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  1. 1. ‘That is what we doisn’t it?’ The Productionof University EnglishSusan BruceInvestigating CreativeWriting: studentperspectivesSteve MayBooks Were My Liberation:an interview with Alan RiceNicole KingUp Close: a round tableon close readingBen Knights and Jonathan GibsonReading and Writing Society:the role of English subjects inEducation for SustainabilityArran StibbeDeveloping Careers Servicesfor English StudentsJane GawthropeEnglish Subject CentreNewsletterIssue 14 • April 2008ISSN 1479-7089
  2. 2. This newsletter is published twice a year by the English Subject Centre, part of the Subject Network of theHigher Education Academy. The Subject Centre provides many different kinds of help to English lecturers– more details are available in this Newsletter and on our website (www.english.heacademy.ac.uk). At theheart of all our work is the view that the higher education teaching of English is best supported from within thediscipline itself.As well as updates on the Centre’s activities and important developments (both within the disciplineand across higher education), you will find articles here on a wide range of English-related topics. The nextissue of the Newsletter will appear in Autumn 2008. We welcome contributions. If you would like to submitan article (of between 300 and 3,000 words), propose a book or software review (perhaps a textbook reviewby one of your students) or respond in a letter to someone else’s article, please contact the editor, NicoleKing (nicole.king@rhul.ac.uk) or visit our Newsletter web page at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/publications/newsletter/index.phpIn the meantime, you can keep in touch with our activities by subscribing to our e-mail list at www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/english–heacademy.html. The Newsletter is distributed to English departments throughout theUK and is available online at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/publications/index.php along withprevious issues. If you would like extra copies, please e-mail us at esc@rhul.ac.ukThe English Subject Centre StaffJackie Fernandes: AdministratorJane Gawthrope ManagerJonathan Gibson: Academic Co-ordinatorKeith Hughes: Liaison Officer for ScotlandNicole King: Academic Co-ordinatorBen Knights: DirectorPayman Labaff: Website and Systems Development AssistantBrett Lucas: Website Developer and Learning TechnologistRebecca Price: Administrative AssistantCandice Satchwell: Project Officer for HE in FEThe English Subject Centre,Royal Holloway, University of London,Egham TW20 0EXT• 01784 443221 F• 01784 470684esc@rhul.ac.uk www.english.heacademy.ac.ukCover Image: Clifton Suspension Bridge, © iStockphoto.
  3. 3. Newsletter 14 April 2008 0102 WelcomeNicole King03 Events CalendarArticles04 ‘That is what we do isn’t it?’The Production of University EnglishSusan Bruce10 Investigating Creative Writing:student perspectivesSteve May16 Books Were My Liberation:an interview with Alan RiceNicole King21 Up Close: a round table on close readingBen Knights and Jonathan Gibson24 Reading and Writing Society:the role of English Subjects in Educationfor SustainabilityArran Stibbe30 Developing Careers Services for English StudentsJane GawthropeBook Reviews34 Teaching & Learning English LiteratureEllie Chambers & Marshall GregoryReviewed by Peter Barry35 Doing Creative WritingSteve MayReviewed by David BausorNews, Reports & Opinions36 Event Round-Up40 Digital Resources at the British LibraryJoanna Newman41 Desert Island TextsChris Ringrose42 IT Works!Brett Lucas44 The Last WordMick ShortContentsCert no. SA-COC-1530Contents
  4. 4. 02 Newsletter 14 April 2008WelcomeNicole KingAs this issue of the Newsletterlands in your pigeonhole, springwill have arrived, howeverbeleaguered by late frosts,storms or even snow. Whetheror not the forsythia or daffodilshave now faded, you’ll knowthe seasons have turned asyour students beat a path to your door in fretful (orperhaps languid) preparation for their exams andessays. As your teaching winds down and you begin tothink about exam boards and the summer conferenceseason, take a moment to regroup by immersingyourself in the pages of Issue 14. In Arran Stibbe’shelpful overview, you can find out about Educationfor Sustainable Development, and why it is centralto how we teach Creative Writing, English literatureand English language. Consider the challenge ofunderstanding the first-year experience, as SusanBruce transports us to the scene of a classroom, wherelearning is analysed through speech, gesture and gaze.Dip into the interview given by National Teaching fellowAlan Rice, whose American Studies work as a teacherand researcher joyously and forthrightly exceed thebounds of ‘English’ – indeed he reminds us what a richgroup of subjects ours is. Steve May details his researchinto the degree expectations and experiences ofCreative Writing students around the UK and beyond.He tells how his own practice has changed as a result ofwhat he discovered. Ben Knights and Jonathan Gibsonreport back on a round table discussion on the topic ofclose reading and where it figures in current teachingpractice. As you read these varied articles you maynotice how the idea of practical criticism makes repeatappearances. Indeed, this foundation stone of Englishstudies in the 20th century (and beyond) gets critiqued,admired and casually referenced depending on whichof our authors you read.Further on in the issue you will find our regularfeatures, including Brett Lucas’s column IT Works!where you can learn about some of the latest web-based technologies to support and animate yourteaching; Book Reviews contributed to this issue byPeter Barry and David Bausor; Desert Island Texts with‘castaway’ Chris Ringrose and the new commentarycolumn The Last Word. In this issue’s The Last Word,Mick Short, a new member of the Subject Centre’sAdvisory Board, provocatively questions the forkedpath that now seems to divide English literature fromEnglish language.Since the last Newsletter, it has been a busy period forthe Subject Centre. You can quickly catch-up on someof the many events we have held over the past eightmonths in our Event Round-Up, while more extensiveevent reports are available on our website. Thereare also several new mini-projects which have beenfunded, that we’ll report on in the next issue, but youcan find out about them now on our website’sProject pages. We are delighted to report thatTeaching Holocaust Literature and Film, edited byRobert Eaglestone and Barry Langford, has recentlybeen published; it is the sixth volume to appear inthe book series we edit for Palgrave Macmillan,Teaching the New English.Do you have an opinion about our subject? Perhaps youhave an idea for a Last Word commentary? Do you havea book on teaching you’d like to review or an article ina previous issue of the Newsletter you wish to respondto? If so, please get in touch. The Newsletter’s success,like our work in general, is down to your generosity andcommitment to working with us. Good luck with thoseexam boards and conference papers.Nicole KingEditorRecyclewhen you have finished with this publication please pass it on to a colleague or student or recycle it appropriately.Welcome
  5. 5. Newsletter 14 April 2008 03Events CalendarSpring/Summer 2008EVENT: The Future of the Taught MA in EnglishDATE: 25 April 2008LOCATION: De Montfort University, LeicesterThis one-day event will focus on the changing context of,and pressures on, the taught postgraduate degree in English.Participants will be able to discuss how their departments, andthe discipline as a whole, might respond to the different demandsof students, funding bodies and employers. There will beopportunities both to consider strategic issues and to share ideasand experiences of practical responses in terms of pedagogy andcurriculum design.EVENT: Creative Writing: Teaching and TechnologyDATE: 30 April 2008LOCATION: Manchester Metropolitan UniversityThe aims of this one-day event are to provide a forum fordiscussion and debate. Topics and presentations will explore thepedagogies of Creative Writing and technology. The purposeof the day is not only to showcase new developments and sharepractice, but also to provide ample discussion time to thinkabout what issues we are facing.EVENT: Learning on the Language/Literature BorderDATE: 1 May 2008LOCATION: UCLAN, PrestonThis one-day event will look at how students learn andexperience English language and English literature in theundergraduate curriculum. The aims of the day are to interrogatethe underlying assumptions of the way we approach Englishlanguage and English literature learning, and to develop anunderstanding of how we can ensure students get the bestlearning experience.EVENT: Teaching: An Improviser’s ArtDATE: 1 May 2008LOCATION: SOAS, LondonThis event, led by Kevin McCarron, Reader in American Literatureat Roehampton University, will draw on the parallels betweenteaching and stand-up comedy, to suggest techniques andstrategies to reduce the burden of seminar preparation.EVENT: What is Literacy in HE Today?DATE: 13 May 2008LOCATION: London, Bedford SquareThe English Subject Centre is pleased to introduce the first of itsLondon Evening Discussion Groups. The purpose is to share ideasabout teaching with colleagues from across London in an informalatmosphere. The first session will query the definition of literacyin higher education today: Are our students literate enough?How do we identify literacy in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd years? Is oneperson’s literacy another person’s skill set?EVENT: Networking Day for HE in FE English LecturersDATE: 13 June 2008LOCATION: SOAS, LondonIf you teach English at higher education level in an furthereducation context, we hope you will join us at this networkingevent. The event will give people from different parts of theUK a chance to share experiences, curriculum content, ways ofworking, frustrations and delights. The English Subject Centre willreport on work it has been carrying out in the higher education infurther education sector, looking at the various models of Englishhigher education in further education, and issues which haveemerged as of particular interest or concern to teachers.EVENT: Teaching and Research in English:Making the LinksDATE: 13 June 2008LOCATION: University of EdinburghBringing together subject-specific current practice and theoryin the area of teaching-research linkages, this workshop willencourage teacher-researchers (including postgraduate students)from the areas of Creative Writing, language and literature toshare ideas about topics, such as the effect teaching has onresearch practice, the importance of diverse research interests incurriculum development and provision and do our students careif we are experts in what we teach?EVENT: Networking Day for Humanities’ Careers AdvisersDATE: 16 July 2008LOCATION: University of BirminghamThe English Subject Centre, in collaboration with Anne Benson(Head of the Careers Service at UEA) is convening a thirdmeeting for higher education Career Advisers with an interestin the humanities. The meeting will provide a forum for careersadvisers to discuss and share ideas and experiences, and this yearthe theme will be engaging employers. Several Careers Serviceswill be showcasing their English Subject Centre-funded projectsto enhance services to English students.For further details on any of these (mostly free) events please visit our website www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/eventsEvents Calendar
