Creative Writing and the Public Sphere

Submitting Institution

University of Warwick

Unit of Assessment

English Language and Literature

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

The Department has worked proactively to bring creative writing out from the institutional sphere and into the public domain. While creative writing is often perceived as a niche activity largely confined to university writing programmes, Warwick's writers have broken new ground with their approach that writing can take all forms, that creativity is open to everyone, and that writing has the power to intervene meaningfully in the world. This commitment is demonstrated through a range of activities that include active involvement in campaigns for the freedom of expression, the foundation of distinctive literary prizes, widespread communication of interactive material through social media, and the establishment of new publishing houses and literary magazines.

Underpinning research

Maureen Freely (1998-present) has published seven novels and translated five novels and numerous essays by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk as well as other Turkish writers. Her novel, Enlightenment (2007), set in Istanbul against the backdrop of a Turkish state increasingly intolerant of dissent, highlights the country's poor democratic and human rights record. She translated My Grandmother (2008) - the memoir of a Turkish Human Rights lawyer who discovers that her beloved grandmother was a survivor of the 1915 death marches of Armenians - thereby bringing knowledge about the Armenian massacre by the Turks to the attention of Western audiences; in 2010 an excerpt was featured in Index on Censorship (a quarterly magazine for the charity of the same name. Average print circulation 6,000; 99,000 article downloads 2012). She also published an article on the murder of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in the same magazine (2007), as well as an excerpt of her translation of his biography (2011). She regularly contributes to print and broadcast media about the constraints on freedom of expression imposed by Turkey's government on scholars, writers and other public figures.

Michael Hulse (2002-present) has published poetry and translations, and edited poetry collections for more than thirty years. The Secret History (Arc, 2009) is a semi-autobiographical collection about family, heritage, childhood and love. His most recent poetry collection, Half-Life (Arc, 2013), presents narratives of family dramas, global warming and meditations on death. The best-selling anthology of poetry, The Twentieth Century in Poetry (Random House, 2011), co-edited with Simon Rae, presents over four hundred poems chronologically to demonstrate the parallel development of different styles, as well as providing the historical context for each poem and author biographies. Hulse's expertise in international English language poetry (Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Africa) complements Rae's knowledge of British and Irish poetry.

Fellow poet David Morley (1995-present) is a well-known poet, critic, anthologist and editor. He is the author of twenty books, including eleven collections of poetry. He is also known for his pioneering ecological poetry installations within natural landscapes, such as the Patrin Project (2010), Bard Boxes (2008), and his `Slow Art' Poetry Trail (2008-9), which involved inscribing eighty of his poems on to natural materials at Bolton Abbey. His interest in science, nature and the language of poetry has found expression in his trilogy of poetry collections: Scientific Papers (2002), The Invisible Kings (2007) and Enchantment (2010). He has also written introductory works on creative writing and creative reading. His Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing (2007) and Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing (2012) explore the roots of creativity in fiction and non- fiction creative writing. The Cambridge Companion, co-edited with Philip Neilsen, offers theoretical and practical guidance to teachers, students and general readers. It includes essays from professional writers and creative writing teachers on the various genres, including new media, and explores the cutting-edge of creative writing internationally. Morley's chapter investigates the connections between science and creative writing, both of which value imagination and creativity. Freely's contribution to the same volume introduces innovative writing communities which offer writers the freedom to explore new ideas and produce quality prose.

References to the research

Enlightenment (Marion Boyars, London, 2007).
`Two for the Road: Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter in Turkey'; Beyond Bars: 50 Years of the PEN
Writers in Prison Committee, Index on Censorship, 39:4 (Dec., 2010), 27-40.
`Secret Histories', Index on Censorship 39:1 (Mar., 2010), 14-20.
`Chronicle of a death', Index on Censorship 40:1 (Mar., 2011), 157-73.
`Why They Killed Hrant Dink', Index on Censorship, 36:2 (2007), 15-29.
`In conversation: A New Approach to Teaching Long Fiction', in Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing (2012), pp.24-36.

The Secret History (Arc, 2009). Reviewed in TLS (8.2010).
Half-Life (Arc, 2013).
The Twentieth Century in Poetry (Ebury Press/Random House, 2011), co-ed. Reviewed in The Australian, (1.2012). Described in The Guardian as `magnificent' and `magisterial', Guardian Books, (7.10.2011).

Enchantment (Carcanet, 2010). Telegraph book of the year (5.12.2010). Reviewed in TLS
(22.7.2011), Poetry Salzburg Review (Autumn 2011), Poetry London (Summer 2011), Magma 50
(06.2011), Boston Review (04.2011).
Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing (2007).
Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing (2012), THE Highly Recommended (23.2.2012).
The Gypsy and the Poet (Carcanet, 2013). Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2013.

