Creative Writing 101: Theorizing Creative Writing as a Discipline


FOREWORD


Vanderbilt University. (2012, September 11). [Kate Daniels (center, near window) addresses students in a creative writing master’s class. (Vanderbilt University)]. Vanderbilt.Edu. https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2012/09/11/creative-writing-top-10/



Creative Writing 101 articles serve as one of the academic courses in the field of Literary Theory and Literature. The course, which is a fundamental guide within the scope of general knowledge compared to the technical knowledge of Literary Theory and Literature, also addresses students and the general readership alike. With this goal in mind, the author has opted to write the article in very plain and basic English to convey just the necessary understanding of Creative Writing by making the article merely an introduction.


Creative Writing 101 is mainly divided into five chapters including:

- Creative Writing 101: Into the Writer’s Creative Mind: Overview & Dynamics

- Creative Writing 101: Theorizing Creative Writing as a Discipline

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Poetry

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Short Stories

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Novels



In the previous article of Creative Writing 101 series entitled “Into the Writer’s Creative Mind: Overview & Dynamics”, the focus was on the dynamics of the author’s creative mind along with an overview of the core of creative writing, exemplified in Tolkien’s short story Leaf by Niggle and Aristotle’s Poetics. In the second article of Creative Writing 101, the historical background of the subject will be further discussed and elaborated, paving the way to question and comprehend the means by which scholars, professors, and teacher-writers, for example, succeeded in structuring and framing Creative Writing in a discipline taught at American and English universities.


Dianne J. Donnelly (2009) explains that “Creative Writing and Creative Writing studies are two distinct enterprises” (p.2), for the success of teaching the subject was initially included in workshops, before being set in an undergraduate curriculum program and taught by many specialized instructors in the U.K, the U.S.A and other countries around the world. The institutionalization of Creative Writing has become popular in many universities worldwide, training international writers to enhance their creative writing skills in order to become better writers, whose writing potential can be much more appealing for future employers, editors, and publishing houses. To better understand the establishment of Creative Writing as a discipline, if ever applicable to be called so or agreed to be fully institutionalized as such, there has to be a mapping of the prominent historical events that led to its emergence in institutions.


Towards a Historical Background


The traces of teaching Creative Writing at universities were claimed to have appeared in the 1880s in the U.S.A at Harvard College, initiated by the Professor of English Barrett Wendell (1855-1921) as the writer and Professor of Literature, Lauri Ramey (2007) asserts. Wendell’s teaching of “English composition and literature from 1880 until his retirement in 1917” (newnetherlandinstitute) was a method of composing literary narratives like poetry. Correspondingly, Lauri Ramey (2007) further explains that “the class stressed ‘practice, aesthetics, personal observation, and creativity’ as opposed to the ‘theory, history, tradition and literary conservation’ taken as the concerns of newly developing departments of English” (pp.43). In other words, the appearance of Creative Writing has emerged initially in American universities.

Harvard Faculty of Arts and Science. (2021). [1915 portrait of Barrett Wendell is part of the Bernard and Mary Berenson Papers at Biblioteca Berenson at Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.]. Harvard.Edu.

https://histlit.fas.harvard.edu/since-1906


During the 1920s, the University of Iowa included a newly subject, described as “imaginative writing” (Swander et al., 2007, p.12) to its artistic list of disciplines already part of the university program, such as Painting, Sculpture, Theatre, and Dance. In 1931, “Paisley Shawl”, a collection of poetry written by Mary Hoover Roberts was the first master thesis to have been accepted by the University of Iowa, before other theses, written by former students Wallace Stegner and Paul Engle, were submitted and approved by the university. The instance of “Worn Earth” written by Paul Engle was “the 1932 winner of the Yale Younger Poets Award,” and also, “became the first poetry thesis at the University of Iowa to be published.” (Swander et al., 2007, p.12).