  6. 6. 04 Newsletter 14 April 2008I suppose … debating is one of the big parts ofEnglish isn’t it? It’s being able to express yourselfand using language and what you know fromliterature, and listen and stuff; I suppose that is,that is what we do, isn’t it? (Anna1, Third YearCombined Hons English student April 2007)Something gets lost in the translation of Anna’sobservation onto the page: what doesn’t emergeis the sense of discovery that inhabits her sentenceas she speaks it. It’s not just what she says, it’s theway that she says it: her speech is punctuated byhesitations difficult to reproduce in writing, butintrinsic to its significance as an instance of theprocess (not merely the product) of thinking as ithappens in the university teaching space. Anna wasanswering a question we had put to her class on ourthird visit to her university (which we call Baxter),as part of TPUE, an English Subject Centre-fundedproject in which Anna’s class had first participatedsome months earlier. Detailed more fully in the recentissue of Pedagogy, edited by Ben Knights and NicoleKing, TPUE pools the expertise of educationalists2and English academics3to examine how Englishis ‘produced’ in the everyday exchanges of theclassroom. Relatively neglected as a focus of research,these exchanges are an obvious proving ground forsome of the claims English has made about itself: thatit demonstrates a ‘continuous concern with socialinclusiveness’ (Holland, 2003); that it is ‘oppositional’(Rorty, 1982) or particularly ‘democratising’ (QAA,2000) or, conversely, that its role has traditionally beento preserve the orthodox and defend hegemonicideologies from subversive attack (Eagleton, 1983).Such scholarship on English is one context of ourresearch. The other is educationalist enquiry intothe changes currently besetting higher education(increased audit, standardisation, larger studentnumbers, the employability agenda – among others).Some have argued that these changes reshapetraditional disciplinary priorities and/or have adisproportionate effect on less privileged students.But (again), there has been little examination of theireffects at the level of the classroom. So we are trying,then, to examine the interconnections that do (ordon’t) exist between the subject matter and self-conception of English and its pedagogic form, and alsoto assess the relation between the nature of classroominteractions and the differing levels of resources withinwhich they occur. To this effect, we record and analyseEnglish classes in three ‘types’ of universities: ‘post-1992’, ‘pre-1992 non-Russell Group’ and ‘elite’. We payattention to a variety of modes of communication– gaze, tone, silences, ‘body language’ – considerationof which can sometimes foreground issues other tothose which arise from analysis of language alone.From these recordings, we identify key momentswhich we isolate as clips and/or multimodaltranscriptions (figure 1, ‘At the End of the Day’).These we then use as the focus of our investigations,and also as a mechanism of testing our owninterpretations against those of the students whoseinteractions we are analysing.In The Production of University English (TPUE) project, English academicsand educationalists together investigated how English is ‘produced’ in theeveryday classes taking place in a variety of British universities. Here,Susan Bruce describes the project and shows how its methods can be usedto shed new light on the interpretative tools which we teach to our students.‘That is what we do, isn’t it?’The Production of University English1 Names of participating individuals and institutions have been changed.2 Ken Jones (Keele University) and Monica McLean (The University of Nottingham).3 Also participating is David Amigoni (Keele University).Susan Bruce isSenior Lecturer atKeele University,where she teachesEarly Modern and20th-century literature.She is co-editor (withValeria Wagner) ofFiction and Economy:New Essays onEconomics andLiterature (Palgrave,2007) (e-mails.e.bruce@keele.ac.uk).Articles
  7. 7. Newsletter 14 April 2008 05On the occasion referred to above, wehad returned to Baxter to show thestudents two clips of a seminar devotedto The Merchant of Venice, which we hadrecorded earlier in the year, during whichthe tutor, Barbara, had asked the studentsto conduct a ‘trial’ of the play itself.Dividing them into two ‘teams’, Barbarahad instructed each to ‘choose a Portia’who, with the help of her team, wouldrally and present arguments concerningthe text’s politics: was it, or was it not, ananti-Semitic play? The clips we showedon our return to Baxter were clips wewere subsequently to use to investigatetwo sets of questions. One (addressedin our Pedagogy article) involved theinterface between English and issues ofdemocracy and authority. The other (thefocus of this essay) was that studentssometimes use their interpretationsof texts, and their seminar discussionsof those interpretations, to articulateobservations which are as much aboutthemselves as they are about the texts– which are ostensibly the subject oftheir discussion. In returning to Baxter,we wanted to ask the students what theythought was happening in the clips thatinterested us. And, for what it is worth,our Baxter students articulated theirunderstanding of the nature of ‘English’ interms which broadly underscored the waywe’d begun to think about the issue in ourPedagogy essay. Thus for Anna, Englishis not only about learning to articulateher own opinions, but also about learningto listen to other people’s. Interestingly,she and her classmates maintained thatEnglish offered them ‘a lot more freedom’than did other subjects they were taking:History but also (surprisingly, given thedegree of autonomy one might expecteach discipline to allow its respectivedisciples) Creative Writing. Both of thesewere characterised as wedded to a ‘rightand a wrong way to look at the text,’unlike English, which was a subject ifnot of infinite variety, at least of infinitehospitality: ‘in English lit,’ one studentsaid, ‘it’s like, your opinions are validand you can sort of say what you feel’.There are shades here of the familiarstudent claim that English is entirelysubjective, that interpretation has nointrinsic delimitation. ‘What, then, if I saidto you that The Merchant of Venice wasabout a train crash?’ Susan asked, in anattempt to challenge this ‘interpretation-as-absolute-free-for-all’ version of Englishlit. This perennial (mis-) characterisation ofEnglish deserves further research. What dostudents really mean when they reiteratethis ‘anything goes’ claim about English,and what underlies that utterance?Excitement? Delight? Vertigo? And towhat degree is it intrinsically associatedwith the perception we took this studentto be articulating here: the propositionthat English offers a particular space notmerely for self-expression, but for a kind ofself-validation?That correlation between the articulationof ideational observations and a processof self-validation, dovetailed with ourhypothesis that students’ comments abouta text may sometimes act as a vehicle forthe articulation also of observations aboutthemselves, of which they themselvesmay not always be conscious. In the clipwe showed the students, Lisa begins byarguing that the play establishes a criticaldifference between Antonio and Shylock– that this difference is value-laden – andthat that value is signalled to the audienceby a poetics which aestheticises Antonio’slabour and debases Shylock’s. Her tone isa mixture of hesitancy and conviction, thelatter quality most pronounced in the finalclause of her first intervention:Lisa: But though they are bothmerchants, what they are involved inand how they are, um … Their work isdescribed as very different, Um, like,Antonio’s worries over his ships aredescribed in very eloquent and s- s-sublime language about spices, the …spreading out of/on [?] the waves, andthe waves enthroned … enthronedwith his … uh … silks. But, uh, Shylockis the/a [?] rat sneaking in the dark andthe, the … sort of, it’s the, … It’s thedifference between the sort of gloryand beauty of ships and … the pettytrafficking that Shylock does: they’renot the same.Rhianna counters with an appeal tothe prestige conferred on Shylockby his ability to access wealthimmediately when wealth is needed.She speaks more forcefully than Lisa,and appears impatient, both with anargument which valorises Antoniowhen all he is able to do is ‘waitaround for a ship’, and – perhaps –with a discourse that tacitly privilegesfigurative language over the power ofthe event within the plot:Rhianna: But, at the end of the day,the amount of money, as he says ithimself, as he says somewhere, um,would a, would a dog have 3,000ducats to give you? Obviously he’sproving it, the fact that the amount,fair enough, Antonio has these shipsfull of spices and silks, but at the endof the day it’s, it’s Shylock that canjust grab 3,000 ducats and give themlend them ****. So obviously Shylockin some ways has, is of, of higher levelof, I can’t describe, commerce, thatsort of thing because he has more, hehas the more money available to him.[Lisa: Sh-]Rhianna: Whereas Antonio is waiting …around for a ship. And fair enough, if itcomes back he’ll have a lot of money,but … whereas Antonio, Antoniohas no money at the minute so hecan’t – he can’t lend Bassiano [sic] themoney and he has to go to Shylock inthe first place. And it’s Shylock that canjust give this money away –[Lisa: Sh-]Rhianna: without really noticing, so<trails off>Rhianna had arguably drawn the shortstraw here, in having to defend the casethat the immediacy of Shylock’s accessto money trumps the cachet afforded toAntonio and his ships.What do students really mean when theyreiterate this ‘anything goes’ claim aboutEnglish, and what underlies that utterance?Excitement? Delight? Vertigo?‘That is what we do, isn’t it?’ The Production of University English
  8. 8. 06 Newsletter 14 April 2008Time Talk Action Gaze29.48B: And the fact that they are bothinvolved in commerce, they areboth merchants, Shylock is a kind ofmerchant as well. I think that’s …. ****B: Sitting with legs crossed. She isresting her elbows on the arms ofthe chair and clasping her fingerstogether at her chestGesturing in circling motion with handRH: Nods, rubbing arm, then keepsarms foldedLH: Resting hands on books, left footcrossed over right kneeB: At RHThen around room – right hand sideRH: DownwardsLH: At B29.54 LH: But though they are bothmerchants, what they are involved inand how they are, um …Their work is described as verydifferentLH: Right hand straight up from knee,holding pen in hand. Flicking penin right hand and making a circulargesture with penB: At LHLH: From RH to teacherLH: At teacher30.04 Um,like, Antonio’s worries over his shipsare described invery eloquent and s- s- sublimelanguage aboutLH: SwallowsRH: Raise of hand to gesture at boyin her group like a silent agreementabout a point he made earlier?LH: Looking across room, possibly toRH: ThinkingRH: Initially looking down then toboy, then to LHLH: Down at paper then to B30.14 spices, the … spreading out of/on? the waves, and the wavesenthroned …LH: Circling hand gesture with righthandB: Nods LH: To B30.20 Enthroned with his … uh … SilksBut uh Shylock is the/a? rat sneakingin the dark and the, the … sort of,it’s the,LH: Flips pen over, then points itdownwards as if pointing at wordLH: Changes grip on pen so thumb ispressing on top of itLH: Down then to RHLH: Down then at B30:30 It’s the differencebetween the sort of glory and beautyof ships and …Points pen in air, thumb pressed ontop, wrist pointing outwardsMoves pen to left hand, lifts righthand with fingers spread, thenbrushes hair away from left hand sideof forehead, then pulls at hair slightly.LH: B, then to RHLH: At B30.41 the petty trafficking that Shylockdoes, they’re not the sameLeft hand out to emphasise pettyRight hand pointing a fingerIn this transcript from the Baxter University class, the details of both verbal and non-verbal communication become evident.Key:B: BarbaraLH: ‘Lisa’ – woman with curly hair on left-hand side of BarbaraRH: ‘Rhianna’ – woman on right-hand side of BarbaraAW: Arabella – woman with American accentTimings from transcription taken from the second recording.Figure 1 ‘At the End of the Day’‘That is what we do, isn’t it?’ The Production of University English