Details of the impact

Warwick's creative writers have extended public understanding of creative writing beyond the purely literary to include other forms of writing such as science writing and journalism. Through activities that share the processes of creativity and literary expression with the wider public and that help young people and up-and-coming writers to launch their careers, they have shown how creative writing can impact on diverse professional fields and contribute to political campaigns and debates.

Freely's writing illustrates the political role that creative writing can play in highlighting human rights violations and limits on freedom of expression. She has raised awareness of the constraints on free expression imposed in Turkey where many writers, scholars and other public figures are being prosecuted for discussing taboo topics which challenge the nationalist mythology. A long-standing member of the charity English PEN, Freely actively campaigns for free expression in Turkey by writing on behalf of Orhan Pamuk and many others prosecuted for insulting Turkishness, attending numerous trials in Turkey, and working to promote a historically grounded understanding of Turkish culture and politics in the UK and US. As a result, Freely has become involved in an international network of writers, human rights lawyers, and scholars who use oral history to challenge officially enforced national narratives in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire. 2013 proved to be an important year for calling attention to the limitations on free expression imposed by the Turkish stat; especially pertinent at a time when the Turkish state is seeking EU membership and boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In view of this, Turkey was the focus of both the London Book Fair Market Focus and English PEN's international campaign. Freely played an important role in designing and bringing to fruition both programmes of activities.

Alongside the LBF Market Focus programme, designed to create better links between the UK and Turkish publishing industries, the British Council organised a cultural programme of more than 60 events with Turkish writers in the UK (14-20 April). The British Council was initially uncertain about including minority or dissenting voices, however, working on behalf of PEN and the Translation Association (a co-organiser of LBF), Freely was centrally involved in the planning and delivery of a programme that respected and celebrated the diversity of Turkish writing, while giving space for the free and open discussion of subjects previously considered taboo. In addition to playing a major role in a series of high-profile public events organised by the British Council in Istanbul, Freely was instrumental in setting up a series of round tables that brought key members of English PEN into conversation with young Turkish academics and human rights lawyers based in London. English PEN and the British Council ran a roundtable (Chatham House rules) in April 2013 chaired by Freely at which nine Turkish writers, publishers and scholars spoke openly with leading members of English PEN about their concerns, in the presence of twenty observers, including senior and junior human rights lawyers, the director of the British Council in Turkey, and leading campaigners from International PEN. Freely also worked with English PEN on a series of round tables aiming to bring the organisation up to speed on threats to free expression in Turkey and to determine how best to work with Turkish PEN and Turkish writers and writing. These three round table events (October, December and February 2012-3) brought selected members of English PEN into conversation with Turkish scholars, writers and human rights lawyers.

Founded in 2009 by Michael Hulse and Donald Singer of Warwick's Medical School, The Hippocrates Prize highlights the symbiotic relationship between poetry and medicine. The prize is awarded annually for unpublished poems on any medical topic in three categories: Open International, NHS staff, and Young Poets (introduced in 2013). The Prize's popularity reflects its dual role in shaping and reflecting the view that poetry encompasses all facets of the human experience, both emotional and physical: to date it has attracted over 5,000 entries from professional and amateur poets and health professionals from 55 countries (including 2,000 in the NHS category). Judges drawn from the medical profession, the media and literary backgrounds have acknowledged its importance in moving the understanding of poetry in new directions: BBC Radio 4 presenter, experienced literary prize judge and 2011 Hippocrates prize judge Mark Lawson said, `The Hippocrates, though, turned out to be by far the most fascinating task of literary adjudication. This is because the entry is so broad: from professional poets to those who have experienced the health system as doctors, nurses, patients, administrators or relatives.' (The Guardian, 9.5.2013) The prize is also important for the way in which it helps medical practitioners better understand their patients' experiences of illness. The 2013 winner in the Open International Category, an internist at Harvard Medical School, said that poetry has `made me not only a more attentive and caring doctor, but also much more efficient'. The Prize is supported by the charitable organisations: Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine; Cardiovascular Research Trust; Heads, Teachers and Industry; and The Wellcome Trust. The Hippocrates Prize Press (established 2011) publishes the Prize Anthology of winning and commended poems in the Open International and NHS categories, as well as other creative writing by NHS staff. The 2012 and 2013 prize anthologies have sold out their 300 copy print run. Born in the NHS (2013) - an `A to Z' of health in prose and poetry by NHS employees Wendy French (former head of the Maudesley and Bethlem Hospital School and Jane Kirwan (a dentist) - has also sold its 300 copy print run and has been reviewed in the online cultural magazine London Grip (Summer 2013). In November 2011, The Hippocrates Prize was awarded the Times Higher Education Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Arts.

