The University of East Anglia’s prestigious writing workshop is coming to India. Course director and tutor Amit Chaudhuri has the details.

With an alumni list that reads like a literary who’s who — Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Rose Tremain, Anne Enright, Mohammed Hanif, Tash Aw, Neel Mukherjee — the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Creative Writing course is one of the world’s most prestigious of its kind, and one that aspiring writers would give an arm and a leg to attend. Well, here’s good news. UEA is set to launch its first international writing programme next year, and the first of these is scheduled for Kolkata in March 2013.

Writer Amit Chaudhuri, course director and one of the first two tutors for the course (novelist Romesh Gunesekara is the other) speaks to us on the eve of the launch, excited about what the project can do. “It’s the first of its kind in long-term projects, the first in India, and based on how it is received, we plan to do another short workshop in August 2013,” he says. The idea is to increase the workshops each year, adding on new cities in subsequent years — Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi to start with. Participants will be culled from across the world and whittled down to a short list of 24, based on writing samples and CVs.

It’s a bit surprising that the idea has taken so long to arrive, given that Indian writing in English has been the flavour of the month for some time now. Chaudhuri admits that it’s been in the air for a while. “But it’s only lately that I’ve begun to see its immense artistic and intellectual potential in India. I am not a product of creative writing pedagogy and I don’t necessarily believe that the process is indispensable to good writing. However, a good workshop, one that brings all the creative and critical sides of the personality into play, can have a lasting impact on both student and teacher.”

Now, it seems to have fallen slowly into place, not just logistically but also contextually. Chaudhuri speaks of the way India is changing, not just economically but also “in the way that people want to engage with culture”. This makes the timing very interesting for a workshop of this nature. “It fills the event with stimulus and excitement,” he says.

The other reason the news is exciting is that Chaudhuri talks of the scope of future workshops expanding to include non-fiction and critical writing. As readers, writers and critics, we agonise about our curious double-edged relationship with critical approbation from the West. “We want it intensely but we also resent it intensely,” points out Chaudhuri. It is not that the country has not produced an excellent and highly valuable body of writers and works but that we often end up celebrating English-writing authors for reasons that are “not always totally literary”.

Says Chaudhuri, “Often, nationalist pride, the sheer energy and exuberance of a nation emerging from the shadow of colonisation into the free market, and the tendency to see literature as an adjunct of history become substitutes for literary engagement.”

This makes it vital that we involve a whole new generation in creative and critical appraisal. While admitting that every tutor would take a different route, Chaudhuri says that he would like the nature of his own involvement to go beyond just the admittedly all-important craft and grammar of writing to include critical ideas, discussion, and stimulating a certain kind of intellectual enquiry. “Without this, there is the danger also of the business of creative writing becoming too self-absorbed,” he says.

Getting the workshops out of the ivory tower will be a priority. The school would like to have potential writers interacting with the city through public talks, readings, interactions with Bengali writers and more, a sort of give-and-take with the city’s intellectual and cultural life. “Of course, it will be a workshop but I hope that it will also have an intellectual and artistic energy that is lacking in the rather packaged lit fests of today.”

All this makes the Indian version of the UEA Creative Writing workshop full of a different kind of significance than its counterpart in the U.K. It’s one of the reasons they are sticking to a brief of short, focussed stints. “We are hoping for short bursts of high energy, when the week or 10 days will come alive,” says Chaudhuri. The school will doubtless be picking tutors from its famous alumni and staff, and from among eminent litterateurs worldwide, which adds an extra edge.

As an event that is looking to identify and foster writing talent, hone skills and give writers confidence and opportunities for being published, the UAE writing programme promises to be one of the most significant events in Indian English literature to have happened in a while.

Quick facts

The first creative writing course begins on March 25, 2013.

Modelled on UEA’s pioneering Creative Writing MA, the eight-day course will include workshops, tutorials and lectures, public talks and visiting speakers.

The course will accommodate 24 participants.

The deadline for applications is January 30, 2013.

Course fee is Rs. 25,000, excluding accommodation.

A limited number of bursaries is available for appropriately qualified applicants.

Applicants worldwide should send a 2000-word sample of their writing, with CV and a reference, to the School of Literature, Drama, and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, United Kingdom.

Students will also get an opportunity to apply to UEA’s Creative Writing MA, for which scholarships might be available for appropriately qualified applicants.

All students will be offered advice and support from the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook on further developing their writing skills and publishing their work.

For further information contact Brigitte Nelson on +44 (0)1603 597592, e-mail b.nelson@uea.ac.uk or visit www.uea.ac.uk/creativewriting/news

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