  9. 9. Newsletter 14 April 2008 07And, however artificial it is to extract a clipfrom the fluid, porous space of the seminar(we all know how discussions in seminarscirculate and return and are, almost bydefinition, inconclusive), Lisa seems toget the last word. With quiet convictionshe restates and synopsises her case,concluding with what we take to be (despitethe ostensible affirmation with which it isintroduced) a correction to the teacher’sattempted gloss on what she is saying:Lisa: Shylock is a necessary evil. Itdoesn’t necessarily mean he’s at allrespected or gains anything otherthan the money, whereas Antoniohas a lot of respect for, um, hismerchanting and his adventuring.Barbara: Because it’s moreextravagant …?Alannah: And …Lisa: Yeah, <quieter, trailing to finish>It’s more beautiful.Lisa never explains what she meanshere by the claim she finally, after twosuccessive attempts, (‘[Lisa: Sh-]’) managesto utter: that ‘Shylock is a necessaryevil’. Perhaps she means that capitalpresupposes usury; perhaps she wants tosuggest that one of the roles of Shylock’senterprise is to throw into relief thenobility of Antonio’s. What she is clearabout though, is that Antonio’s cachetderives not from the relative ostentation ofhis enterprise, but from its beauty.There seems to be quite a lot at stake inthis brief exchange. The ground contestedis essentially an argument over the relativemerits and status of liquid versus culturalcapital: the two students don’t usethese terms, but those appear to be theconcepts they are invoking. But what isnot apparent from the transcript was thatthe content of this argument may mirrorthe respective social positionings of thestudents conducting it. All the studentsin this seminar were white; all bar onewas apparently British; about 80% werefemale. But although the cohort was inmany respects homogeneous, the nuancesof the language employed by Lisa andby Rhianna seemed to befit not just thearguments each made, but somethingexpressive of a more profound differencebetween the two women. Lisa, defendingthe notion that social standing may begenerated by and communicated througha plethora of factors of which liquid capitalis only one, often uses two adjectives orexamples where one might suffice, andis much more hesitant and exploratoryin articulating her claims than Rhiannais. Rhianna, convinced by the claim thatmoney not only talks, but talks louderthan any other kind of capital, cultural orinvested, employs a language which seemsimplicitly to reflect her confidence in thematerial reality of the power that controlof liquid wealth confers: ‘at the end of theday’, she keeps repeating, it is Shylockwho can produce the readies.The phrase, ‘at the end of the day’ isone which accepts and validates onefactor as determining. Designed to cutthrough nuances and hesitations and toforeclose on the possibility of multipledeterminations, it is often, as it is here,used in connection with an asseveration offinancial motives or contexts as ultimatelydetermining and (tacitly but no less‘obviously’) rational. The same mightbe argued of the phrase ‘fair enough’,whose employment often functions toclose off alternative explanations evenas its speaker apparently admits them.And again, insofar as the locution, as it isused here, acknowledges the rationalityof Antonio’s behaviour, rationality is againconflated with the pre-eminent importanceof material gain: what seem to be otioseactions on Antonio’s part may, in the end,(but only uncertainly) issue in profit, andto the degree that they may, they arerational.The differences between the two students’lexical choices, then, might signal morefundamental differences between them:their respective interpretations of thetext apparently overlap with their ownsocial positionings. Drawing attentionto our interest in the relation betweenthe ‘ideational’ aspects of discussionand its ‘interpersonal’ qualities, Susanpointed out that although this seminar,formulated as a role-played debate, raisedspecial issues surrounding the relation ofthe students’ arguments to their actualbeliefs, both, nevertheless, appeared inthis clip to be personally committed tothe arguments they were making. Susandid not say explicitly that each seemedwedded, herself, to the value systemshe was attributing to the play, but shedid ask what they considered were themost important ideas in the clip they hadwatched. Rhianna replied:Actually, there’s quite a lot about ithere, the role of, sort of, the value ofRhianna’s account of the convergence ofinterpretation and self appeals then topersonality, not to class or social positioning,or ideological affiliation.‘That is what we do, isn’t it?’ The Production of University English©RoyalHolloway,UniversityofLondon
  10. 10. 08 Newsletter 14 April 2008commerce and the value of what weclass as more valuable sort of thing,like, money-wise or even like person-wise as well: there’s quite a lot ofquestion about that sort of, that sortof, scale of things.Here (‘what we class as more valuable sortof thing’) there may be repeated the claimthat ready money trumps the promise offuture wealth, an assertion Rhianna thenreiterates:Antonio has no money; Shylock hasthousands and thousands of ducatsthat he can hand out and not evennotice, so therefore Shylock’s kindof the one who has the value at theminute really: you know, it’s all verywell saying the ship’s going to comein: that’s like saying, ‘I’m going to winthe lottery one day, yes I’m going tobe rich’ – but at the minute you’re ontwo pounds fifty a day … Not quitethe same thing essentially.The closest we came to getting any ofthe students to address the possiblecorrelation between their socialorientations and the arguments theymade – or, at least, the terms in whichthey made them – came with Rhianna’saffirmation that underlying both herargument and her self-perception was avalorisation of what she characterised asthe direct and unadorned: ‘as my friendsall know as well, that’s what I’m like, I’mjust a very, very blunt straightforwardperson’, she said. Rhianna’s account ofthe convergence of interpretation andself appeals then to personality, not toclass or social positioning, or ideologicalaffiliation. But her implicit impatience withthe extravagant or over-interpretative,and her implicitly ethical valorisation ofthe ‘straightforward’, rehearses a contestover language and truth that has beenplayed out before, in the text she hasbeen studying, in the verbal jousting ofLancelot Gobbo and Lorenzo. Lorenzo’ssimilar ethically charged conflation ofthe honest and the straightforward isencapsulated in his frustrated instructionto the clown to ‘understand a plain manin his plain meaning: go to thy fellows; bidthem cover the table, serve in the meat,and we will come in to dinner’ (Merchant3.5.52–5). His deceptively simple appealto the plain, the obvious, the direct, hasrecently been associated with a classinterest counter to that embedded inLauncelot’s witty extravagance4; certainly,for Lorenzo, his own plainness operatesas a salutary corrective to the suspiciousrhetorical extravagance of the Clown. ‘Ohdear discretion, how his words are suited!’Lorenzo remarks of Launcelot’s wit:The fool hath planted in his memoryAn army of good words, and I doknow A many fools that stand inbetter place, Garnished like him, thatfor a tricksy word Defy the matter.(Merchant 3.5.60–65)Of Lisa, we were unable to enquire whatshe thought about the relation betweenwhat she argued and the more personalaspects of herself: she came in late, andmissed the showing of the clips. But if herlexis differed to that of Rhianna, so toodid her method: she paid more implicitattention than Rhianna to the way in whichthe ‘tricksy words’ of the text may beemployed in it to ‘defy the matter’. Moreof what Lisa says in At the End of the Day– her references to the waves enthroned, tothe silks, to rats sneaking in the dark and tothe petty trafficking – weaves into her owndiscourse close paraphrases of, or directquotations from, the play itself. She is alsoaware that this is her interpretative strategyof choice: while the others are explicitabout their preferences for reading for theplot, or for characterisation, Lisa says thatshe looks first at ‘the actual words the textis using, the choice of diction’.Lisa is, in other words, a close reader, andclose reading allows her here to articulatesomething about the text that Rhianna’saccount cannot encompass: that there isa correlation in it between the politicaland the aesthetic – that the latter is not aninnocent quality. ‘It’s more beautiful’, shefinishes, and she is arguably right that therepresentation of Antonio’s merchantingat the opening of the play is not onlymore extravagant, but more beautiful,than the representation of Shylock’s usury.But this observation leads us to a moretendentious proposition, and to a paradoxwith which we will, for the time being, end.Close reading is not a strategy that wouldcome naturally to someone wedded tothe virtue of the speech of a plain man inhis plain meaning; close reading assumes,on the contrary, that meaning is anythingbut plain, even when it pretends to beso. Close reading may embrace valuesdiametrically opposed to those embodiedin the phrase ‘at the end of the day’ (forexample), which insists on the ultimatereadability of action, presupposing a ‘lastinstance’, by reference to which thingswill become intelligible, justifiable andclear. We don’t want to align differencesof lexis or method in any blunt, one-to-one relation to particular ideologicalinterests – to insist, for example, that anappeal to ‘plainness’ must be connectedto non-elite class positions, or only evercharacteristic of discourses that seek tolegitimate particular forms of market-orientated behaviour. But we do wantto begin to raise the possibility that ifrespective attachments to ‘plain meanings’and ‘armies of good words’ are, like theaesthetics of The Merchant of Venice itself,not innocent either, that may be somethingwe should bear in mind when we teach thetools of our discipline to a body of studentswho originate from an ever wider socialspectrum. And if here, we have illustratedthe methodology we’ve developed, whichextends the methods of close reading tothe rather different ‘text’ of the seminaritself, in future writings one of the thingswhich we may have to think about further,is that close reading might be as inherentlypolitical as any other kind of aestheticmethodology is – however much onewould wish to think that it was not.Close reading is not a strategy that would comenaturally to someone wedded to the virtue of thespeech of a plain man in his plain meaning; closereading assumes, on the contrary, that meaning isanything but plain, even when it pretends to be so.4 See Margaret Tudeau-Clayton, ‘Shakespeare’s Extravagancy’ Shakespeare (1: 1–2), 2005 June–Dec, 136–53.‘That is what we do, isn’t it?’ The Production of University English
