The privileged Marginality of Creative Writing

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

I’ve been reading Tim Mayer’s book “(Re)Writing Craft: Composition, Creative Writing, and the Future of English Studies” for my comp exams coming up this academic year. While Mayers does a decent job of giving an overview of why composition in the university became a field in the first place, his discussion of composition and creative writing joining forces to create a more solid space for Creative Writing is not the greatest argument I’ve ever seen. In fact, I feel some of his claims, such as by combining creative writing with composition, the field can become even stronger, is a bit idealistic. Sometimes in his book he even sounds a little like Mr. Rogers telling me it will all be ok and to be a good person. And his statement that “composition studies has reached an important stage in its development and is possibly ready to expand its scope to encompass territory commonly thought only to belong to creative writing” just made me say whut? Isn’t that the other way around, sir?

What I did find interesting, however, was his discussion regarding the marginality of creative writing. In my readings, I am trying to find a way to create a solid, academic space for Creative Writing in the university so that CW can have some “site identity,” a problem described by Graeme Harper and Jeri Kroll in their introduction to the collection Creative Writing: Practice, Research and PedagogyA big target, admittedly, but one that allows me to examine roles of authorship in CW and how new media and multimodal practices can benefit creative writing studies.

When it comes to CW and its marginality, Mayers left me some interesting ideas to think about. For one, he argues that because CW is so marginalized, it can almost do anything and become anything within the university. Of course, this is also a problem, as we see from the lack of site identity CW has in the university. (Again, where do you find CW depts? Almost anywhere and sometimes well-hidden.) He also argues that because of this marginality, the issue of scholarship in CW is something misunderstood. For instance, CW need to publish a lot if they want to have university jobs. (At this point, he also says something awful–he equates CNF with drama and then terms it, “so-called creative nonfiction.” So called? No. Drama? No.) But he states because of this, that CW scholars need to think what they mean by scholarship. He feels that the publishing of short stories, poems, etc would be and should be considered scholarship for the CW.

Well, duh.

But here he is also ignoring the idea of scholarship within the university. Scholarship is often original research. But then, stories, poems, and “drama or so-called creative nonfiction” (Mayers) are often thought to be original, that is unless you are following in the vein of Marjorie Perloff or Kenneth Goldsmith. And we all know that the university system is slow to see change. I mean, look at Blackboard and the technology available within that and then go elsewhere on the internet and see what is available. Yep. Like that.

He does mention, however, that the scholarly analysis of creative production is beginning to emerge, and this can be helpful to Creative Writing as a field. An example of this kind of scholarship is Marjorie Perloff’s Radical Artifice, which is an interesting examination of poetry writing in a culture saturated with other types of media. Another example is Timothy Clark’s The Theory of Inspiration, where he attempts to demystify what it means when writers feel “inspired” which is cool, and I book I want to read even though it isn’t technically on my reading list, but it just sounds so cool, if a little Burkean or even impossible.

What Mayers wants people to realize here is that creative writing is, in all academic terms, serious writing and should be considered so in the academy. But in the same breath, he argues that “creative writing cannot be taught” because “it is so intrinsic to the writer.” Again, I go whut? There is a big problem if you want to create a space for Creative writing in the institution, but then say it cannot be taught because we are all beautiful, unique little snowflakes and no one can define us or what we do. No one.

What a mess.

I still have a little over half of this book to read and I am not quite sure how I will feel by the end of it. I mentioned to my former poetry professor and “drama, or so called Creative Nonfiction” professor that I was reading this book for my comp exams and he just gave me a look like, oh yeah, that book. I now understand why he wasn’t so sold on it. While Mayers makes some interesting claims, he also contradicts himself and makes claims that I feel are misaligned or not well articulated. Hopefully, by the end of this book, I will feel a little better about it. Granted, he does make some interesting observations and got me to think more about the privileged marginality of creative writing, as he so terms it.

Either way, I am glad I got it from the library and didn’t buy the book. Hooray for libraries.

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