graduates of creative writing programmes in terms of teaching and other opportunities, and offers an interesting discussion of the significant economic role of creative industries as well as a short analysis of the global community for teaching creative writing.

In chapter two, on the history of creative writing programs, Mimi Thebo writes: ‘We do not expect Creative Writing BA students to become professional writers any more than we expect English Literature BA students to become professional critics’ (37).  I think this is specious. My major problem with this is finally addressed, but not answered, on the third last page: ‘whether creative writing, as we have come to know it around our higher education institutions, is different in activity, attitudes and/or outcomes to creative writing undertaken outside of our higher education institutions’ (178). The chapter makes no engagement with writing as a profession or publishing as the principal industry within which professional writers work, something that I regard as the key issue for the teaching of writing in institutes of higher education. There is no point in producing students who can write if we do not give them knowledge of the environment in which they might be expected to live on the earnings from the skills and techniques we have taught them. If we do not address this core problem, we are failing our students, our institutions and those who would be their audiences. However, Thebo goes some way to offering a context for creative writing – that is, creative writing is only one aspect of the writing skills a professional writer is required to have. To narrow the teaching of writing only to creative writing limits opportunities for students, as much as, say, limiting English Literature only to coverage of Shakespeare and Victorian literature.

Mimi Thebo also attempts an analysis of the teaching of creative writing in universities, but I found the variations in style and approach confusing. Greater editorial rigour might have brought about a stronger chapter.

Harper discusses creative writing habitats in chapter three, however I found this personal piece self-indulgent and at odds with the scholarly tone of the introduction and chapter one. Writers write in all sorts of places and situations over a lifetime. At times, this might influence their writing; at others, it may not.

In chapter four, Steve Healey examines creative literacy, the term he gives ‘to the skills and experiences that students can gain from taking a creative writing class and that they can apply to a broad range of activities and jobs beyond the classroom’. This merges well with my own vision of enhancing students’ cultural literacy, and with the sound pedagogical practice of incorporating an understanding and appreciation of the past into the present. Healy also offers some analysis of career paths available to his students as a result of their enhanced creative literacy.

I regret that I failed to comprehend the point or the purpose of Katharine Haake’s chapter five. She claims to investigate the question of genre, but the more I read the more confused I became. I’m still puzzling over this sentence: ‘A both/and formulation depends on the original either/or, but maybe a neither/nor doesn’t’ (93).

Chapter six, in which Harper examines creative writing research, reflects current Australian concerns about the place and measurement of non-traditional research outputs in Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA). Harper maps the terrain and provides a clear overview of the challenges involved in assessing the research dimensions of creative practice. The chapter maintains its promise and is one of the book’s most useful contributions.

Donnelly considers creative writing knowledge in chapter seven. The chapter begins with an epigraph from Australians Nigel Krauth and Tess Brady, an indication of the depth of Donnelly’s reading on this topic. This is a very useful chapter that summarises what it is we actually teach when we offer creative writing courses. Even so, there is a tone of self-justification, a sense that the teaching of creative writing continues to have to be verified, when the evidence is abundant that this is not so.

Part 2 of the book is comprised of chapters 8, 9 and 10, the last being in two parts, followed by the conclusion. This section looks towards the near, or perhaps present, future. I liked Stephanie Vanderslice’s digital competencies outlined in chapter eight, but these should be additional skills for writers, not replacement skills. We should not reject our printed past for an unedited, transient digital future.

Indigo Perry offers a straightforward history of the teaching of creative writing in Australian universities in chapter nine. To my mind, it would have benefited from a greater range of reference material, but as a personal viewpoint it was interesting.

The final chapter offers two approaches to designing a creative writing program from Nigel McLoughlin and Patrick Bizzaro. These are useful and thoughtful contributions.

The book, as a whole, might have drawn a greater connection between the chapters and topics, as it seems to be missing a central, unifying editorial theme. Nevertheless there is some interesting material here, though perhaps not enough to make this book an essential purchase. The book does address some key issues, but also a few that are somewhat peripheral.



Jeremy Fisher teaches writing at the University of New England, Armidale.


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Vol 17 No 1 April 2013
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo