‘Working in the hyphen’: The status of factually-informed creative writing in the academy
Barbara Cooke BMMUa
Round-table discussion with lecturers in English and Creative Writing at Loughborough University
The past five years have seen a growing vogue for both non-fictional narrative and historical fiction. In 2017, for example, Dr Sophie Coulombeau hosted the ground-breaking Fictive Histories/Historical Fictions (Huntington Library, San Marino). This year, UEA’s collaboration with the National Writer’s Centre and the IES continues to interrogate the modish yet slippery term ‘creative-critical writing’.
Fewer discussions, however, have acknowledged the shared DNA of these disciplines: both apply scholarly research and engage with the factual, but in ways adjacent to those required by conventional literary-critical writing. Recognising the joint heritage of such genres in the term ‘factually-informed creative writing’ puts historical fiction and non-fictional narrative in conversation with each other and with the kindred practices of poetry and auto-fiction.
We are four academics who engage with factually-informed creative writing as theorists and practitioners. After briefly summarising our works-in-progress, we will address concerns common to all academic practitioners of factually-informed writing including:
- How does factually-informed creative writing benefit the practitioner and/or the academy?
- (Why) does the academy impose a hierarchy on the various genres of factually-informed creative writing?
- Why might a creative practitioner choose to keep this work distinct from their professional academic activities, and how do they do this?
- Are there professional risks associated with publishing in both conventional and factually-informed creative modes?
- What purpose do “hybrid” terms such as the ‘creative-critical’, ‘autofiction’ and ‘non-fictional narrative’ serve? At what point do these terms lose their descriptive power?
We all position our creative work differently in relation to the academy, as we respond as individuals to the demands of professionalisation. Today, we ask what this management of our scholarly identities means for us as literary critics and creative writers: however we understand the synergies between these roles.
Dr Barbara Cooke is a biographer, editor and lecturer in English. She is co-executive editor of OUP’s Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, and has co-edited Waugh’s autobiography A Little Learning (2017) for the edition as well as publishing the site-specific biography Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford for Bodleian Library Publications (2018). She is currently at work on a biography of H.S. ‘Jim’ Ede, the founder of Kettle’s Yard art gallery in Cambridge.
Dr Jennifer Cooke is Senior Lecturer in English and author of Contemporary Feminist Life-writing: The New Audacity (CUP, 2020) and Legacies of Plague in Literature, Theory, and Film (Palgrave, 2009) She is editor of New Feminist Studies: Twenty-first-century Critical Interventions (CUP, 2020), and Scenes of Intimacy: Reading, Writing and Theorizing Contemporary Literature (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), and a special issue of Textual Practice on challenging intimacies and psychoanalysis (September 2013). She is also a poet, who has published Apocalypse Dreams (Sad Press, 2015) and *Not Suitable for Domestic Sublimation (Contraband Books, 2010).
Dr Kerry Featherstone is a Lecturer in Creative Writing. He has published critical essays on contemporary travel writing, experimental poetry and representations of Afghanistan, as well as being widely published as a poet. He is interested in writing landscape, memory and history, and is currently working on a series of poems set in locations in England.
Dr Sara Read is a literary historian, who lectures in English. She specialises in cultural representations of the reproductive body in early modern England. In addition to publishing conventional academic works, including a monograph and scholarly edition, she has brought out non-fiction works for popular presses. Most recently, she has published a research-as-practice historical novel, The Gossips' Choice (Wild Pressed Books, 2020).