What Is a Mentor?: Mentoring, Community, and Literary Culture

Will MayMCRj

The last decade has seen new mentoring schemes for both writers and reviewers (Complete Works, Ledbury Emerging Critics Programme, New North Poets, Arvon/Jerwood), a rise in commercial mentoring services, and a renewed focus by national arts funders on mentoring as a means to stimulate literary and creative culture across the UK. The vitality and success of these initiatives suggests a literary culture eager for formal mentoring, in part to offset the exclusionary potential of edited magazines, creative writing programmes, established presses, or coteries formed around educational privilege. Recent accounts of postwar literature (Larrissy 2016; Osborne 2016) demonstrate how far these existing structures stifled or sidelined the work of BAME, women, and LGBTQ writers in previous decades.

Yet literary scholarship has had very little to say about the practice or process of mentoring. In part, the word’s ubiquity explains the absence: Anthony W. Lee notes the ‘vox populi valence’ of the term worldwide gets in the way of sustained academic enquiry. There are also a number of challenges and opportunities in the new landscape: what does the career of a writer-mentor look like, how can they develop their own practice, and who mentors our mentors?

This panel explores the historical, critical, creative, and practical insights of mentoring, and suggests how a shared conversation between literary mentors and scholars might help connect diverse strands of our discipline and bridge literary communities working in and outside of HEIs.

The panel’s contributors include Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, writer in residence at Southampton City Museums, mentee from the inaugural round of Penguin Random House’s annual WriteNow mentoring scheme, and previous writer-in-residence at Southampton’s public libraries; Dr. Aiysha Jahan, who runs an Arts Council England-funded young writers mentoring project in Southampton, and is a former school teacher, Dr. Will May (University of Southampton), who recently co-ran a ‘Writing in the Community’ CPD course, and is developing a new project on the history of mentoring in postwar British poetry, and Matt West (Artful Scribe), director of a Southampton-based literature development agency Artful Scribe, and an experienced poet-mentor and mentee.

The panel will address some of the following topics:

  • how do we mentor, and what forums do we have to share mentoring practice?
  • how can mentoring develop writers and literary communities in the UK?
  • what can literary history tell us about the practice of mentoring?
  • what are the challenges and opportunities for a writer-mentor, and what kinds of support do they need?
Sat 3:45 pm - 5:00 pm