Creative Writing at UEA - Shaping, Preserving and Enriching Contemporary British Literary Culture
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of East Anglia
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
The present case study describes the considerable influence over time of
a core team of creative writers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) on
the practice of creative writing as a discipline, both within the academy
and beyond, and on the landscape of contemporary literature, the novel in
particular. Our practice-based research and pedagogy represents a
considerable contribution to economic prosperity in the publishing
industries. UEA creative writing has local, national and international
cultural impact through its partnership with the Writers Centre, Norwich
and its extensive presence in the media, and through links with workshops
in India, Australia and America. The transformative influence of UEA on
the character of creative writing was recognized in 2012 with the award of
the Queen's Anniversary Prize.
The research described here comprises variously aspects of
creative-writing pedagogy, practice- based theory and self-reflection, and
cultural history, together with perhaps the most influential and
innovative example from recent decades of the possibilities of a synthesis
of creative and critical practice. We include examples of the team-based
research that underpins the wide influence of UEA creative writing.
Between 1999 and 2000, Paul Magrs (UEA: 1997-2004) and Julia Bell
(UEA: 1996-2004) undertook an extensive investigation of the methods and
processes of writing by interviewing forty of the most influential
contemporary authors regarding matters of editing, sentence structure,
plotting and characterization. Their findings were collated in the form of
a series of exercises intended to serve as the basis for classroom
Between 2003 and 2004, and drawing on extensive experience in the
University, Jon Cook (UEA 1972 - present) undertook research into
the ways in which creative writing constitutes practice- based research.
As the first work to argue this case in detail, the resulting publication
transformed the ways in which creative writers conceptualized their work
in relation to the work of their academic colleagues at a time when
creative writing was rapidly, and highly successfully, being incorporated
into the academy. The work in question also facilitated the RAE/REF
process for practice-based research in English and had substantial
influence on public policy. Cook's work in transforming the status and
understanding of practice-based research in this sphere has been enhanced
and developed by the later collaborative work of Cowan.
Between 2008 and 2010, and drawing on six years of experience at UEA,
Andrew Cowan (UEA 2004 - present), investigated the complex
processes of editing prose. Cowan sought ways of disseminating the UEA
method to users beyond the academy by formulating a series of stand- alone
exercises designed for individual writers or groups.
Between 2011 and 2012 Giles Foden (UEA: 2007- present) undertook
research into the impact and value of the UEA creative writing workshop
method. He commissioned 50 essays written by graduates and tutors from the
UEA programme, asking them to reflect on UEA-taught writing practices and
techniques. He analysed the resulting essays and drew out common
perceptions and insights with a view to disseminating the methods and
insights of the course to a broad audience. The volume in question also
offers an account of the growth of creative writing in UK outside the
academy over the past forty years.
Between the years 1993 and 2008 Professor Chris Bigsby (UEA 1969
- present) and Professor Jon Cook (UEA 1972 - present) programmed,
researched and interviewed around 200 writers from around the world for
the UEA International Literary Festival and the UEA Spring Literary
Festival, events which consistently drew audiences from the East Anglia
region of between 300 and 500 per weekly gathering. These interviews are
unique in their depth and range, each writer being questioned carefully
and at length on method and process. Selected interviews have been made
available on-line through the UEA library archive (http://www.uea.ac.uk/is/archives/creativewriting),
and transcriptions of a representative sample have been edited into the
four volume series Writers in Conversation.
Between 1993 and 1995 the critic and writer W.G. Sebald (UEA:
1987-2001), founder of the UEA British Centre for Literary Translation and
lecturer in German literature, undertook a period of highly personal
research into the history and landscape of East Anglia. The resulting
work, translated into English as The Rings of Saturn, is one of
the most influential literary texts of recent decades, a singular fusion
of aspects of the novel, travel writing, memoir, meditation and history.
References to the research
Bell, Julia and Magrs, Paul (2001), The Creative Writing Coursebook.