Founded in 2008, the Warwick Prize for Writing is an innovative literature prize which recognises an outstanding piece of writing in English in any genre or form. By breaking down the usual categorisations of writing, the prize pursues the moving edge of creative writing and explores how the process of writing can travel in new and unknown directions. The bi-annual award has been presented in 2009, 2011 and September 2013 and received extensive media coverage worldwide. The previous winners, The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (2009) and Dazzled and Deceived by Peter Forbes (2011) are works of non-fiction which reflect the ways in which `creative' writing might be redefined. The 2013 winner was Alice Oswald for Memorial, a re-working of Homer's lliad.

Warwick's writers have supported the emergence of new forms of literary expression by providing publishing opportunities for new authors. This role is played in part by The Warwick Review, a quarterly magazine of new British and international writing founded by Michael Hulse (over 5,000 issues distributed since its foundation in 2008). Fiction and poetry from The Review is regularly reprinted in high-profile anthologies in the UK (Best British Stories, Best British Poems, The Forward Book of Poetry) and abroad (Best Australian Poems, Best Irish Poems). The ability of The Review to help launch literary careers is illustrated by the number of new writers recognised for excellence. For example, three short stories first published in The Review were included in Best British Short Stories 2011 (more than any other UK literary publication). The Review has included work shortlisted for the prestigious Pushcart Prize for Small Presses in the US (Jennifer Clement, `Machine Gun Bouquets') and the Forward Poetry Prize in the UK (John Kinsella, `Mea Culpa: Cleaning the Gutters'). It was praised in the Times Literary Supplement as a `useful model for a contemporary literary-cultural magazine' (2009).

Similarly, the Department's commitment to developing the future of creative writing is equally evident in its work with young writers. In collaboration with the International Gateway for Gifted Youth (IGGY), an educational programme run by the University targeting young people aged 11-19 around the globe, Warwick's creative writers have delivered courses on `Creative writing and comparative culture' to 14-16 year olds at Warwick (2008, 2009), in Singapore (2008), and Botswana (2010). Each practical writing course was attended by twenty students and was designed to help students develop their writing skills in poetry, prose fiction and non-fiction and to become more confident self-learners.

In 2010, the Department established a short story competition for young people aged 11-19 with IGGY and Litro Magazine, a literary magazine that specialises in short fiction. The winner receives £2,500 and the winning submission is published in Litro and featured on a poster in the London Underground. In 2012 the competition attracted nearly 450 entries from 49 countries. One of the writers shortlisted in 2012 has said that `it's genuinely the experience that taking part in an IGGY competition gave me, the chance to put my feelings out there and have them accepted, the experience of being a `real writer' that changed things for me. I'm now working on my first novel'.

The Department's mission to promote creative practice beyond higher education is further demonstrated by its contributions to the publishing industry. Former graduates have established innovative and prize-winning publishing houses, including: Nine Arches Press, nominated for prestigious Michael Marks Awards for poetry pamphlets; Silkworms Ink, at the cutting edge of electronic publishing; and Heaventree Press, a radical not-for-profit publishing house, winner of the Raymond Williams Prize and dedicated to promoting arts in Coventry and the surrounding area. The use of new media has enabled the Department to stimulate interest in innovative creative writing by creating accessibility and inviting proactive engagement on the part of the general public. Morley's podcast series Writing Challenges and Poetry Challenges - distributed freely on iTunes - encourage listeners to develop their creativity as writers and readers (between 2008 and 2010, there were 2,000 downloads per week; Apple used Writing Challenges in its advertising campaign on TV, print advertisements and posters and two of its episodes were pre-loaded on demo Macs in Apple Stores worldwide (Spring/Summer 2012). In February 2011 Writers at Warwick - an archive containing more than 200 interviews with over 150 writers who have visited the University since the 1970s including Allen Ginsburg, Hanif Kureishi, Doris Lessing, Salman Rushdie, Mario Vargas Llosa - was made a free app (in its first two months, this app was the 4th 'Top Free' in the UK App Store Education store; more than 10,000 copies of Writers have been downloaded to date.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. English PEN, Freely has been a PEN member since 1998
  2. Hippocrates Poetry Prize entry figures from organisers; international media coverage includes The Guardian, The Independent (24.3.2010), The Times (6.1.2011), The Huffington Post, New Scientist; TV: BBC News Hour (23.3.2010; Radio: BBC Radio 4 Today and Women's Hour and the World Service.
  3. Judges' Comments: The Guardian, Mark Lawson (Judge 2011),
  4. Colman Getty Final Media Reports on the Warwick Prize for Writing, 2009 and 2011 summarises the prize's media coverage. The winner announcement in 2011 appeared in The Times, The Independent and the New Statesman, the literary trade press, 70 online news sites worldwide and was mentioned on Twitter by The Guardian books journalists.
  5. The Warwick Review distribution figures; media attention Times Literary Supplement, 30.10.2009, 24-5.
  6. IGGY and Litro Young Persons Short Story Prize entry figures provided by IGGY
  8. Writers at Warwick Archive, Writing Challenges and Poetry Challenges download figures