  11. 11. Newsletter 14 April 2008 09Newsletter 14‘The Teaching the New English series is a welcome and timely contribution to the changing canon,curriculum, and classroom practice of English in higher education. Imaginatively conceived andprofessionally edited, the series will be required reading for instructors in English studies worldwide.’– Professor Elaine Showalter, Professor Emerita of English, Princeton University, USA, and Authorof Teaching LiteratureNEW!This innovative new series is concerned with the teaching of the English degree in universities inthe UK and elsewhere. The series addresses new and developing areas of the curriculum as wellas more traditional areas that are reforming in new contexts. Although the series is grounded inintellectual and theoretical concepts of the curriculum, it is concerned with the practicalitiesof classroom teaching. The volumes will be invaluable for new and more experienced teachers alike.Published in association with the English SubjectCentre.Series Editor: C. B. KnightsAll titles in the Teaching the New English series are available at the specialdiscounted price of £12.99 each + postage and packing (RRP £16.99).Just enter the code WTEACH08a into the promotional box on thecheckout page when you order from www.palgrave.com
  12. 12. 10 Newsletter 14 April 2008The starting point for this project was simple andpractical. Creative Writing is a relatively new subject.It has developed in different ways in different places.There’s no consensus about what it is, or what it’s for.However, it’s increasingly popular with students1. Itstruck me that I had been teaching Creative Writingin universities for 12 years, had been running a largeundergraduate Creative Writing department for three,but I had no clear idea of why students were choosingour courses, what they expected from them, howtheir experience matched (or failed to match) theirexpectations, nor, taking a broader view, how theirattitude to the courses changed during their time atuniversity.It’s true, for a previous English Subject Centreproject2, I had visited various institutions and,wherever possible, talked to students and recordedthe conversations, and equally true that at Bath Spawe routinely carry out a questionnaire survey of newstudents. And of course all tutors administer moduleevaluation forms to students, and summarise (or aresupposed to summarise) these responses in terms ofchanges in structure or content for individual units.However, none of these gave me quite what I wanted.Module evaluation forms are all very well, but canbe treated as a tedious admin chore, and even attheir best are course based, not student based, andperhaps, most significantly, take for granted thekey factors of motivation and expectation in which Iwas particularly interested. The surveys of incomingstudents throw up some fascinating insights, but againrun the risk of lack of motivation and involvement forparticipants (herded into computer rooms in order toenforce compliance). Oral discussions permit a morepersonal involvement, but also tend to accentuate theloud and diminish the withdrawn. Group dynamicsmay obscure the subtleties of individual response.So, I tried to develop something different, somethingthat avoided:• a tickbox or questionnaire approach• local and limited responses to do with individualcourses, modules or tutors• responses that were tied to purely academicconcerns• an oral basisSteve May is Head ofDepartment, CreativeStudies, at Bath SpaUniversity. DoingCreative Writing, hisbook for CreativeWriting students,was published byRoutledge in 2007(see page 35 for DavidBausor’s review). Heis currently workingon his 45th dramacommission forBBC radio.InvestigatingCreative Writing:student perspectivesAn English Subject Centre funded mini-projectWhy are students flocking to Creative Writing courses and degrees?What’s it like to be on one? What do students expect to gain from them?Steve May investigates the student experience of Creative Writing toget answers.1 See the English Subject Centre Survey of the English Curriculum and Teaching in UK Higher Education (2003), Halcrow Group Limited,with Jane Gawthrope and Philip Martin, available at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/archive/publications/reports/curr_teach_main.pdf (accessed 6 December 2007).In the Higher Education Statistics Agency statistics (www.hesa.ac.uk/) ‘Imaginative Writing’ first appears as a subject in its own right in2002/2003 with 775 full-time undergraduate students. This rises to 2,250 in the most recent (2005/2006) figures (accessed 6 December2007).2 For a full range of student (mainly oral) quotes, see Steve May, “Teaching Creative Writing at Undergraduate Level: Why, how and doesit work?” (Report on English Subject Centre sponsored research project, 2003, available at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/archive/projects/reports/under_creatwrit_bath, accessed 26 January 2006).Investigating Creative Writing: student perspectives©iStockphoto
  13. 13. Newsletter 14 April 2008 11I wanted to encourage:• a sense that I cared about whatparticipants said• a sense that what they said could makea difference, if not to their course, tocourses in future• an environment where they felt free tosay (or not say) whatever they wanted• responses which involved them aspeople, including their aims andaspirationsSo, I transcribed some key quotesgathered in the aforementioned EnglishSubject Centre project, and took theminto a class of first-year Creative Writingstudents at Bath Spa. The quotes I usedwere mostly related to motivation fortaking, and expectations of the course:I definitely want to be published,that’s why I’m here.I think all the lecturers maybespuriously all think that everyone onthis course wants to be a writer.I don’t want to be a writer, I don’t wantto learn anything, I just want a 2:1.I was desperately looking throughclearing, cos originally I chose Englishand History, but I didn’t get thegrades.I wanted to do something as well asCreative Writing, because peopledon’t take it seriously.My flatmates, writing? They go,“that’s not a real degree”.I didn’t know what to expect and Iwas very naïve to everything, likeseminars, was someone going tocome and talk at us? I had no ideawhat to expect at all.I then led a discussion of the quotes– neither in order, nor exhaustively – tryingto follow the interest of the group aswe moved from topic to topic. Soon thediscussion was progressing energetically– perhaps too energetically. When I invitedthe students to write down anything theywanted, to do with their experience ofCreative Writing, the results were a littlecursory and mechanical. I realised that thediscussion had been too full: the studentshad said all they wanted to say orally, andrepeating it on paper was tiresome. So,I did the experiment again, and limitedthe discussion, rousing interest but movingon quickly before people had a chance tosay all or most of what they wanted to say.The results seemed much more interesting.The students were eager and wrotequickly – and (as we will see) weresurprisingly articulate.I now had a crude methodology, whichI applied across the years at Bath Spa,taking the first-year responses in tosecond-year students, and second-yearresponses in to third years. The exercisetook about 20 minutes, split into 10minutes introduction and discussion of“seed” quotes, and then 10 minutesof student writing.I found the resulting responses fascinatingand informative. Certain key themesrecurred, especially to do with confidence(or lack of it), expectations and lack ofclarity about the purpose of workshopexercises. It occurred to me that (giventhe wide variety of auspices of CreativeWriting in higher education), it might beeven more interesting and informativeto repeat the process in a cross sectionof institutions, to see whether Bath Spastudents were representative, or if therewere variations depending on institutionand kind of course. Coincidentally, atabout that time applications were invitedfor a new series of English Subject Centremini-projects. I applied and, after a moreor less painless process of discussion, peerreview and revision, got funding of £5,000,mainly to cover teaching relief, travel andaccommodation.The next question was, why on earthwould any sane course director let anoutsider (and in many ways a rival atthat) loose on their students? Surely notan attractive prospect, to have someJustice Overdo prying about looking forenormities? Perhaps some felt like this, butI was pleasantly surprised by how positivemost people were whom I approached.And I was offering something they allvalued: a snapshot of their own students’attitudes, presented in a way they hadn’tbeen presented before.The project was (rather grandly) titled“English and Creative Writing: Coherence,progression and fitness for purpose- student perspectives”. I have to confessthat the “English” bit was inserted tomake the proposal more appealing to theEnglish Subject Centre. To have limitedthe survey only to institutions (andstudents) doing both subjects would havebeen both impossible and undesirable.Part of the richness of the gatheredresponses indeed lies in the wide varietyof subjects the students are doingalongside Creative Writing.I was offering something they all valued: a snapshotof their own students’ attitudes, presented in away they hadn’t been presented before.Investigating Creative Writing: student perspectives©RoyalHolloway,UniversityofLondon
