The Importance of Teaching Creative Writing in the ESL Classroom: A Praxis Report on New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing

Praxis Introduction

Taylor & Francis, a UK based scholarly publishing house, began publishing New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing in 2004 to allow for a discussion of the history of the field and provide a forum for current debates within it. Since then, New Writing has been considered one of the leading independent, peer-reviewed journals on creative writing pedagogy and creative writing criticism in the world. According to their website, New Writing has been supported by prominent American and British writers, including Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate of Great Britain, who serves on its board. Since 2007, New Writing has been released in three issues per year, and accepts critical articles and creative work up to 5,000 words with all submissions undergoing rigorous peer review.

The intended audience of New Writing is creative writers working and teaching within the academy, based on the inclusion of articles on pedagogical strategies, writing tips, and debates in the field. In the most recent issue, New Writing’s articles ranged from overcoming the problem of repetitious plots in writing fiction (Mitch James) to the value and controversy surrounding the creative writing doctorate (Jen Webb and Andrew Melrose). However, unlike other creative writing journals, New Writing has a more international lens. Rather than solely discussing issues specific to creative writing instruction and creation in the UK and USA, articles in New Writing also delve into the instruction and issues surrounding creative writing in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and recent immigrants to primarily English-speaking countries. New Writing is looking ahead to the future of multi-cultural instruction of creative writing and publishes the writings of teachers and writers currently working in previously underrepresented writing cultures, and contributors include both creative writers and academics.

In this praxis report, I plan to develop the ideas presented by authors in New Writing into an activity that will promote multicultural and multi-literate exchange in an ESL college-level introductory fiction creative writing class.

Critical Annotations

Brayfield, Celia. “Babelfish Babylon: Teaching Creative Writing In A Multi-Literate Community.” New Writing: The International Journal For The Practice & Theory Of Creative Writing 6.3 (2009): 201-214. Humanities International Complete. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

Brayfield’s essay looks at the challenges faced by students who write creatively in English at the college level in creative writing classrooms but have varying language backgrounds. Brayfield uses interviews from students at the University of Brunel in the United Kingdom to assert that writers whose first language was not English are at a disadvantage in terms of creative writing due to their habit of “collaging” (207), meaning that the student is not aware of the exact meaning of some English words because he/she was able to substitute terms in their native language during their early English learning. Brayfield also argues that the concept of pigeonholing young, multicultural writing as “post-colonial” literature creates a “literary ghetto” (209). Brayfield ultimately advocates for more widespread understanding of multiculturalism in the field and presents suggestions toward a curriculum that would benefit multi-literate and post-millennial writers. While I felt a few claims in this essay were a bit far-reaching (such as dismantling the way post-colonial is literature is taught), overall the essay was very persuasive and will be essential in how I frame my class syllabus. I especially appreciated Brayfield’s emphasis on quality storytelling over language correctness in workshop.

Camens, Jane. “The Asia-Pacific Writing Partnership: An Initiative Supporting Writers In The World’s Most Populous And Dynamic Region.” New Writing: The International Journal For The Practice & Theory Of Creative Writing 8.3 (2011): 272-286. Humanities International Complete. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

Camens is an Australian writer educated in the US and the UK. She notably aided in the creation of the Asia-Pacific Writing Partnership, which sponsors international meetings between writers in the Pacific region, as well as workshops, roundtables, translation workshops, writer exchanges, and prizes. One of the primary goals of the essay’s publication was to be a means to raise awareness and secure continued funding for the program. While not as directly linked to specific pedagogical lessons as the other essays, Camens makes some excellent points about the cultural blindness that occurs between countries and their fiction (277) and has an interesting commentary on the concept of writing in English as a “bridge” language that allows writers to no longer rely on translations by others to be distributed to other countries (275). This essay seems a bit less cautious about the colonial nature and history of teaching English, but does go so far as to mention that the Asia-Pacific Writing Partnership does not seek to “trumpet the benefits of English over other languages… and [is] conscious of colonial and ‘celebratory’ attitudes towards its usage” (280-281). Despite the essay’s flaws, this program is something that I would discuss with students as to show the current relevance of cross-cultural creative communication.

Disney, Dan. “‘Is This How It’s Supposed To Work?’: Poetry As A Radical Technology In L2 Creative Writing Classrooms.” New Writing: The International Journal For The Practice & Theory Of Creative Writing 9.1 (2012): 4-16. Humanities International Complete. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

Dan Disney is a creative writing instructor at Sogang University in Seoul and writes about teaching what he terms “L2” students, or what is more commonly referred to as ESL students. Disney asserts that teaching ESL students creative writing (he emphasizes poetry in this essay) can help develop “increased aptitudes for linguistic variety and complexity” as well as promoting creativity (5). Disney points out the challenge of pushing students past a focus on grammar and syntax into more creatively challenging work (5). Disney points out the relevance of studying ESL creative writing classes, cites the countries in Asia that currently teach creative writing in English at the university level, and asserts that these classes are a “new space for linguistic hybridity” rather than a “colonialist… marginalization [of] subaltern voices” (6). Disney includes several examples of student poetry and expands on the process of students finding an identity within L2 writing. Disney concludes by saying that L2 creative writing should be more formalized and studied as it “humanize[s] language while at the same time showing how language humanizes us” (15). Although my class focus will not be on poetry, many of the lessons in this essay will be instrumental to my class, especially the notes on the use of imagery and establishing personal identity in ESL writing.

