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Thursday, 23 November 2006

Creative writing programs at universities are the odd men out, says John Dale, director of the University of Technology, Sydney's Centre for New Writing.

IN launching the University of Technology, Sydney's Centre for New Writing in 2004, the novelist and Yale University professor Caryl Phillips referred to the fundamental tension in teaching writing at university when he said that writers are people who put things together while universities are places where you take things apart.

Creative writing programs should distance themselves from the areas they devolved from — English literature and cultural studies — and align themselves with other creative sectors of universities, such as media and performing arts.

The sector is booming, Dale says.

Australian universities now offer more than 70 of these courses. There are numerous mature-age students willing to pay universities $100-plus an hour to sit in a postgraduate writing class.

Well, I'm one of those boomers, it seems. And I agree. Media studies, like creative writing, is an area that offers practical instruction in the art of writing. And the art of thinking, which leads ultimately to personal development. Unlike many other areas of university study, these ones provide an environment where you learn how to make things that are beautiful as well as useful to society.

Society needs, in fact demands, creative individuals.

Richard Florida in Rise of the Creative Class argues that creativity has come to be regarded as the most highly prized commodity in our society, the defining feature of 21st-century economic life.

I'm happy to pay $100-plus an hour to get my creative fix, twice a week. When I get home after class I am energised and fulfilled. I eagerly attack the newspapers and enjoy my free time more than at other times. The impact of the course on my work has also been positive, and I actively seek out opportunities to write things now. I am hoping that the degree will help me to secure a more profitable position in my organisation. Dale says:

When I am asked by my students whether creative writing can be taught, I say no it can't. But it can be learned. The main difference is that the learning process in the workshop environment is interactive, developmental, inspirational, production-based and creative in the true sense.

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