  14. 14. 12 Newsletter 14 April 2008The institutions that were kind enoughto host these visits were varied, thoughperhaps not as varied as I would haveliked: several institutions unfortunatelyhad to drop out during the course ofthe project. Participating institutions wereLancaster, Chichester, Winchester, Brunel,Northumbria, Columbia College Chicagoand, of course, Bath Spa. My thanks to allthe course leaders, tutors, administratorsand especially students who gave theirtime and energy in helping me to carry outthe project.Geographically the split was:London 1South-east England 1South-west England 2North-west England 1North-east England 1USA 1The location of Creative Writing withinthe institutions ranged from self-standing(without film and poetry), throughinextricably conjoined with English, towithin English and within Drama. My firstvisit took place in October 2006 and mylast in May 2007. I gathered contributionsfrom 237 students, totalling over 23,000words.Generally, when I showed studentresponses from one institution to staffat another, they pronounced theminteresting, but would add something tothe effect that “but of course our studentsare different”. However, on each occasion,it turned out that their students werenot materially different, and echoed theconcerns and attitudes of their peers inother institutions. Yes, there were somedifferences: perhaps the Northumbriadrama/script students (in fact scriptstudents everywhere) were more focusedand practical, and show a more confidentunderstanding of the purpose of theirwriting; and the Chicago students showedgreater awareness of what to expect,perhaps because of the unique ColumbiaCollege Story Workshop method. Butthese are differences of emphasis. It is fairto say that, for these seven institutionsat least, similarities of response faroutweighed differences.This survey reveals a broad spectrum ofmotivation, ranging from the dedicatedand committed would-be writer (withvarying levels of experience and ability),through people with interest in or talentfor writing, including also those who wantto teach and those who want to expandthemselves as people, people who wantto do English in a different way, and (let’sbe honest) a proportion of free-loaders.Perhaps I’m being harsh here: thoserespondents who are honest enoughto confess that they chose CreativeWriting just because it sounded like aninteresting subject (or in one case “for abet and to reduce my workload”) are nothugely different from many other studentschoosing many other subjects – exceptin one respect. Few of our students willhave had any experience of doing CreativeWriting in any kind of formalised way beforestarting the course. Perhaps, for this reasonif for no other, it behoves us as teachersto make as clear as possible at the outsetto our students how our courses work,what they are expected to do while on thecourse, and what they’re supposed to beable to do after successfully completing it.What students sayFirst, I must note the weight of positivecomments. Students praise their coursesfor a variety of reasons: as interesting,exciting, fun, as giving a chance to usetheir imagination; because of tutors whoare experienced, professional and funny;because of the chance to mix with like-minded peers; as developmental in termsof writing and character: in short, as onefirst-year student sums it up:This class has sparked somethinginside of me, an inspiration, amotivation I have been unable tofind anywhere else.Another student, coming to the endof their course, perhaps sums up theexperience for many:Coming towards the end of theCreative Writing degree, I feel that thecourse has really worked for me. I havebeen encouraged to experiment, whilealways being given support in mypreferred genre. The first workshopsession was a horrible embarrassment,but as everyone is thrown into ittogether, a group dynamic forms. Inthe best Creative Writing groups youfeel a real desire to help everyoneachieve their own goals, as well asfollow your own. I don’t see myself asa professional writer yet, more of adabbler. However, writing is somethingthat I will always do and who knows,when I’m an old lady in purple, maybeI’ll read the grandkids my publishednovels. (Year 3 student)This (fairly representative) student hasbeen empowered, enabled to workcollaboratively, will continue to writewithout the overt aim to publish, butharbours semi-secret aspirations in thatI was terrified about the creative writing module– I had to do it as part of English studies.Investigating Creative Writing: student perspectives©RoyalHolloway,UniversityofLondon
  15. 15. Newsletter 14 April 2008 133 Steve May, Doing Creative Writing (Routledge, 2007) p.117.direction. Others have been convertedfrom “dabblers” to something more drivenand serious:I also now have found the courage tothink about being a writer and not justan enthusiastic amateur or – the mostdreaded – ‘a simple jotter’.(Year 2 student)However, other students have moved inthe opposite direction:I set out with the course thinkingthat I’d like to become a professionalwriter. The course has taught me that Idon’t have it in me.(Year 3 student)I would contend that this is by no meansa sign of failure, either for the student orthe course they have taken. As I’ve put itelsewhere3:There are too many people whoharbour an untried (and probablyunrealistic) longing to write. If youhave tried, and can reflect on yourexperience, and analyse why youdon’t want to pursue writing further,you will have learned a great deal,both about writing and about yourself.Further, if your course has been a goodcourse, and you’ve made best use ofit, you should have a fairly clear idea ofhow ‘creative industries’ work, and howwork gets sold. You should also, moregenerally, have learned how to managea project from initial idea through tocompletion, and to work with otherpeople in a flexible, supportive andintelligent way. These aren’t negligibleaccomplishments. They should placeyou well whatever direction you decideto take.Apart from those who have decidedthat writing is not for them, there arealso recurring doubts, reservations andanxieties, expressed by students across allinstitutions. The “horrible embarrassment”of the student quoted above, and fear inanticipation of starting the course, are byno means uncommon:I was very scared coming to my firstseminar, because I wasn’t sure what toexpect. I had trouble finding the roomand getting there on time combinedwith the uncertainty made me verynervous when I sat down.(Year 1 student)I was terrified about the CreativeWriting module – I had to do it aspart of English studies. My interestwas much more about studying ‘goodpublished literature’ than attemptinganything of my own. However, so farit has been fine, and I am actuallyenjoying the exercises.(Year 1 student)The following student’s expectations interms of the peer group seem to havebeen confirmed:Although my initial fears wereof a class full of pretentious,psychologically damaged rich kids,and generally annoying wankers,I have learnt to put up with them.(Year 1 student)The same student touches on anothercommon theme – a lack of clarity about thepurpose and benefit of in-class exercises(however much fun they might be):Although I enjoy writing in my owntime and having the chance to readother people’s work, I’m glad CreativeWriting is only one module on myEnglish course.Even the student quoted above who,because of the course, has found courageto think of themself as a writer prefacesthat affirmation as follows:Although the exercises seem like awaste [my emphasis], they help me toopen myself up to other writers andexplore other points of view. With themastering of such exercises comesa certain sense of confidence – I nolonger fear the dreaded workshopsand the scrutinous gaze of otherwriters. I look forward to having mywork torn apart as it allows me to buildupon it. I also now have found thecourage to think about being a writerand not just an enthusiastic amateur or– the most dreaded – ‘a simple jotter’.(Year 2 student)It is extremely common for students not torealise what they’re learning:I don’t really think the exercisesenhance my writing but I assumesome people find it a benefit to them.(Year 2 student)Generally I enjoy the course, but I feelthat sometimes the exercises that weare asked to do are not beneficial tome as I feel I write better and havemore ideas when I am alone and in acreative mood.(Year 1 student)Generally, as students progress throughthe course, they do come to understandbetter the purpose of what they’re askedto do in class:At first I was embarrassed with someof the Creative Writing class exercises– I found them hokey and ‘touchy-feely’. As I’ve gotten used to them,I now feel much more comfortableand participate enthusiastically.(Level 2 student)While some of the above students findthey work better when alone, outside ofclass, perhaps equally represented arestudents complaining about the difficultyof motivating themselves without thestimulation of the workshop environment:I have one lesson on a Friday and therest of the time I’m expected to bedoing work in my own time. I find it hardto get motivated when sitting at homeand prefer to be in uni more often withspecific lessons to sit and write.(Year 2 student)There are clashes also between thestructure of courses, and some students’sense of individual freedom of expression:I enjoy my personal Creative Writingprocess, but resent the formalisedstructure. Ultimately, this course is ameans to an end, although I am keenI have been encouraged to experiment, whilealways being given support in my preferredgenre. In the best Creative Writing groups youfeel a real desire to help everyone achieve theirown goals, as well as follow your own.Investigating Creative Writing: student perspectives
  16. 16. 14 Newsletter 14 April 2008for it to become more than just that,less laboured. Undoubtedly I will gainfrom it, however quite what that will beI’m unsure. Reading this back, perhapsI should be paying more attention.(Year 2 student)It is not uncommon, in a minority ofstudents, to see a dislocation betweenwriting-for-the-course and “real” personalwriting:Before uni, I wrote a lot on my own.The workload quickly took that awayfrom me, and now, over two yearslater, I’ve lost a lot of confidence inmy prose work, and a lot of, shallI say, raw, unmanaged talent.(Year 3 student)“Confidence” crops up again and again– often as something that Creative Writingcourses give to students, but equally assomething that students lack, both inthemselves and in Creative Writing as adegree course:I would have to agree that peopleseem to almost look down on CreativeWriting – I know people who call it the‘Mickey Mouse’ part of my degree.(Year 2 student)I think the moment I had to produce apiece of creative work for a workshopI knew I wasn’t a writer, especially ifmy work was the last to be looked at,because I just felt out of my league.I feel that I write just enough to passthe course and for that reason alone.(Year 3 student)It is remarkable how many students withinany given group think of themselves as“the worst writer” – perhaps a quarter ora third. And it would surely be absurd toexpect students not to experience somesense of competition in the workshop:I’m not keen on reading out my work… actually I despise reading out mywork in fear of being criticised as,generally, I feel that it’s not as good asothers in the class.(Year 2 student)There’s always someone in the classwho I hate and whose writing Ihate, there’s also always a rival whoI respect and fight with to find outwho’s best and then there’s a bunch ofpeople I don’t really give a shit about.(Year 3 student)I used to write all the time before Icame to university, and never triedvery hard because it was just for fun.Here, I have to try really hard everyweek, and it takes up so much ofmy time. But it’s all in a quest to notbeing the worst writer.(Year 3 student)It does seem somewhat strange thatwe, as writers or experts of literature,whose business involves the intricaciesand complexities of human relationships,perhaps subscribe (on the surface at least)to a rather simple model of workshopinteraction, based on equality, giving ofconstructive feedback, taking of same ingood measure and co-operation towardsmutual improvement. Not all students seethings quite that way, nor have unqualifiedfaith in their tutorial input:I am less confident with my writingnow, as tutor feedback has proveddetrimental to my progression. Ifind the writing modules slow andfrustrating. I thought I would be agood writer one day, now I just thinkI will finish my degree bitter andslightly twisted.Having one tutor praise your workand then another almost failing youwhen marking it, suggests to methat it isn’t what your write but whoyou are writing for. I will continueto write but for me only, and I feel acompletely new career path will haveto be chosen. I haven’t given uphope though.