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‘Writing can’t be taught but writers can be taught to be more attentive’

We sat down with Prof. Amit Chaudhuri to understand more about creative writing workshops led by him since 2013. The 2022 edition of the workshop is taking place this month

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1 July, 2022 | 4m read

Following on the great impact of the first nine University of East Anglia creative writing workshops led by Amit Chaudhuri since 2013 in India, as well as the success of the tenth workshop, co-hosted by Ashoka University and UEA, the 11th international eight-day workshop will start from 4th July 2022, hosted by Ashoka University.

As ever, it will be led by its creator and course designer, the novelist, poet, essayist, and musician Amit Chaudhuri, Professor of Creative Writing and Director, the Centre for the Creative and the Critical, Ashoka University, and formerly Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia, 2006-21.

Published writers, often picked up by leading publishers, have emerged steadily from the workshop in the last seven years. Others have gone on to successfully complete MAs and MFAs in prose fiction from reputed universities.

Excerpts from an interview:

Tell us about the inception of the Creative Writing Workshop led by you since 2013 and the journey so far.

The workshop was originally hosted by the University of East Anglia, where I taught till 2021. UEA (as it’s known in short) wanted its creative writing MA (the oldest and still the best-known one in the UK) to have some sort of interface with India, which it saw as a site of significant new writing and talent. They approached me for help – I had been teaching a term a year there since 2006 – and I said yes, and went on to design the workshop, making it an eight-day version of a twelve-week MA semester. It was wonderful to experiment with the idea of making it an international workshop, which is what I wanted it to be, and to be able to do it in Calcutta, to which, then, participants came from various parts of the world.

What are some major revelations that you have come across while conducting these workshops?

One of the interesting things was how quickly a writer’s craft and understanding of their approach to their material could develop – so that palpable changes took place in their writing in the course of the eight days. Time is relative, and we can achieve and experience a lot in a short duration, or little over a long period of time. The other interesting thing was the commitment of the participants: the fact that they’d arrive from faraway cities like New York and Oxford (from UEA too!) as well as from neighbouring Dhaka, to bring their own experiences and histories to the workshop.

Can writing really be taught? Please elaborate in detail while also throwing light on the degree of impact that a workshop such as this has on aspiring writers?

Writing can’t be taught, but writers can be taught to be more attentive to individual words and paragraphs as well as the overall shape of something, and they can also learn to think more critically (in a positive sense) about writing and its history: the fact that ‘creative writing’ never ever occurs in a vacuum. I think the impact is probably quite a positive one because there are only so many places in which you can have such discussions. A workshop also becomes the basis of a writerly community whose members, as far as I know, remain in touch with each other for years. 

What is your evaluation of the Indian publishing industry in the contemporary context? 

It needs to be more adventurous and open up to the variety of new writing, and, importantly, it needs to stay committed. This is true of the publishing industry everywhere – not just in India. But the publishing industry has been reassessing itself in the UK and the US to some extent, and independent publishing houses have appeared on the fringes over the years. I’d like to see Indian publishing houses discover their own definitions and responses and not echo London or New York. It’s difficult, but I hope it becomes possible. Maybe it’s already happening.

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