‘The Institution of Creative Writing’

Ailsa Cox

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    The discipline of creative writing began to emerge strongly in US institutions in the middle of the twentieth century, although it had already begun to establish itself before the Second World War: the pioneering Iowa Writers’ Workshop was founded as early as 1936 (and creative writing had been taught at Iowa for many years before that). In the United States, the relationship between the teaching of creative writing in Higher Education and literary production has been notable in the period since 1945. There was a significant expansion of Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programmes in the 1980s and 1990s, with far-reaching consequences for literary culture. In Britain, the first MA programmes were founded by mavericks in the 1970s: Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson at the University of East Anglia, and the poet David Craig at Lancaster. It took a generation for creative writing to establish itself in British universities: initially, such courses were considered eccentric, a flashy American import. Yet, since then, the growth has been dramatic: by 2015 the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) calculated that there were over two hundred MA courses available, with at least fifty universities also offering PhD supervision. Current undergraduate provision varies from option modules within an English degree to full-blown joint- and single-honours courses. While some individuals remain sceptical about the discipline’s academic credentials, most universities have embraced creative writing, if only because of its attractiveness to students. Those short story writers who do not have some kind of university affiliation, as graduates, teachers or honorary professors, would seem to be in a minority. Even fewer are without some experience of the creative writing workshop, either in Higher Education or some other context, for instance the residential courses run by the Arvon Foundation. Mark McGurl, in his influential study of 2009, argues that the involvement of so many American writers in creative writing programmes has produced a marked self-consciousness and reflexivity in their work. This chapter is necessarily more speculative and inconclusive than McGurl’s, but it will follow his lead in suggesting that the partnership between short story writers and the academy has left its traces on the genre.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of the English Short Story
    EditorsDominic Head
    Place of PublicationCambridge
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages17
    ISBN (Electronic)9781316711712
    ISBN (Print)9781107167421
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2016


    • creative writing
    • short story
    • Ali Smith
    • Toby Litt
    • Ian McEwan
    • Tessa Hadley


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