(Year 3 student)My preliminary conclusions andsuggestions are as follows:• to make sure that from their firstworkshop or lecture (before if possible)our students are aware of the way ourcourses work, what they will be asked todo and why. (I will also try to make sureour staff are aware of these things)• to make students aware of the purposeof individual exercises and workshopactivities, both in terms of their writing,and of “transferability”, both to otherwriting genres and activities outside ofwriting• to make students aware of the changingdemands of our courses as they movethrough the levels, and the progressionfrom directed to self-directed work, andfrom private experiment to public display• to be aware of the pervasive lack ofconfidence among a sizeable minorityof students in almost every workshopgroup, and work to build confidence ineach individual• to be aware of the “competitive”element that students’ private self-evaluation entails• to be aware of (and respect) the rangeof motivation underlying students’decisions to do Creative WritingPostscriptFinally, I need to stress something:these students’ contributions, written inhaste, spontaneously, without warning,planning, or the opportunity to edit,are overwhelmingly articulate, clear andpersuasive. I’ll leave the last word to thisthird-year student, whose eloquence andability to draw the reader into their storyfor me belie the surface negativity:This exercise sums up my feelingsabout the course. I sit and think for awhile about what I should write, andwhen I put pen to paper it confirms tome that I am no writer. If the truth beknown, I started the course as a betand to reduce my workload.Our students do learn from our courses:for me the next step is to make surewe make them aware of what they’relearning, and what use it will be to them,and alongside this to work towards aconsensus concerning the nature of thesubject of Creative Writing in highereducation, including (and especially) adefinition of research.these students’ contributions, written in haste,spontaneously, without warning, planning, orthe opportunity to edit, are overwhelminglyarticulate, clear and persuasive.Investigating Creative Writing: student perspectives
  17. 17. Newsletter 14 April 2008 15At last …a resource for teaching Creative Writing inhigher education created by creative writers.This developing online resource will include: peer-reviewed scholarly articles, book reviews, practitionerinterviews, a discussion forum and helpful links to other sites, online articles and other resources tohelp colleagues to reflect on their own teaching practice. The resource aims to be particularly relevantto lecturers new to the field and students taking modules on Teaching Creative Writing. It will also beinvaluable to those who teach modules related to the pedagogy of writing.We need your help. Let’s share our views and our knowledge on how, why and what we teach, when weteach Creative Writing …In the first instance, we invite scholarly articles which consider the following topics.• Are there theories of Creative Writing? If so, what are they?• What constitutes knowledge and research in Creative Writing?• Why do we teach the way we do?• What skills do we teach our students?• Creative Writing & Pedagogic Research: how do they fit together?Join the debate!First deadline: 31 August 2008, with rolling deadlines thereafter.Send articles and all enquiries by e-mail toDr Nigel McLoughlinnmcloughlin@glos.ac.ukPrincipal Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Gloucestershire English Subject Centre Project HolderVice-Chair, National Association of Writers in Education Committee Member, NAWE Creative Writing inHigher Education NetworkFor further info www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/resources/creative/index.phpCreative Writing: Teaching, Theory & PracticeNewsletter 14
  18. 18. 16 Newsletter 14 April 2008Books WereMy Liberation:an interview with Alan RiceOver the winter, Nicole King met with Alan Rice,a scholar of the Black Atlantic who teaches Englishand American Studies. He spoke of the rewards ofinterdisciplinary teaching and of taking his subjectexpertise, as well as his students, outside the classroom.‘To shoot hard labour’ is an Antiguancolloquialism that means to work hard,very hard. It came to mind when I metup with Alan Rice last December, inLancaster. Rice is the sort of lecturer weall wish we had or perhaps strive to be: heis immediately warm, stridently positiveabout his subject(s) and (a very few minuteswill evidence) an intensely serious scholar– the type around whom you immediately,willingly, raise your game. Instead of justthe interview, he invited me up to Lancasterto spend the day, have lunch, and do aspecialised tour of Lancaster; indeed hedoes not do half measures. He also, bystealth and by proclamation, reminds oneof the privileges and pleasures of being auniversity lecturer.Rice is Reader in American Cultural Studiesand English at the University of CentralLancaster, where he has worked since1995. He did his undergraduate workat the University of Edinburgh, his MAat Bowling Green State University andearned his PhD at Keele University in 1997.He is the author of Radical Narrativesof the Black Atlantic (Continuum, 2003)and co-editor (with Martin Crawford) ofLiberating Sojourn: Frederick Douglass andTransatlantic Reform (University of GeorgiaPress, 1999). As these titles suggest, Ricecontributes to many subject areas, but,more than anything, he sees himself asan American Studies scholar and teacher.Always a ‘really interdisciplinary animal’ hisundergraduate studies at the Universityof Edinburgh helped him to understandhis passion for American Studies per se:‘The most interesting people teachingat Edinburgh,’ Rice told me, ‘were eitherdoing drama or American Literatureor History.’ From the beginning of ourinterview to the end, Rice gave a collectivenarrative: continuously citing the work andmentorship of others in telling the storyof his own development. At Edinburgh,‘there were these giants of Americanhistory – Owen Dudley Edwards, RhodriJeffrey-Jones and Sam Shepperson,’whilst in literature, ‘Colin Nicholson andRandall Stevenson managed to convinceme that English wasn’t all bad.’ These menand women, such as Faith Pullin, inspiredRice, who decided then and there that hewanted to be a university teacher. Withonly a ‘very moderate 2:1’, however, it wasan arduous process to get funded for aPhD, and eventually required a detourto the US.In what he described as his ‘hiatus period’,Rice doggedly, but unsuccessfully, pursuedpostgraduate bursaries. To get by heworked a variety of jobs, usually morethan one at time: ‘I worked as a homehelp, worked cleaning cafes and workedin the afternoons at the National Libraryof Scotland.’ The idea was, he explained,‘to keep my eye in research, mainly aboutjazz music and politics … I eventuallygot published in the Edinburgh Reviewbut still couldn’t ever get funding to doa PhD’ It was at this early moment in theinterview that I thought of that Antiguanphrase. For in addition to working forwages, and doing research on the side,Alan also became involved in local andcommunity politics. Friends thought hewas punishing himself, and after twoyears of unsuccessful funding applicationsthey tried to convince him to go forsomething else. ‘I was like Sisyphus; I wasjust going to carry on pushing that rockup that mountain till I got there.’ Onthe recommendation of Mary Ellison, theprofessor he hoped to work with at Keele,he was offered a job as a graduate teachingassistant at Bowling Green State University.Although it was a long way to go, Ricenevertheless reasoned that it was perhapsthe only way to get started towards thePhD, and he was proven right: he did atwo-year MA in American Cultural Studiesin just one year while teaching six hours ofEnglish Composition ‘to farmers’ sons anddaughters – totally unreconstructed kindof Midwesterners – it was very, very busy, itwas very strange, but I loved it.’ Again, thephrase ‘to shoot hard labour’ came to mymind. Armed with excellent grades for hisMA, he applied for the Keele scholarshipa third time, got it and went on to write adissertation on the jazz aesthetic in ToniMorrison’s novels, while teaching AmericanStudies to undergraduates. ‘It was awonderful American Studies departmentwith brilliant, collegial teachers like RichardGodden, Mary Ellison and, the late – andmuch lamented – Charles Swan, and veryinterdisciplinary – very much jazz andmusic and literature and history, all kind offeeding off of one another.’Books Were My Liberation: an interview with Alan Rice
  19. 19. Newsletter 14 April 2008 17Given Rice’s postgraduate experiences, itis not surprising that teaching and researchhave remained symbiotic elements overthe course of his career. I was curioushowever, about what drove him to keepgoing for the Keele scholarship, andhow did he know, as an undergraduatein Edinburgh, that he wanted to be auniversity lecturer? For Rice, to reflect onhis role as a teacher included reflecting onhis upbringing, his undergraduate yearsand the evolution of his research interestsin black Atlantic and radical narratives.In the following extracts, from our 90minute formal interview, I received somefascinating answers.Becoming a teacher‘I think I just thought that it is a reallyimportant role and it’s somethingwhereby you can make informationwhich is really important, accessible toa group of people who can hopefullygo on and do something important withthat information. I suppose a lot of itcomes from being someone for whombooks were my liberation. I was born andbrought up on a council estate in Surrey.It’s great being born and brought up ona council estate in Manchester – there’s aworking-class culture up there! We don’thave a working class culture [in Surrey],well there is one, but in fact it was at thedog ends of Thatcherism … There was thishorrible consumerism all around you andnothing to hold up against it, you know,just in terms of getting a handle on thatworld around you. You had working classpeople just gagging to buy their councilhouses! For me, what had saved me hadbeen books. I really wanted to give thatto other people, I really wanted to beinvolved in the world of ideas. But also Ilove performing … I really like the banterof being in a class, taking them on andmaking them think beyond the box, that’swhy I do it.’The pull of black American cultureNearly all of Rice’s publications have eitherblack Atlantic or black American culture attheir centre. Where did his interest beginand how did it develop?