Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Writing within the Academy: Basic thoughts

Writing as an academic discipline sits within literature and literary theory, but Writing as a profession lies outside the academy and for purposes of making an income — if that is the sole career option of a writing graduate — within the publishing industry.

This is an uneasy fit for research institutions since Writing as an applied craft does not fit easily within the research imperatives of more traditionally focussed universities. But at the same time writing is a necessary activity in almost all professions and occupations and the ability to write well can enhance career opportunities.

The need for writing as a discipline in the Australian university context is to provide a workable nexus between the requirements of the academy and the demands of the commercial marketplace where graduates of writing programs will need to negotiate the skills they are taught within the academy For students whose first language is not English, an ability to write well in English may also help compensate for a strong accent.

But to understand the present place of Writing as a discipline in the Australian university context, we need to revisit the history of the discipline.

Dawson (2001) acknowledges that many writing courses emerged in teachers colleges or colleges of advanced education rather than in the Group of Eight. This was partly because English as a discipline dominated traditional universities, while other institutions were adapting to accommodate vocational demands.

Creative writing in education courses, for example, followed on from developments at school level. In universities, writers were part of the academy but as analysts of literary texts rather than teachers of writing. Thea Astley, A.D Hope, James McAuley and Elizabeth Jolley are some examples of writers within the academy. Admittedly, A.D. Hope played with the idea of teaching writing, but he was much more comfortable teaching poetic theory rather than poetic praxis.

Creative writing emerged in the 1970s as a separate discipline, with three institutions claiming credit as the first WAIT which is now Curtin where Brian Dibble initiated courses following the North American model, Canberra CAE (now Canberra University) and NSW IT, now UTS. At the same time Michael Wilding was also experimenting with writing courses at Sydney University.

Krauth (2000) notes that, in the early 1990s, creative writing programs in Australia were 'thrust' into the university domain by the Dawkins amalgamations. Prior to that, there was no established national focus: no national peak body, no discipline-based research agenda, no political or academic networking, and no statistical analysis to portray the nature of the activity advancing apace on isolated campuses. Compared with the visual and performing arts disciplines, creative writing programs were unorganised and separatist, but they were aware of their potential for the future.

Communications courses emerged in the 1970s as well and were often taught in CAEs and technology institutes across the board to enhance the ability of students to communicate effectively in the workplace and with the public. They offered students education in applied aspects of writing for example, writing reports or office communications as well as introducing some basic communications theory. As a particular example, I have taught engineering students at UTS how to write without using engineering jargon so that members of the general public could better comprehend infrastructure projects that would likely have an impact on them.

The teaching of creative writing and writing as a professional tool were often combined, as happened for example at UTS and is the underlying thrust of the teaching of Writing at the University of New England. This is a recognition that Writing is a vital professional tool across the board as well as a potential career path for, unfortunately, a small number of writing graduates.

What I have found (Fisher 2006) s that most Writing courses do not sufficiently prepare potential professional writers with sufficient knowledge about copyright, legal issues, potential income sources and other essential basics to begin a career in Writing. UNE writing courses offer a variety of potential career paths for writers, but I would want to see the Publishing and Editing options covered the isssues I have identified that are generally missing.


Brien, Donna Lee, and Webb, Jennifer, Writing courses: Who needs them? Australian Author, vol. 39, no. 3, December 2007, pp. 12–15

Dale, John, Glenda Adams (1939–2007), Australian Author, vol. 39, no. 2, August 2007, pp. 26—29.

Dawson, Paul, Creative Writing in Australia: The Development of a Discipline, Text, Vol 5, no 1, April 2001.

Kirkpatrick, Peter, The strange death of Australian literature, Australian Author, vol. 39, no. 1, April 2007, pp. 20–23.

Krauth, Nigel, Where is Writing Now?: Australian University Creative Writing Programs at the End of the Millennium, Text, Vol 4, no 1, April 2000.

Surma, Anne, Defining professional writing as an area of scholarly activity, Text, Vol 4, No 2, October 2000

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