New creative writing course takes off at AU

Creative writing was an option this academic year for the first time at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University. It was an innovation that students embraced. David Connolly, associate professor of translation studies at AU, and two of his students talked to Kathimerini English Edition about the course. «The course started in response to demand from students of the School of English Language and Literature and the recently established Department of Translation and Intercultural Studies,» said Connolly, who is also the director of the new department. The aim is not to try to teach students to write best sellers, he explained. «Some of them find it easier to approach literature through creative channels than through analytical channels.» It isn’t just their writing that has improved. One of the reasons for running the course, Connolly noted, «is to make students into better readers. A lot of students have benefited as philologists through approaching literature creatively.» The participants are mainly final-year (fourth-year) undergraduates. They were asked to submit a piece of creative writing so they could be vetted, «but we weren’t too strict,» said Connolly, who added, «It is surprising to see how many students are writing.» Aware of the need to field tutors who were also writers, Connolly enlisted the services of three authors who work in different genres. Don Schofield, a poet who lives in Thessaloniki, playwright Ruth Margraff, who came from the US with the help of the Fulbright Foundation, and Athens-based Scottish novelist Paul Johnston, who was sponsored by the British Council, are all experienced creative writing teachers. The students covered the three genres in 12 seminars, and each produced writing of their own that was assessed by the tutors. Some of that work will reach a wider public. The next issue of Thessaloniki-based literary journal Entefktyrio is devoted to new voices and will include some of the students’ writing. Hands-on The approach was hands-on. In parallel with the seminars, Connolly got Greek writers from Thessaloniki to come and give talks on the practical aspects: «when, how and where they write, how they find publishers, how they got started.» The writers he invited were friends whose work he himself had translated – Sofia Nikolaidou, Sakis Serefas and Dimitris Mingas. And of course the students knew that both Nikolaidou and Serefas had studied at AU themselves and gone on to become well-established writers. «It was enlightening and creative,» said Despina Kalaitzidou, who is doing a doctorate in theater and who audited the course. Having taken creative writing classes in Edinburgh, she knew what to expect and was not disappointed. She liked «talking about our work and hearing other people talk about our work.» «It helped me find my own voice,» said Katerina Toliou, who is studying English language and literature. She writes poems and is interested in the creative process: «I always want to see my capabilities, to test myself, to see if I can do something.» The instructors helped her find means of inspiration, she explained, and discussion with fellow students was helpful too. Though the students were keen, there was some resistance to the course from other quarters. «Writers are mistrustful about creative writing courses, because they are mostly self-taught, said Connolly, «and university departments see them as a luxury. Some of them think that students are not mature enough for a creative writing course. But the feedback from students and tutors was very positive.» If the unfeigned enthusiasm of the students we met counts for anything, the course has a promising future.

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