‘I think the most important moment forme was probably getting into jazz. Myfriend Nigel used to bunk off school andsit in his room and play jazz music. Hewent to a different school than me withdifferent holidays, so I could pretend thatI was bunking off school with him but Iwasn’t – because I would never do that.I used to sit in his room listening to jazzmusic from all ages and all periods. I didn’tget into it straight away at all but once Igot into it, I really loved it. When I wentaway to university at Edinburgh, I used tospend most of my time in record shops,just buying more and more jazz. And then,when I went on to do American literatureand American history, I gravitated towardsblack American literature and blackAmerican history spaces ... When I thinkabout it, the reason I did it was because Iwas wanting, I think, to study a differentculture, (and one that spoke English,because my languages were never goingto be good enough) and also I wantedto study radical culture. I did do lots ofwork on the Levellers and Diggers andall that good stuff, doing history, and Iwas interested in it, but it was almost, itwas always too close. I am very interestedin working-class histories, but I’m reallyglad I’m interested in them now, havingcome back to them from African Americanhistories, and through that black Atlanticprism.’In the classroomWhen asked what words he would useto describe himself in the classroom thequick fire answer was, ‘chalk and talk!’and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Riceis quite mobile and energetic, but whilehis lectures are now ‘very improvised’ thiswasn’t always the case:‘When I first went to Preston I actuallywrote out all of my lectures, longhand,that was partly because I didn’t have ayear beforehand to kind of sort thingsout, I was just thrown in the deep end,and I really needed [the script]. But now,especially in the Black Atlantic class,there won’t be a note in sight usually …I tend to do mini-lectures now; 20-minutelectures and then encourage questioningand debate … I am very traditional – I’veonly just started to use PowerPoint – I’vealways used overheads and slides. And I’mnot really that keen on it, but increasinglyyou’re forced into it by the technologicalworld around you. I tend not to put texton [PowerPoint], it’s just a way of showingillustrations with the odd quote. If you’redoing PowerPoint in the way everybodywhat had saved me had been books.I really wanted to give that to other people,I really wanted to be involved in the world of ideas.Books Were My Liberation: an interview with Alan Rice©iStockphoto
  20. 20. 18 Newsletter 14 April 2008else does it, which is, here are the threemain points, here are the other threemain points – that’s really constrictive,because actually there never are threemain points, and that’s my problem withit really – it makes (the lecture) almost aconsumerist thing.’The interdisciplinary wayIt was clear to me that Rice’s commitmentto interdisciplinarity stretched acrossthe various facets of his professionalidentity. So I asked him to talk aboutthe practicalities and consequences ofdoing interdisciplinary work and trainingundergraduates in English and AmericanStudies. His answer, a cross between alecture and a sermon, was intense andabsorbing. I gained a visceral sense ofwhat a student in one of Rice’s no-lecture-classes might experience.‘When I was an undergraduate in Englishliterature and history, I’d get the essaysback from the English literature peoplesaying “there’s not nearly enough practicalcriticism here – context is great but you’reover-selling your context.” And whenI’d get my essays back from historians itwould be ‘you’re taking far too long overthis source, this document, there’s contextthere but there’s not enough context.’And I was determined that when I was anacademic that I would never say, never say,those things to students. What they shouldhave been saying to me was somethingalong the lines of “actually, this is the waycriticism should be, but if you want todo something more to it you could bringthis in or that in.” So what my practiceis about, for instance, showing people aparagraph out of Beloved and then doingalmost a mind map but not literally, I don’tdo it of that paragraph. So, for instance,you’ve got that paragraph in Belovedwhich is about cannibalism.You know the one where Stamp Paid islooking at the window and he says “it’s notwhat racism has done to black people, it’swhat racism has done to white people.”Where they’re eating it up, they’re eatingthemselves up – it’s self cannibalism and itscannibalism and you know it’s a paragraph!And what I suppose I do is to say, in thisparagraph we could look at Freud here, wecould look at ideas to do with psychologyand the whole psychology aroundcannibalism, but you could also look atthe history of the cannibal in postcolonialdiscourse and the way in which this comesinto it. Then there’s the whole thing aboutAmerican history, and the way in whichthe black body which has been eaten inorder for the white culture to live andsustain itself, and then you would almostsay, well let’s trace that in this novel. Atone point in Beloved there’s the line thatsays the Ku Klux Klan are actually likecannibals – that image goes through thetext and each time it has a different kindof contextualisation which leads you tosomewhere else. So you can’t hold thistext in to a practical criticism – you don’twant to hold it in to a practical criticism,you don’t even want to hold it in to acontextualisation around history, you wantto have contextualisation around so manydifferent things. Then you might wantto say, well actually, let’s have a look atsome of these pictures of lynchings, to talkabout the way in which people took awaytrophies from those lynchings, cut-up thebodies. And that’s what Morrison’s talkingabout again and again. She’s not justtalking about slavery; she’s talking aboutpost-slavery as well. She’s not just talkingabout Reconstruction, she’s not talkingabout the 1950s, even. What she’s talkingabout is the way in which the history ofracism has impacted us all. So I supposewhat my teaching practice is about is, asan English teacher, and I do teach Englishstudents as well as American Studiesstudents, I don’t change one iota when Iteach English students. Not one iota doI go back to those days when I was – attimes – poorly taught at Edinburgh, beingforced into a very narrow view of textualcriticism as the be all and end all.’Escaping the ivory towerAlthough it is difficult to fathom where hefinds the time, a significant aspect of Rice’slife as an academic is the work he currentlydoes outside of the classroom and theuniversity. A key point however, and alesson to beginning lecturers especially, isthat each of Rice’s activities link up – theyfeed in and feed back into his courses andbooks, while what he teaches and writesgives him credibility as well as expertisein new environments beyond the wallsof HEIs. His passion for this aspect of hisworking life also has deep roots datingback to those days in Edinburgh.‘Even before I got into academia, I foundpeople who were working on ideas in abroad sense. We had a reading group,mainly people who were on welfare, onthe dole in Scotland, and we were allreading Derrida (this is the mid 1980s).When I was an undergraduate ... I’d get theessays back from the English literature peoplesaying ‘there’s not nearly enough practicalcriticism here’Books Were My Liberation: an interview with Alan Rice
  21. 21. Newsletter 14 April 2008 19We were reading Derrida, and abouthalf of us were then going out on theminers’ picket line the next morning. Theother half were saying ‘No!’, and arguingabout Derridean ideas around it! But youknow some of us were doing both andthen we got very involved in the anti-poll tax movement. We were involved incommunity action but were also spendingall our spare moments in the NationalLibrary reading things like Bataille …One of the guys, a guy called Jack Fuller,actually managed to get some money fromthe Adult Education to run a Derrida class,and we all hauled into this Derrida class... that class sort of gave me a communityeven at that moment when there wasno community for me, in terms of therewas no department or anything like that.That gave me a real grounding in the factthat ideas don’t just happen in academia,they happen all over the place, and thatseemed to me to be a really importantlesson from that time in Edinburgh.’Rice was an early English Subject Centreproject holder, on the Americanisationand the Teaching of American Studies(AMATAS) project, and, more recently,he worked with Lancaster city partnerson the Slave Trade Arts Memorial (STAMP)project. He has also curated ‘Trade andEmpire: Remembering Slavery’ at theUniversity of Manchester’s WhitworthGallery (June 2007–April 2008). So Iinquired about the relationship betweenhis different working environments – hisknack for juggling them – and I solicitedhis opinion on public intellectuals.Let’s talk about the STAMP project,because I think that’s a really interestingmodel.‘One day in 2002 there was a trainingday for teachers to teach slavery. AndLancaster, to give it credit, was doingsome of this work because it is a slave portand they were grasping towards gettingit into the curriculum. There were about10 teachers there and we did a day withthem. I devised this slavery tableau – atableau of the Atlantic Triangle, and itworked quite well. I developed it for workwith schoolchildren as a way of explainingthe Middle Passage, the whole trianglein fact, with 18 different character cardsand they move round. The charactersare based on characters in my book,Radical Narratives … It’s a dynamic way ofteaching, and I use it in my Black Atlanticcourses with my own undergraduates, justas a means of a different way of showingpeople how things work. At the end ofthe workshop we all sat down – peoplefrom the council diversity group, themuseum, and the local non-governmentalorganizations like Political Link … We said,there’s a bit of a gap really, there’s thedisplay in the museum which we know isa bit tired, but there’s nothing much elsein Lancaster, and the only place peopledo go to think about slavery is Sambo’sgrave, which is tidal – you can’t get theresometimes and you can get cut off there,you know?! So we all sat there and saidit would be great to have a memorialwouldn’t it? We said, well maybe we cando this. A group to set up a slave memorialgot together … and suddenly we were onthe game and having public meetings andthen we got some funding which just cameout of virtually nowhere! And not just forthe memorial but for a whole educationalthing around the memorial, so we wentinto dozens of schools and us organisersspoke to nearly a thousand school childrenover the life of the project. We thencommissioned an artist – the council gaveus lots of support – and we now have thefirst ever memorial to the victims of theslave trade on a quay-side site in Britain.It’s a wonderful memorial but it’s also therepermanently, so there’s always a placepeople can go to find out about slavery.I’ve got somewhere to take my studentsnow, every single field trip. There’s amemorial right in the town next to me,to take my students to, to show themso they can discuss the issues aroundthat memorial. What they have tendedto do is stand by the memorial and startinterviewing members of the public aboutwhat they think about it and gettingdifferent views about it and then writingthem up and talking about these kindsof things. So it becomes a whole newmethod of how to work because of thatmemorial being there. I love that aspect ofit. [The curatorial work] is very importantto me as well, it means that I’ve been ableto translate a lot of my academic workfrom Radical Narratives and since into anexhibition, which means being able toBooks Were My Liberation: an interview with Alan Rice©iStockphotoIt gave me a real grounding in the fact that ideasdon’t just happen in academia, they happen allover the place, and that seemed to me to be areally important lesson from that time in Edinburgh.