Years before Paul Engle (1908-1991) became a prominent literary figure, fostering other students to enhance their writing skills through workshops, Norman Foerster, the former director of the school of Letters, explains Swander et al. (2007), engaged further much with the writing program at university during the 1930s. Once Paul Engle became a member of the University of Iowa in 1937, he organized the Iowa Writers Workshop and in 1943, he became its director as he is “best remembered as the long-time director of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and founder of the UI’s International Writing Program”, aside from the fact that he “also was a well-regarded poet, playwright, essayist, editor and critic.” (iowacityofliterature.org, 2020).

Poetry Foundation. (2021). [A Photograph of Paul Engle (1908–1991)]. Poetryfoundation.Org. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/paul-engle



Engle, a hard-driving, egocentric genius, possessed the early vision of both the Writers Workshop and the International Writing Program. He foresaw first-rate programmes where young writers could come to receive criticism of their work. A native Iowan who had studied in England on a Rhodes Scholarship and travelled widely throughout Europe, Engle was dissatisfied with merely a regional approach. He defined his ambition in a 1963 letter to his university president as a desire ‘to run the future of American literature, and a great deal of European and Asian, through Iowa City’ (Wilbers 1980: 85–6).

As a matter of fact, Engel’s academic contribution in institutionalizing Creative Writing within workshops and programs by training American and international writers, giving them constructive criticism on their elaborated literary works to enhance their writing skills and help them succeed in their endeavors and literary achievements, and also frame more adequate and effective creative writing programs in the American institutions. For instance, Engel divided and categorized creative writing workshops into various genres as Poetry and Fiction to be fully devoted and in charge of the training of the writers. Connoisseurs of Literature such as Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, and W.H Auden were invited to attend and run workshops organized by Engel on campus to contribute to the betterment of future writers’ creative writing skills.


[Robert Frost (left) and Paul Engle (right) addressing Workshop students in 1959]. (n.d.). https://Writersworkshop.Uiowa.Edu/about/about-Workshop/history.



Frederick W. Kent Collection of Photographs. [Paul Engle with Iowa Writers’ Workshop students, ca. 1960]. The University of Iowa Libraries. https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/sc/archives/faq/faqphotocollections/



In the 1940s, the discipline of Creative Writing became more established through postgraduate degrees delivered by American universities like Johns Hopkins University, University of Denver, University of Iowa, and Stanford University explains Lauri Ramey (2007). The debate over framing Creative Writing in a discipline that could be taught at American universities was controversial to some extent until approved by scholars and members of the academia to design Creative Writing programs for students that are willing to major in such discipline. Presumably, the period between the late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed more attendance of many American students, willing to graduate in Creative Writing, in American universities.


Jeffcutt, P. (2013, September 7). [A group of writers attending a Writing Workshop organized by the poet Philip Hobsbaum in 1962. Belfast, Northern Ireland.]. Writing2survive.Blogspot. http://writing2survive.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-writers-group-and-seamus-heaney.html


In parallel, the discipline of Creative Writing, originally called as Imaginative Writing, was introduced in the U.K starting from the 1950s and 1960s through several initiatives made by academics like the British writer Angus Wilson through organizing workshops for the Undergraduates at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and also thanks to the poet Philip Hobsbaum’s writing group events organized in 1952 at Cambridge, London, Belfast and Glasgow, explains Andrew Cowan (2016), Professor of Creative Writing at the UEA. Moreover, the discipline of Creative Writing was institutionalized in the U.K in 1969 when the University of Lancaster offered a Master of Arts in Creative Writing, assert Swander et al. (2007), followed by the UEA a year later as it launched its own MA in Creative Writing states Andrew Cowan (2016). Writers-teachers such Angus Wilson and Malcolm Bradbury, who had similar university teaching experiences in American universities, were invited to teach Literature at UEA, by adopting the American method.


