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  • Creative Writing as a Site of Pedagogic Identity and Pedagogic Learning
  • Rebecca O’Rourke (bio)


This article provides an account of some of the changes I have experienced in my work of organizing and teaching part-time university creative writing courses to adults. I came to university teaching through a background of community education and cultural activism, including several years of campaigning against elite and exclusionary forms of cultural policy. Because of this background, I have always been both conscious and critical of the dominance of tacit pedagogy in the teaching of creative writing. In this article, I focus particularly on the issue of recruiting and supporting the tutor team because issues of pedagogy and pedagogic learning are foregrounded here, as is the impact of the changed context, both for creative writing as a subject and for the practice and pedagogy of part-time university teaching. In doing so, I draw on an understanding of both teaching and creative writing as socially situated practices (Lave 1996). In other words, although I will be talking about what I and others do in the classroom, I try to develop a discussion that is more than simply descriptive. In this way, I hope to make a modest contribution to the current debates in the United Kingdom and the United States about the theory and practice of creative writing pedagogy.

A Changing Context

The University of Leeds Department of Adult and Continuing Education [ACE], one of the largest in the United Kingdom, was established in 1946 to provide part-time adult education in Leeds and its region (West and North Yorkshire and Cleveland) and to research the policy and practice of adult and [End Page 501] continuing education. The department offered a variety of services: community outreach; non-award-bearing courses; access to higher education programs; part-time certificate, diploma, and degree courses; trade union education; postgraduate courses; and research supervision for adult and further education professionals. Most of this work was delivered off campus, either in dedicated adult education buildings or in community premises such as libraries, art galleries, and arts and community drop-in centers.

In 1992, I was appointed by the University of Leeds to evaluate the community outreach creative writing program running in the northern part of its region. Although creative writing courses became popular in adult and community education throughout the 1980s, even in the often more traditional sector of university adult and continuing education, Leeds resisted such innovation. Creative writing was offered in the community outreach program in only one part of the region, and this was due to the enthusiasm and commitment of the organizing tutor, who brought experience of this work with him from another U.K. ACE department. Part of my brief was to explore whether and in what form award-bearing creative writing might be provided across the whole region. At the time, creative writing was only just staking a foothold in higher education, in MA programs, and in teacher training colleges. There were a few creative writing options established in humanities and English degrees, usually in the newer universities, and a tiny number of dedicated creative writing degrees, but the main provision of creative writing activity was informal, in adult and community education. This work was often developed in partnership with regional arts associations, a result of the success of campaigns against elitism in cultural policy. This subsequently led to socially inclusive cultural policies, which laid the foundation for developing the arts in social regeneration. The creative writing projects funded through these initiatives were able to offer generous fees to facilitators and project leaders and provide the activities without charge to the participants, especially after the introduction of Heritage Lottery funding in 1994.

Change of a different kind was happening in higher education from 1994 onward, and in adult continuing education it took the form of a requirement to provide credit-bearing courses, which in turn were mapped against the structure of full-time undergraduate degrees. The introduction of punitive financial systems and audit-driven approaches to quality assurance led first to reductions in provision and ultimately to the closure of many university departments of ACE. Where departments survived, their work changed...


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pp. 501-512
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