From the 12th to the 17th of July, 2020, the EACWP launches the fourth edition of its European Course for Teachers of Creative Writing, taking place in the 16-century castle of Alden Biesen (Belgium). Enrollments will be open in January, 2020
Teaching approaches to creative writing
The general course will be divided in two separated sessions: mornings and afternoons. During the mornings, each teacher will deliver his/her own working session. Over these sessions, our EACWP teachers will share their different methodologies, approaches and experiences in the teaching of creative writing by offering a so called “auteur workshop” by performing and explaining their own ars pedagogica and didactics from both a theoretical and practical approach. All the working sessions will be focused on pedagogical training and guidelines to empower the participants to develop their own teaching interests and new possibilities.
Additionally, over the afternoon sessions, the teachers in training will be invited to take part into pedagogical creative laboratories to discuss several approaches to different teaching proposals taking into account the context and the experience of the several teachers participating in the discussion. At the end of the day, the outcome of this exchange will be presented in groups in a final sharing session, supported and commented by the EACWP teachers and the rest of the participants.
Ultimately, the full bibliography along with some other support materials will be provided by the teachers in their corresponding working sessions.
Workshop 1: Photography & Writing
By Rubén Abella (Escuela de Escritores / Spain)
One only has to walk around a city or get on the Internet to realize how ubiquitous photographic images have become in most contemporary societies. More than one and a half billion photographs are uploaded on the social media every day. The number of photos we take has skyrocketed due to the fast popularization of digital cameras and cell phones. We had never captured—and shared—so many images of the world around us and of ourselves.
However, as opposed to what happens with language, whose rules we learn in school, very few people are familiar with the syntax, grammar, and vocabulary of the photographic medium; that is, with the strategies and internal mechanisms through which photos convey messages and tell stories. Also unknown to most is the complex and fruitful relationship that since its inception photography has maintained with the written language and, more specifically, with narrative. The purpose of this course is to fill both gaps.
Highly practical in nature, the course will trace by means of a slideshow the history of that relationship, from the seminal captions used by the French photographer Paul Nadar in his 1886 photographic interview with the scientist Eugène Chevreul to the hybrid works of, among others, Wright Morris, Duane Michals, Robert Frank, Barbara Kruger, Oliviero Toscani, Wim Wenders, Tracey Moffatt, and W.G. Sebald. It will also provide participants with the necessary tools to create—and teach others to create—their own photo-text projects.
By means of the slideshow we shall analyze the work of:
- Photographers who have included written text in their images (William Klein, Bernard Faucon, Gilliam Wearing…)
Photographers who have collaborated with writers to create narrative artifacts combining pictures and words (Walker Evans and James Agee, Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes, John Berger and Jean Mohr…)
Writers who have used borrowed images in their books (Catherine Taylor, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Carole Maso)
Writers who are also photographers and have successfully blended both disciplines (Kobo Abé, Sam Shepard, Teju Cole…)
Participants will explore the enormous creative possibilities offered by this hybrid genre by:
- Writing texts based on photographs
- Taking photographs inspired by texts
- Creating their own photo-text compositions
- Analyzing the work of their fellow workshoppers
The workshop consists of a lecture/slideshow, which constitutes the theoretical backbone of the session, followed by practical exercises. One key exercise involves participants leaving the room and taking pictures with their own cell phones or digital cameras. Their work will be projected and commented upon by the group. A handout will be provided, summarizing the contents of the slideshow.
The Black Box
As to pedagogical skills, the focus will be on fostering conceptual and aesthetic coherence in the work of the participants; that is, on helping them achieve organic unity irrespective of the intention, tone, and political/ideological leanings of their photo-text creations. Specific teaching tools will be provided for this purpose. The participants’ active involvement is crucial, both during the slideshow—they will be asked to offer their insights on the works viewed—and during the practical parts of the session. They will receive constructive feedback on their work and, in their turn, they will provide constructive feedback on the work of their fellow workshoppers. The idea is to build a common ground, a solid, well-defined theoretical foundation for the development of substantial photo-text projects.
Workshop 2: Journalism tools for fiction writers
Jennifer Steil (US / UK)
There are stories in the world far more important—and far more interesting—than those drawn merely from our own experiences. With global tensions intensifying, it feels urgent to tell stories that reach beyond our own borders and engage us with both the broader world and with other humans.
Joan Didion, Maya Angelou, Virginia Woolf, Alex Haley, Stieg Larsson, Ann Patchett, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Edna Buchanan, and Mark Twain (among many others) created memorable fiction largely as a result of the skills they honed as reporters.
Journalists must churn out hundreds of words every day (without the luxury of waiting for inspiration), write to a specific word count, write to deadline, and develop an eye for extraneous words, authentic dialogue, and the telling detail.