Shutterstock. (2000, December 1). [Sir Malcolm Bradbury Writer, with Angus Wilson at University of East Anglia in the Eighties]. Shutterstock.

https://www.shutterstock.com/editorial/image-editorial/sir-malcolm-bradbury-writer-at-uea-in-the-eighties-329502i



The Observer. [Malcolm Bradbury with students on the University of East Anglia’s creative writing course, 1983]. Theguardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/22/body-of-work-review-foden


The Imaginative Writing classes in high education, before it turned to be known as Creative Writing, started to soar from “2,745 in 2003 to 6,945 in 2012” (Andrew Cowan, 2016). The learning of the new discipline was much appreciated by undergraduate students in the U.K that it was combined with other art classes such as Film, Literature, and Language studies to engage a larger number of students in the specialty. Andrew Cowan (2016) claims that Higher Education Institutions “offering BA courses (in a variety of combinations) rose from 24 to 83, while the number of MA courses rose from 21 to 200, and the number of PhD programs from 19 to more than 50.”


MA in Creative Writing in the U.K


Jenny Newman (2007) explains that MA in Creative Writing in the U.K can be studied for over a year in case it is a full-time study program or done over two consecutive years as in a part-time study program. The students are given the possibility to choose one course out of three: Poetry, fiction or screenwriting. When it comes to the method of assessment, the numerous tasks elaborated by the student are done through, for example, an analytical essay, an oral presentation, the creation of a website of his or her own, workshops to attend, an exercise of editing and proofreading, and an analytical essay of another student’s work. Still, a divergence of opinions on the curriculum to teach Creative Writing studies is palpable as it is similar yet slightly distinct from Literary studies.


“With certain exceptions, and many variations, the “typical” MA course continues to emphasise the acquisition of technical skills and the completion of a publishable manuscript over the concerns of critical scholarship. And while Creative Writing and Literary Studies frequently reside in a relationship of departmental proximity, they continue to take divergent approaches to the conception and study of literature.” (Andrew Cowan, 2016)

Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in the U.S.A


The MFA is the American version of the English MA in Creative Writing, which was initiated at the University of Iowa in the 1930s. It is longer than the MA, for it is characterized by “expanded credit hour requirements, such as a thesis, or substantial body of creative work and special coursework.” (Vanderslice, 2007, p.37). Conceived differently from the English version of the Master's degree, it is the combination of the studio arts tradition and the English literature tradition at American high institutions.

“Some programs include traditional literature courses in the degree, taught by literature faculty and assessed by traditional means – analytical papers, essay exams and so forth (also read by one reader – the professor – unlike in the UK).” (Vanderslice, 2007, p.39).

PhD in Creative Writing


Paul Dawson (2007) states that for any person willing to teach at American universities, there has to be an additional doctoral degree to the MFA. Taking into account the importance of the PhD, some researchers in the field, such as Kelly Ritter advocates the idea that the MFA is considered insufficient for teaching Creative Writing at universities and that a PhD along with the publication of several books are required for such vocation; also, Patrick Bizarro and Kelly Ritter, both think that a PhD in Creative Writing should be framed otherwise. In other words, the MFA and PhD programs are two distinct areas of studies that have to be reshaped for a better acquisition of the teaching skills of the discipline, as further explains Paul Dawson (2007).


“The debates over the PhD in Australia and the UK have differed from those in America because the degree structure itself is different. Whereas in America doctoral students must complete substantial coursework and language requirements as well as sitting for comprehensive examinations before submitting their dissertation, in these countries there is no formal coursework and the degree is assessable by thesis only. The thesis consists of a creative dissertation and a substantial critical essay, often referred to as the ‘exegesis’, of up to 50 per cent of the word limit.” (Paul Dawson, 2007, pp.88).

All things considered, in spite of the controversies over the establishment of Creative Writing as an institutionalized discipline in high education as in the instance of the American and the Anglophone academy, the specialty was officially approved by scholars and academics, for it has been revised and reconfigured over the years for better acquisition of the mechanisms of creative writing in various genres like poetry, fiction, and scriptwriting. The discipline has been expanded and taught by other foreign academic institutions worldwide, in parallel leading to an increase of “the membership listings on the website of the Asia-Pacific Writers & Translators Association (APWT 2018) or by the growth in membership of the European Association of Creative Writing Programmes (EACWP).” (Andrew Cowan, 2016).