Kelen, Christopher. “The Story’s Vocation For Peace On Earth.” New Writing: The International Journal For The Practice & Theory Of Creative Writing 3.2 (2006): 99-117. Humanities International Complete. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

Christopher Kelen’s essay is a meditation on teaching creative writing in Macau and how he attempts to teach conflict in fiction as a way to promote cultural understanding and conflict resolution. Kelen’s aims in teaching English creative writing are that not only does everyone have a story and can learn to tell those stories, but also “if you can tell your story [in English], then it has a potentially huge audience” (104). Kelen goes on to develop the idea that fiction can tell elemental “truths” and promote cultural exchange by allowing writers to imagine a world without conflict (107), and expounds on the idea that non-native English speakers writing fiction are sometimes at a disadvantage because they are not familiar with the accepted forms of storytelling (109). I plan to use Kelen’s idea of using traditional folktales in my syllabus; Kelen introduces reading of simple stories and then asking students to write their own. In my own class, I plan to use this as an organizational structure for the first unit of the class. Despite the essay having very important ideas that will be incorporated into my class structure, it seems overly padded with literary theory that does not seem essential to the idea of fiction-writing serving as a way of imagining world peace.

Mansoor, Asma. “Teaching Creative Writing To University Level Second Language Learners In Pakistan.” New Writing: The International Journal For The Practice & Theory Of Creative Writing 7.3 (2010): 201-218. Humanities International Complete. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

Mansoor describes the challenges she faced teaching creative writing at the International Islamic University, Islamabad, including “weak language and first language interference” (202) as well as the difficulty of producing creative work after years of students experiencing traditional rote-learning. Along with convincing students that writing was something that can be done for personal enjoyment (203), she also struggled with the challenge that creative writing was a mandatory class for a degree in English at the university, despite the widespread perception creative writing cannot be taught. Ultimately, Mansoor writes that teaching creative writing to second language learners should be challenging but not impossible in helping students learn English as well as giving students an outlet for their creativity. Mansoor includes several helpful suggestions for teaching ESL creative writers, such as supplying word lists to supplement vocabulary (207), encouraging word creation (208), and teaching acrostic and “found” poetry (208). The most useful part of this essay for me was Mansoor’s guidelines for one-act plays (211), which I will incorporate in my multimodal assignment.

Praxis Component

One-Act Play (Adapted from Asma Mansoor’s One-Act Play activity and Fulbright ETA’s SMK Dong 2012 Videography English Camp in Dong, Malaysia)

This assignment will work best for an introductory-level ESL fiction writing course at UC or at a foreign university that teaches creative writing in English. This assignment will be assigned as the final project for the course, after students have learned about the elements of storytelling in English and have completed several fiction-writing exercises about folktales and multi-cultural identity.

Assignment Description

Students will be placed in groups of four to create a one-act play utilizing lessons learned throughout the creative writing course. As a group, students will draw slips of paper out of several hats. One hat will have a character (fireman, teacher, doctor, etc.), another will have a setting (a city, the desert, etc.), and another will have a prop (which the teacher will provide, such as a toy or flag). The instructor will also write and distribute a few lines of required dialogue, which should be different for every group. Students will be given two class periods (or the equivalent of a week of class time) to work together to create a coherent narrative with the provided criteria (adding more dialogue of their own), and will have a weekend to practice and rehearse the play outside school.

If the students have access to appropriate technology (such as the Student Technology Research Center at UC), students will be expected to film and edit the finished project (should be 5-10 minutes in length) and present it to the class in the form of an instructor-organized film festival. Music and editing effects should be used, if at all possible. If technology is not available, students will act out the play in front of the class and turn in a script to the instructor.

The instructor will grade the assignment on usage of all the necessary criteria (character, setting, prop, and dialogue), storytelling, creativity, and overall effort. Students will be encouraged but not required to create narratives with folkloric or multicultural themes. Less emphasis will be placed on language correctness as to allow the students to engage with the story without worrying overmuch about grammar and syntax.

Assignment Goals

  1. Students will work together to form an English narrative with traditional storytelling elements, such as conflict, climax, and resolution.
  2. Students will take on roles within the group to accomplish the assignment, such as serving as actors, directors, or editors. All students should appear in the play.
  3. Students will be able to produce original and meaningful work in a group, allowing for weaker students to contribute even if they are not as confident in the language as their peers.
  4. Students will practice their English skills in a creative atmosphere that encourages experimentation and imagination.