December, 2016

“Good writers come from all disciplines, Arts or Science”  

An interview with Saikat Majumdar, Professor of English and Creative Writing at Ashoka University on the relevance of creative writing education in India

 

Is writing something that can be taught? It’s often understood to be an innate skill that cannot be taught. The answer is same as any other arts. Can painting be taught, or can music be taught? In a recent article Saikat Majumdar, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Ashoka University says that the more technical an artistic field , the easier it lends itself to teaching. For example, a highly artistic field like film-making which overflows with technicality is a more “teachable” art. However, with creative writing, it gets tricky because everybody uses language. There is a misconception that the most important aspect of being a writer is having a conventional command over the language. What really is needed is a facility with language that is quirky and original and an interesting relationship with life. Creative writing pedagogy needs to go beyond an obsession with technique. A creative writing programme that concentrates too much on the technicalities can often do more harm than good. It is because of this that Majumdar considers an MFA to be a worthless degree unless it is backed with evidence of success in writing.
India is a country of aspiring writers, however writing education in India is not a formal process. “Creative Writing is very new in India, and it is still not approved as an academic subject by the UGC. “Creative Writing courses are rare in Indian universities, or elsewhere in India for that matter, barring a few short-term programmes run by foreign institutions, and perhaps, courses offered long-distance,”  says Majumdar in an interview on the relevance of creative writing education in India. Edited Excerpts:
Q: What is the importance of a creative writing minor in liberal arts education?

A creative writing programme deeply entrenches the liberal arts mission of the university. Good writers come from all backgrounds – and consequently, a creative writing minor is open to students from any discipline in the arts and the sciences. Creative writing, therefore, is as transdisciplinary as the liberal arts structure within which it finds itself at Ashoka. Other faculties and centres, most directly those in the arts and the humanities but also those in the sciences will enter in a mutually symbiotic relation with the program through consistent faculty and student interaction. The world of reading, writing, and publishing is going through a cataclysmic transition worldwide, and this is a unique chance for an innovative liberal education institution as ours to make a large impact on this crucial landscape from a vantage point where academia and the public sphere come together.
However, creative writing cannot really be taught like other disciplines which are driven by content. In a creative writing workshop, the content is generated by the participants themselves, who become the producers and the consumers of that content at the same time. The workshop  creates a space for writers to come together. They push writing to go from the therapeutic to the affective. Therapeutic: that journal entry where you vented your anger, romance, frustration, love, disgust. Affective: the piece of writing that successfully evokes all these emotions in the reader. Where writing goes from being about you to being directed to the reader. And how does it do that? By turning writers into readers and back to writers again, through the communal experience of the workshop.

Q: Can a person majoring in Economics, Math, or say Computer Science take Creative Writing as a minor?

It’s open to any student from ANY major. We warmly welcome students from the non-humanities majors, as good writers can come from any background. The habit of reading helps, but specialising in literature or the humanities is not required. Some of the finest writers in history have been scientists, doctors, economists, and we hope that students from other majors will bring interesting moments, experiences and emotions from those worlds alive through their writing.

Q: Are there any particular pre-requisites? Does one have to be a good writer beforehand?

One should be sufficiently committed to writing – the minor requires 6 courses and a thesis in prose of poetry. I guess the most important factor is the certainty that one is writing not just for oneself but is ready to share it with the world. Often people think they like to write but what they are doing is just writing for themselves – which is fine but that doesn’t necessarily need to be shared with the world. A serious writer needs the ability and readiness to open up to the world through one’s writing, to move beyond writing as therapy for the self to writing that speaks to the reader. Beyond this, it is hard to quantify how “good” one should be. There are many different kinds of writers and many different measures of quality. Usually, creative writing programs are able to help you polish your technical skills, but an inner spark must be there, to begin with.

Q: How different is it from the creative writing done in high school?

One feature of a creative writing program in college and university is the workshop, where your writing is not only critiqued by the instructor, but by all participants in the class. So a creative writing class is not just about writing but also about reading. It also helps you to become a better reader – which helps you read, and edit your own work better.

Q: How similar/different is the creative writing minor compared to those abroad?

None of the Ivy Leagues, with the exception of Brown and Cornell, offer degrees in Creative Writing. They are a bit too traditional for that. But otherwise, they are very popular with American universities. Stanford, where I was teaching before I came to Ashoka, has a significant fellowship/residency program for advanced writers. It is our hope that we can set up something like that at Ashoka. However, though Creative Writing at Ashoka deals with writing in English, we envision it as not as a programme shaped merely by the norms and practices of the Anglo-American Master of Fine Arts or writing residencies, but as one in active and symbiotic conversation with the non-Anglophone vernacular literary traditions of India.

More information about the course can be found here: http://www.creative-writing.ashoka.edu.in/

 

 

 

 

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