Image Sources


Frederick W. Kent Collection of Photographs. [Paul Engle with Iowa Writers’ Workshop students, ca. 1960]. The University of Iowa Libraries. https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/sc/archives/faq/faqphotocollections/


Harvard Faculty of Arts and Science. (2021). [1915 portrait of Barrett Wendell is part of the Bernard and Mary Berenson Papers at Biblioteca Berenson at Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.]. Harvard.Edu. https://histlit.fas.harvard.edu/since-1906


Jeffcutt, P. (2013, September 7). [A group of writers attending a Writing Workshop organized by the poet Philip Hobsbaum in 1962. Belfast, Northern Ireland.]. Writing2survive.Blogspot. http://writing2survive.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-writers-group-and-seamus-heaney.html


Poetry Foundation. (2021). [A Photograph of Paul Engle (1908–1991)]. Poetryfoundation.Org. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/paul-engle


[Robert Frost (left) and Paul Engle (right) addressing Workshop students in 1959]. (n.d.). Https://Writersworkshop.Uiowa.Edu/about/about-Workshop/History.


Shutterstock. (2000, December 1). [Sir Malcolm Bradbury Writer, with Angus Wilson at University of East Anglia in the Eighties]. Shutterstock. https://www.shutterstock.com/editorial/image-editorial/sir-malcolm-bradbury-writer-at-uea-in-the-eighties-329502i


The Observer. [Malcolm Bradbury with students on the University of East Anglia’s creative writing course, 1983]. Theguardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/22/body-of-work-review-foden


Vanderbilt University. (2012, September 11). [Kate Daniels (center, near window) addresses students in a creative writing master’s class. (Vanderbilt University)]. Vanderbilt.Edu. https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2012/09/11/creative-writing-top-10/


References


Barrett Wendell [1855-1921]. (n.d.). Newnetherlandinstitute.Org. Retrieved November 9, 2021,

From https://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/history-and-heritage/dutch_americans/barrett-wendell/


City of Literature Paul Engle Prize. (2020). Iowacityofliterature.Org. Retrieved November 8, 2021,

from https://www.iowacityofliterature.org/paul-engle-prize/


Cowan, A. (2016). The Rise of Creative Writing. Writing in Education, 4 (Previous Issues). https://www.nawe.co.uk/DB/wip-editions/articles/the-rise-of-creative-writing.html


Creative Writing Studies as an Academic Discipline (No. 3809). Scholar Commons. https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5005&context=etd


Dawson, P. (2007). The Future of Creative Writing. In S. Earnshaw (Ed.), The Handbook of Creative Writing (pp. 78–90). Edinburgh University Press.


Donnelly, D. J. & University of South Florida. (2009, July). Establishing Creative Writing Studies as an Academic Discipline (No. 3809). Scholar Commons.https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5005&context=etd


Newman, J. (2007). The Evaluation of Creative Writing at MA Level (UK). In S. Earnshaw (Ed.), The Handbook of Creative Writing (pp. 24–36). Edinburgh University Press.


Ramey, L. (2007). Creative Writing and Critical Theory. In S. Earnshaw (Ed.), The Handbook of Creative Writing (pp. 42–53). Edinburgh University Press.


Swander, M., Leahy, A., & Cantrell, M. (2007). Theories of Creativity and Creative Writing Pedagogy. In S. Earnshaw (Ed.), The Handbook of Creative Writing (pp. 11–23). Edinburgh University Press.


Vanderslice, S. (2007). The Creative Writing MFA. In S. Earnshaw (Ed.), The Handbook of Creative Writing (pp. 37–41). Edinburgh University Press.


Wilbers, Stephen (1980), The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press.



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Neyra Behi

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