  22. 22. 20 Newsletter 14 April 2008bring a whole new community into thatwork. So it’s teaching in a different kindof way.The university gave me full support todo this, even though it wasn’t in Preston,which I thought was quite good, becausethey/we were saying this is aboutcommunity in the larger sense. But alsoit fed into my teaching as I started doingweeks, then developed a whole module,called ‘Monuments and Memorials of theBlack Atlantic’, for our MA course. I thinkit is a great shame there are not morepublic intellectuals among academics …It’s a disgrace that the RAE culture meanswe are not being public intellectuals,both in the sense of having the time tobe involved in community actions whichfeed into your academic work and havingthe time and energy to do curatorial work… Far too many academics are contentto talk only to one another, and I am notcontent to do that.’EndingsRice and I had started our day together,disregarding wind and rain, with a tourof places of interest and significanceregarding Lancaster and the Atlantic slavetrade. I was shown a private residencewhich is still home to the descendantsof a major slave trader, the magisterialLancaster Priory and parish church where,between the pews and stained glasswindows, prominent city fathers havetowering plaques detailing their goodworks, while history records their extensivedealings in human flesh and the profitsthey reaped from it. Most movinglyperhaps, was when I saw the memorial tovictims of the slave trade – the only onein Great Britain at present – the physicalmanifestation of the STAMP project. Weended the day in Rice’s home havingtea with his partner, perusing his libraryand welcoming his young daughters asthey arrived home from school. I havewritten elsewhere that we don’t oftenhave the opportunity to visit each other’sclassrooms, but my day with Alan Ricegave me that and more – I glimpsed a bitof the complex process of how we juggleour identities as teachers, researchers,members of families and tribes. It wasquite a day. My last question to Ricewas what he’d be doing if he weren’t anacademic (and a curator and a communityactivist). He replied ‘I wouldn’t want to doanything else. It’s about the teaching andit’s about the research and it’s about theproject thing. No, I don’t think I could doanything else, it’s in my DNA.’Save the Date:The sixth Annual English Subject CentreNew LecturersConference21–23 November 2008Registration will open soon on our websitewww.english.heacademy.ac.ukBooks Were My Liberation: an interview with Alan Rice
  23. 23. Newsletter 14 April 2008 21This English Subject Centre round table in September2007 – instigated by Mark Rawlinson of the Universityof Leicester – was a response to the alarm expressedby many colleagues in the higher educationcommunity over the perception that the close readingskills of undergraduates are in decline. Alan Brownand Adam Piette provided short reflective talks, andthe day, which ended with a session in which threesmall groups each designed a ‘close reading’ module,included an intensive period of group work on specificpoems (Kipling’s ‘The Dykes’ and Simon Armitage’s‘Not the Furniture Game’). The opportunity to spendtime with colleagues practising the skills whichwere under discussion was a particularly warmlywelcomed aspect of a rich and productive event.This part of the day was an opportunity not just todo some close reading but also to reflect upon whatthat process involved – what presuppositions andknowledge (many of them not necessarily shared withour students) we’d brought to the task. It was also asalutary way of experiencing at first hand the anxietiesand excitement of a seminar/tutorial from a student’spoint of view.An underlying principle concerned the indivisibility ofsubject knowledge and pedagogic practice: that insharing with students our own working practices andintellectual strategies we take part in the perpetualactualisation of the subject1. Indeed, ‘close reading’has been predicated on a long-standing – thoughnow perhaps residual – insistence within Englishliterary studies that there is no gulf fixed betweenthe specialist knowledge of academics and whatstudents can work out from a text, given confidence,argumentative stamina and a modicum of knowledge.And yet, as Alan Brown forcibly reminded us, therehas, all the time, (and not least since practical criticismgave way to critical practice in the 1980s) been aparadox submerged beneath the apparent democracyof the text-focused classroom: that ‘English’ did infact have designs on the formationof the subjectivity of its students, and that its teachersand examiners did possess a hidden knowledge or‘true judgment’ to which students could only aspire toconform2. Many forms of close reading therefore leadto students attempting to guess what is in the tutor’smind, or, in some cases, adopting a stance designedto demonstrate their superiority to fellow students.The situation at A Level – and a lot of the time inuniversities – might be described as a kind of ‘culturalobedience’: inviting the production, in response tothe actual or implied question ‘what did you think ofthis, then?’ of formulaic appreciations of texts whichstudents had no intention of reading in their own time.Participants looked back frequently to the origins ofclose reading in the work of I A Richards and the newcritics, highlighting the embeddedness of the originalpractice of close reading in teaching. Alan Brownstressed the fact that Richards was interested less inthe establishment of criteria for ‘good’ interpretationthan in the close reading of poetry as a mechanismfor the ordering of the mind. Adam Piette looked atthe legacy of the American New Critics, whose workimplied a hierarchy of readers ranging from less tomore skilled, with themselves – an elite of poet-critics– at the top.Whether or not close reading should involvejudgments of literary quality was touched upon briefly.One participant described an exercise in which he andhis students analysed and compared ‘good’ and ‘bad’poems – and uncovered a striking unanimity aboutliterary value. Other participants tended to want todistance the critical act from value judgments, in anumber of different ways – indeed, it was argued thatthe encounter with a text in a seminar should engagewith the text beyond the issue of liking or disliking.Another colleague distinguished between differenttypes of value judgment, saying that while she foundasking students ‘Do you like it?’ in a seminar wasUp Close:a round table on close readingIs close reading a dying art? In this extended event report, Ben Knightsand Jonathan Gibson highlight current thinking about one of thefundamental processes of teaching and learning in our subject areas.Ben Knights is theDirector of the EnglishSubject Centre. Hismost recent book isMasculinities in Textand Teaching (Palgrave2007).Jonathan Gibsonis an AcademicCo-ordinator at theEnglish Subject Centreand also writes andresearches in the areasof Early Modern andRenaissance Studies.1 See, for example, Susan Bruce, Ken Jones and Monica McLean, ‘Some Notes on a Project: Democracy and Authorityin the Production of a Discipline’, Pedagogy 7.3 (2007) 481–500.2 Cf. Alan Brown, ‘On the Subject of Practical Criticism’, Cambridge Quarterly 28 (1999), 293–00327; Robert Scholes,The Crafty Reader (Yale UP, 2001).Up Close: a round table on close reading
  24. 24. 22 Newsletter 14 April 2008counter-productive, asking ‘Is it good?’could be a useful starting point. Shepointed out that students’ enthusiasm fora text could wax and wane in the courseof a seminar. It was also quite possible forstudents to simultaneously dislike a textand enjoy analysing it – a practice, it wassuggested, that was valuable in teachingthem about the differences betweenreading for pleasure and reading as aliterary critic. Models for this approachcould be found in the analytical (ratherthan ‘appreciative’) approach to textscurrently taught at English Language ALevel. The importance of picking up andextending immediate student responsesto text was highlighted by severalparticipants: ‘not liking’ something ina text was often student shorthand fornot understanding something. Anotherparticipant described a dramatic contrastbetween two halves of the same module:the first half was taught in a very ‘top-down’, theory-heavy manner, with theresult that some students were completelyalienated; in the second half of the course,a second lecturer’s student-led approach– built on brainstorming sessions with thestudents – was much more successful inbuilding student commitment.A number of suggestions emergedfrom the module design exercise atthe end of the day. First of all, that weshould articulate (to ourselves and toour students) the skills and conceptualrepertoires on which we draw. If weare aspiring to build ‘disciplinaryconsciousness’ we should not ‘smugglein’ close reading, but foreground it, andoffer students ‘kit bags’ for thinking aboutfigurative language, device and linguisticchoice. Stylistics and systematic languagestudy are among the sources of suchequipment, and we need to bear in mindthat in many universities we have studentswho will have taken A Level EnglishLanguage. While we can and should askinitial open questions of the ‘what did younotice?’/‘what do you think?’ variety, wehave to do more work on how to build onthe initial responses we receive, on drawingin the less confident or articulate membersof the group, and on safeguarding co-operation. There was a plea for moduleswhich foreground close reading to betaught by experienced teachers. It isdispiriting for students if terminology thathas excited them in a close reading coursecannot be applied on modules taught byother lecturers. One group suggestedthat close reading should be thoroughly‘embedded’, playing a key role in everymodule on a degree. Another (Utopian)idea was for a year group to reassemblein a final-year module to bring togetherand interrogate, in unseen close reading,knowledge gathered in previous years.It was also strongly put to us thatthe close study of form, device andlinguistic choice could only benefit fromengagement with Creative Writing – itselfa form of close reading. Even if our goalis not the teaching of creative writingin itself, one way of releasing the gripof anxiety generated by the apparentlyauthoritative text is to use authors’ draftsor variant texts, or to engage in forms oftransformative writing – to invite studentsto write their own versions or variant textsas a way of getting to grips with style,genre and linguistic choice3. It was felt thatVirtual Learning Environments (VLEs) couldbe a potentially invaluable tool in enablingstudents to unpick texts at their own pace,or to supplement class activity in focusingon the effects of different approaches,students collectively building up layers ofinterpretations. The teaching of reading‘pencil in hand’ can readily be translatedto forms of annotation and hypertext. Itwas realised that many of the suggestionsmade implied making more use offormative assessment than recent regimestend to encourage, or teachers havetime to mark. But there was enthusiasticsupport for the portfolio of drafts withcommentary as a form of summativeassessment which could enable studentsto sustain and move through a cyclicalprocess of reading, writing and revisiting.Classically, of course, practical criticismand new criticism are characterised asapproaches brought to bear on context-Many forms of close reading thereforelead to students attempting to guesswhat is in the tutor’s mind3 Rob Pope, Textual Intervention: Critical and Creative Strategies for Literary Studies (London: Routledge, 1995);Ben Knights and Chris Thurgar-Dawson, Active Reading: Transformative Writing in Literary Studies (London: Continuum, 2006).‘not liking’ something in a text was often studentshorthand for not understanding something.Up Close: a round table on close reading©RoyalHolloway,UniversityofLondon

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