They also often spend their days working outside of their comfort zones, asking difficult questions. Is it any wonder they often make brilliant novelists?
Before I became a novelist, I worked for many years as a newspaper and magazine journalist, seeking out and writing stories not my own. In doing so, I continually strengthened my writing skills and developed new perspectives on the world and its inhabitants. All of the experiences I had and skills I developed as a journalist enrich my fiction today. A reporter’s toolkit is something a creative writing teacher can immediately introduce to their own novelists and storytellers of all kinds, to help them write gripping first lines and create authentic worlds in their fiction.
Writing students, particularly beginners, often need specific tools to help their writing more than they need abstract thoughts about writing. My experiences as a novelist, memoirist, and journalist as well as a writing teacher continually reinforce the value of the techniques I learned as journalist.
Ten tips for gripping ledes (It’s actually more than that but I liked the alliteration)
No, I didn’t spell that wrong. In the world of newspapers and magazines, the first sentence of a story is called the lede. Reporters know that most readers won’t get beyond the first few lines of a newspaper story, so they work hard to find a way to grab them right away. Fiction writers have much the same goal. How many times have you picked up a novel in a bookstore, looked at the first few lines, and then put it back? Or conversely, run to the cash register?
An effective lede promises the reader that you have something significant—or at least interesting—to tell her. “A good lead beckons and invites,” says Chip Scanlon on Poynter.org, a resource for journalists. “It informs, attracts, and entices. If there’s any poetry in journalism, it’s most often found in the lead.
I hope to help you all teach your students to write first sentences that will hook readers instantly, causing them to sit right down on the bookstore floor and read the rest of the page before sprinting to the register to buy the book. These sentences also set the tone for the story that follows.
I will illustrate a variety of specific kinds of ledes, drawing largely from newspaper stories, but also from fiction.
That first sentence can be the hardest part, and once that’s down, it often unleashes the rest of the story that was just looking for the right place to begin.
2. Turn your students’ novel/story/poem into front-page news
We will discuss ways students can explore the world of their stories by designing and writing the front page of a newspaper
3. Turn yourself into an investigative reporter
We will discuss how to help students research fictional work just as journalists research their articles. We will also address techniques for interviewing sources as well as characters.
4. Mine the news for story prompts
We will discuss how to use news stories and archives as starting points for our own work.
5. Create stronger arguments
How can you help your student writers make their characters more compelling through their dialogue, especially through their arguments with other characters? Journalists are charged with writing balanced stories, objective to the best of their ability. So how do you create balance between two sides in conflict?
6. Write a kick-ass kicker
Journalists often refer to the last word of a story as the kicker. If the lede of a story welcomes you to a party, the kicker makes you want to stay longer. On what note do you want to end your story? What do you want to resonate in your readers’ minds? We will go through various styles of kickers and do exercises to help our students write kick-ass kickers.
This course session will consist of several brief lectures on the topics mentioned above, as well as a great deal of in-class writing and discussion. Because I always learn best through doing things myself rather than from hearing them described, this is my general approach to teaching. I plan to keep everyone writing and talking throughout my program. Having teachers actually do the exercises makes it easier for them to later transmit them to their students.
The Black Box
I will share my thoughts about the most effective ways to teach these journalism tools to our students, and open this up to discussion. I will be interested in hearing new ideas my colleagues have about how to best integrate these tools in their classrooms. It is important to me that everyone present participate in our discussions and feel equally valued, so I will be creating situations that encourage teachers to speak with each other (practicing interviews, etc.) My pedagogical approach is a practical, hands-on approach as I feel it is difficult to learn about writing or teaching except by doing it. Thus we will be doing a number of in-class writing exercises as well as discussing and trying out some teaching techniques. Many of these journalism tools will also help teachers address problems in their students’ work by giving them a shared vocabulary with their students that allows for clearer feedback. It will, for example, become easier for both student and teacher to see why a certain lede does not work.
Workshop 3: Radio Storytelling
By Dennis Gaens (ArtEZ / The Netherlands)
As early as 1936, sixteen years after the first commercial radio broadcast, German art theorist Rudolph Arnheim wrote in a manifesto titled Radio:
Poets should emphatically be brought into the wireless studio, for it is much more conceivable that they should be able to adapt a verbal work of art to the limits of the world of space, sound and music.
Some broadcasting companies gave heed to this call, bringing poets like William Empson, John Arlott, Roy Campbell, Ratner Heppenstall, Louise MacNeice and of course Dylan Thomas into the studio. But the means of production and broadcast for radio have always lied with these companies and to experiment with the medium, one had to have a reputation already. This, of course, has drastically changed over the last decade with recording and editing equipment becoming more accessible, cheap and portable on the one hand and a way to broadcast via the internet (mainly through podcasts) on the other.