Bigsby, Chris ed. (2001-2011), Writers in Conversation, vols 1-4.
Cook, Jon (2005), `Creative Writing as a Research Method', in Research
Methods for English Studies, edited by Gabriele Griffin. Edinburgh
University Press, 195-212
Cowan, Andrew (2011), The Art of Writing Fiction. Pearson
Foden, Giles ed. (2011), Body of Work. Full Circle
Sebald, W.G. (1998), The Rings of Saturn, translated by Michael
Hulse. Harvill Press. (originally published as Die Ringe des Saturn,
Vito von Eichborn Verlag, 1995)
Grants and Awards
2010 Andrew Cowan was awarded a Knowledge Catalyst project supported by
AHRC funding of £30,000 for his work on the digital writing platform
(details in section 4).
The Spring and International Literary Festivals are sponsored by local
and national bodies, including currently Premier Inn and Waterstones.
Evidence of Quality
The Creative Writing Coursebook has sold more than 70,000 copies
to date and is widely used as the basis for creative writing workshops
outside the academy.
Andrew Cowan's The Art of Writing Fiction has sold over 10,000
copies since its publication two years ago. Richard Beard of the National
Academy of Writing described it as `The best coursebook on Creative
Writing that I have ever read. Everything is here... writer/teachers will
be stealing from this book for years to come.'
The BBC's Today programme marked the publication of Foden's Body
of Work with a discussion on the subject of creative writing which
drew an audience of 3 million. The Guardian described the book as
`rife with examples of valuable craft and life lessons'.
Sebald's Rings of Saturn has sold over a million copies. It has
been the subject and inspiration of countless works by writers,
film-makers and photographers since its publication in 1995, including the
2011 film Patience (After Sebald) directed by Grant Lee. `[A] book
-- fiction, travel, biography, myth, and memoir -- that obliterates time
and defies comparison' (New York Times). Robert McCrum says of
Sebald: he influenced `a whole generation of writers, in the best possible
way, as a spirit and an example. Today, the influence of his work crops up
all over the place, in the most surprising quarters.'
Details of the impact
The relationship between research and impact here is best understood as a
process: our writers reflect on and analyse aspects of the practice of
creative writing; this reflection and theorisation is taught and developed
in the classroom; and the findings are disseminated as published research.
The impact of the work in question on the landscape of creative writing is
evident locally and nationally, and through international partnerships.
Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, the students trained in our programmes
are uniquely successful as published authors. Their award-winning books have
significant economic impact.
a. by contributing to the publishing industry. The UEA Creative
Writing MA is uniquely successful: whilst the average publication rate for
graduates of MAs and MFAs in the UK and USA is around 1%, 27% of UEA
creative writing graduates publish one or more books. Since 2008, this
amounts to c.1,000 works produced by writers who have been trained at UEA.
A large proportion of these have won prizes and awards. (Corroborating
Evidence 2, 3, 4, 6 and 10)
b. by establishing profit-making creative writing workshops across
the world. Cook established the Guardian masterclasses in
2010 (Corroborating Evidence 1), a series of courses accredited by UEA.
