Evolving Writing

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Middlesex University was the first UK university to introduce a Creative Writing course at undergraduate level, in 1991-92. It was called ‘Writing and Publishing’, and established by Susanna Gladwin, who had been teaching English Literature since the 1960s, when Middlesex was still a Polytechnic. Apparently, Susanna’s ‘growing dissatisfaction with traditional English teaching led her to incorporate Creative Writing elements into her classroom’.

Yet we might wonder what was so wrong with ‘traditional English teaching’ that change, development, evolution and innovation were required. Indeed, we might pose these quite persuasive myths as countering questions and challenges…

  • Shakespeare didn’t need a Creative Writing teacher, right? So why do people need to study Creative Writing?

  • Everyone can write creatively, surely? So people needn’t bother doing degrees in the subject, surely?

  • Everyone’s born creative, to a greater or lesser degree, so maybe creativity can’t even be taught, right? Perhaps creativity can only be facilitated or inspired, meaning students don’t really learn anything on a Creative Writing degree, yes?

Undeniably, there are some partial truths in the statements and questions above, which makes them all the more convincing. However, to quote the character of Banquo in the play ‘Macbeth’, “But 'tis strange:/ And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,/ The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/ Win us with honest trifles, to betray us/ In deepest consequence.” In other words, those myths are not the entire truth of the situation, and only suggest false conclusions.

You might be unsurprised to learn that Susanna Gladwin, far from being celebrated as a trail-blazer back in the 1990s, met with significant resistance (from both within and outside of Middlesex) when introducing the new course. She took considerable personal and professional risk to implement a new understanding of what was involved in Creative Writing and the teaching of the subject.

What was the nature of that understanding, an understanding that is now enshrined at Middlesex University? Well, all is revealed in the video interview with academic, poet and best-selling novelist Maggie Butt below.

As a companion piece to the article on this page, you may now wish to read our Creative Teaching and Learning page.

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[Front row:  Dame Penelope Lively DBE FRSL, Booker Prize Winner, and patron of Middlesex's first MA in Creative Writing, with Professor Gabrielle Parker

Back row: Maggie Butt, Susanna Gladwin, Linda Leatherbarrow]