After my first two poetry collections I started getting into podcasting, starting first with a literary podcast in a magazine format, but steadily producing more and more pieces specifically designed for radio/podcasts. Five years later, I produce podcasts, write radio plays, do sound design and more importantly: teach radio (both fiction and non-fiction) at Creative Writing in Arnhem.
I agree with Arnheim that radio(or audio)is the perfect canvas for writers. Radio shares with reading the intimacy of the medium: listeners, like readers, are not watching somebody do something externally of them, but rather everything happens in their head. It’s an act of co-creation. Furthermore, radio shares with music, theater and film that it is a temporal experience, in which we can take the listener on a journey. It could be said that it is the perfect medium. And yes, it’s mostly writers who create great radio.
However, the relation between writers and radio is not a one-way street: radio has a lot to teach us about writing as well. Producing audio stories has changed me as a writer: it has given me new tools to explore story structure, radicalized my use of juxtaposition and shifted my focus from text to texture. There is a relation between sound design in radio and detailed description in a story, between silences and whitespaces, between tape and scenes.
Although movies are a far younger medium, we use cinematic terminology a lot when we talk about stories; we talk about zooming in and out, about close-ups, hard cuts and fades. Why not turn to radio as well for a better grasp on and new tools for storytelling?
- Examples of radio formats
- Basic recording and editing techniques (using free software and smartphones
- Digital reader with resources on radio storytelling
- Basic exercises and how to teach them
- Radio storytelling tools
- Models for setting up group critique
- Discussion on how to incorporate radio tools back into fiction writing
In a recent essay the German writer and radio producer Michael Lissek stated that:
Radio can do a lot of things, but what it cannot do is transmit texts. (…) What radio transmits is the staging and performance of texts. We send voices. Tone. Sounds. (…)
According to Lissek, we shouldn’t talk about writing and reading when it comes to radio, but rather about producing and listening. About voices, sounds and textures.
Radio storytelling has some great tools to offer that are also applicable to writing. But in order to truly understand them, one should have some basic experience in producing a radio story.
So, in this session, we will firstly look at (or rather listen to) some examples of great radio and storytelling formats. After that participants will work on a small assignment in which they will record and edit a small radio story.
That story will be used to discuss the various tools radio has to offer. We will focus mainly on structure and sound design (music, field recordings and silence). Ways in which these tools can be brought back into the writing practice will be proposed and fleshed out in a group discussion.
The Black Box
The session will be alternate between lecture and workshop. In the lecture parts, I will offer both listening and reading material as well as methodology which can be incorporated into courses. The workshop parts will consist of a single exercise in which we will apply the methodology, but also discuss ways in which to use the exercise. During the session, the exercise will expand into a radio story of few minutes.
In terms of pedagogical skills we will talk about how to listen to examples and exercises and how to critique them. The digital reader will offer further material on the basics of radio storytelling and reflections on the medium in general.
We will set up a listening session at the end of the session to provide a model for group critique.
About the tutors
Rubén Abella is a writer and photographer. He is the author of four novels—California (2015), Baruc en el río [Baruc in the River] (2011), El libro del amor esquivo [The Book of Elusive Love] (Finalist of the prestigious Nadal prize in 2009), and La sombra del escapista [The Shadow of the Escape Artist] (Winner of the Torrente Ballester prize in 2002)—and two collections of flash fiction—Los ojos de los peces [Fish Eyes] (2010) and No habría sido igual sin la lluvia [It Wouldn’t Have Been the Same Without the Rain] (Winner of the Mario Vargas Llosa NH prize in 2007)—. His photographic work has been exhibited widely. He teaches Creative Writing at Escuela de Escritores in Madrid.
Jennifer Steil is an award-winning author and journalist. Her third book, Exile Music, a novel about Austrian Jewish musicians who seek refuge from the Nazis in Bolivia, is forthcoming from Viking USA on May 5, 2020. Her most recent novel, The Ambassador’s Wife, published by Doubleday in 2015, won several awards. Jennifer’s first book, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (Broadway Books, 2010), was a memoir about her tenure as editor of the Yemen Observer newspaper in Sana’a. She has taught writing at Bournemouth University in England as well as at many universities in many countries and online.
Dennis Gaens is a writer and radio producer. He published two poetry collections, both of which were nominated for national prizes. He wrote and performed in two musical theatre shows and performed at various festivals. In 2014 he started the literary podcast Ondercast, which was a literary magazine in audio format. After falling in love with audio storytelling, he expanded his work into writing for radio, producing documentaries and sound designing radio plays. He now works as an allround radio producer for various institutions, national broadcasting companies and of course for himself. Dennis is a core faculty member at ArtEZ Creative Writing with a focus on transmedial narratives. He is currently working on a novel and several radio dramas.