These draw an average of 600 applicants a year. Cook, working with
Amit Chaudhuri (UEA 2005 - present), launched UEA in India 2013,
an initiative involving in the first instance a number of creative writing
workshops modeled on those at UEA. (Corroborating Evidence 1)
. In 2004 Cook
established The Writers' Centre, Norwich
(WCN). The underlying intention was to use the UEA brand, reputation and
method to promote creative writing projects locally, regionally, nationally
and internationally (Corroborating Evidence 5). Since 2005, WCN, directed by
Chris Gribble and with UEA, Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council and
the Arts Council as stakeholders, has run the annual Worlds Literature
Festival at UEA (200 international delegates), and has helped to establish
creative writing programmes based on the UEA method in China and Africa, as
well as India. In 2012 WCN and UEA creative writing co-hosted the British
Council Norwich Showcase. Through Cook
WCN established the Escalator
Programme which mentors emerging writers, and Well Versed, a national
project that develops the teaching of poetry in UK schools. In 2010-11 Cowan
worked with WCN to establish an innovative digital platform called
Newwriting.net (Corroborating Evidence 7). In 2010, Cowan
worked with WCN and other stakeholders to put together the
successful bid to make Norwich England's first UNESCO City of Literature, an
idea proposed by Cook
and Gribble in 2009. In 2012, WCN was granted
£3m from Arts Council England to establish the National Centre for Writing
in Norwich. In 2012, UEA creative writing established the UNESCO City of
Literature Visiting Chair of Creative Writing, held by Timberlake
Wertenbaker in 2012, Ali Smith in 2013, and in spring 2014, Margaret Atwood.
b. through preserving and disseminating cultural heritage via the
digitalization of rare archive recordings of interviews with international
writers. Recordings available online of the annual literary festivals
include hour-long interviews with c.100 international writers.
c. through the creation, interpretation and judging of national
and international literature. The writing of UEA creative writing faculty
members is published in more than 20 different countries and has won
numerous awards. Since 2008, newspaper and magazines articles by creative
writing faculty members have contributed to debates about the constitution
of creative writing across the world. Cowan regularly addresses
international fora about creative writing pedagogy. The success of the UEA
programme continues to be the primary focus for media discussion about the
value of creative writing. Foden's Body of Work was the
subject of a BBC Radio Four Today programme entitled `Can Creative
Writing Be Taught?' (01/12/2010) which drew 3 million listeners.
(Corroborating Evidence 2)
d. W.G. Sebald's work, The Rings of Saturn in particular,
has been singularly influential in British literary culture. In May 2013
Robert McCrum referred to his `quietly potent legacy... a strange and deep
response to the atrocities of history... a wonderful vindication of
literary culture in all its subtle and entrancing complexity'. McCrum
attests to the profound influence of Sebald on a whole generation of
British writers. His work has been the subject of many monographs and
conferences, and was the subject of a major film in 2011, Patience
(After Sebald) dir. Grant Gee, shown and reviewed internationally.
Sebald's innovative exploration of the relations between the creative and
the critical, and between practice and research, continues to serve as a
touchstone for UEA creative writing. (Corroborating Evidence 7)
Sources to corroborate the impact
UEA/Guardian Masterclasses and UEA India: 'This is an exciting
and timely initiative. UEA and the Guardian already make a
significant contribution to the literary culture of this country. By
working together they will provide a powerful focus and opportunity for
people to discover what they can achieve at different stages of their
writing lives.' (Ian McEwan)
BBC Today programme on UEA's success:
`one course beyond any question has a special aura and that is the one
at the University of East Anglia... the list of writers who have been
there is extraordinary.'
Queen's Anniversary Prize awarded to UEA for `groundbreaking
and innovative programmes in creative writing with wide international
impact'. The prize announced: `The University's Creative Writing
programme is recognised internationally as a centre of excellence in the
academic discipline and contemporary practice of literature. The
programme has inspired and mentored many well-known international
authors and developed ground breaking approaches to writing and to
associated creative industries.'
- `The course not only helps them in their creative process but equally
teaches them to be market aware, and to understand the evolution of the
publishing business as it transforms in the digital era.' Letter from
publisher about the importance of UEA in the current publishing world.
- Letter from Writers Centre Norwich about the relationship between
Creative Writing at UEA and WCN.
- Letter from UEA MA and PhD students about the ways in which UEA helps
its graduates into publication.
- Sebald's legacy: article 13th May, 2013 from the Guardian
plus selected comments from Guardian readers.
- Creative Writing prize judging by UEA faculty members.
- Praise for Cowan's The Art of Writing Fiction (Amazon).
- List of awards given to UEA student writers since 2008.