- Imagination in the Classroom: Teaching and Learning Creative Writing in Ireland ed. Anne Fogarty, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, and Eibhear Walshe
Anne Fogarty, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, and Eibhear Walshe’s Imagination in the Classroom: Teaching and Learning Creative Writing in Ireland embodies the spirit of [End Page 148] public and private art, applied to the specifics of creative writing. As the first book of its kind, the stakes for such a project are high—but the volume surveys the history of teaching creative writing in Ireland, the present challenges of the discipline, and the opportunities for the future. Irish audiences will find much to discuss, given the newness of the topic. American audiences, however, must move beyond what seems a rehashing of “can creative writing be taught?” and consider the unique needs of Irish creative writing pedagogy inside and outside the academy. The book, as a whole, addresses valid conversations: creative writing as an academic discipline, the pedagogy of such a discipline, and creative writing as an industry in places like the United States (with Ireland appearing eager to follow suit). The strength of the collection is in its juxtapositions, though as is usual in contributed volumes, the individual components vary widely in tone, approach, and purpose.
Gerald Dawe asks in his historical overview, “What is Creative Writing as an academic discipline?” and continues: “From another strictly educational viewpoint, questions can be raised about whether or not it is pedagogically sensible for a poet or novelist or playwright, who may have displayed little previous aptitude, appetite or skill, to be in charge of a class simply because he or she is a writer.” The collection’s approach to modes of instruction goes beyond the commonly asked questions, “who should teach creative writing?” and the even more vexing (and even more necessary) “can it be taught?” to consider the deep relationship between Irish writing and the academy, and the social shift that happened in the 1970s to allow for the introduction of writing as a discipline—not just an art—into the academy. References to the “formal academic footing” in the United States, particularly the model of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, lead Dawe to address the reluctance of Irish universities to move creative writing from its traditional apprenticeship model to an academic discipline. Dawe also considers writing as a cultural entitlement, a theme later explored by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne as she considers the particular pedagogy of teaching the novel, a form that she asserts is considered to be the “pinnacle of literary achievement” by writers and publishers.
But within this historical framework of writing in the Irish academy, the editors and contributors take care to address present issues. In the introduction, Ní Dhuibhne observes that “Not only have most creative writing teachers in Ireland received no pedagogical training, they have never themselves studied the subject they teach in a formal academic setting.” This means, as she later writes, that the discipline in Ireland is “unhampered by established traditions” and leaves room for such pedagogy praxis as Sinéad Morrissey’s essay on teaching poetry to undergraduates and Leanne O’Sullivan’s essay that follows. O’Sullivan’s contention that “we had no idea of the living and steady poetic tradition in Ireland. I had not thought that poetry could be relevant to my life—to our lives as young [End Page 149] people, at the time very young people”—which follows Morrissey’s practical essay on her approach to teaching poetry to those students—complicates the discussion in a way that is basic to the compilation of the collection as a whole. Along with Carlo Gebler’s essay, “‘The helmet that never was’: reflections on fiction and life writing,” where he considers the challenges of genre in Irish writing, we see that the moving lines between fiction and nonfiction, which have been debated to death in American creative writing circles, are likewise a legitimate discussion in Ireland...