Something’s finally coming to Calcutta first — more by chance than by choice! The city is the destination of chance for the first off-campus programme of the UK’s oldest and most prestigious creative writing course.
The University of East Anglia (UEA), whose creative writing MA counts among its alumni writers of the stature of Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Mohammed Hanif and Anne Enright, will conduct an eight-day workshop on fiction writing starting March 25, 2013, at the ICCR.
However, the choice of city had less to do with Calcutta’s oft-repeated, seldom justified “culture capital” tag and more with the fact that author Amit Chaudhuri, who teaches at UEA, lives here. The course will be conducted by Chaudhuri and novelist Romesh Gunesekera, in partnership with Oxford Bookstore and British Council.
“If I was not living here, I don’t know which city UEA would have picked. Calcutta is not the cultural capital anymore. There is hardly any patronage to the arts from official quarters. I’m not sure what’s the cultural capital of India now,” Chaudhuri said on Friday at Oxford Bookstore.
“My intention is to keep the workshop short and develop each as a centre for excellence. It’s, hopefully, for people who will go on to become publishable writers,” Chaudhuri told Metro earlier this week. But he doesn’t want it to be a writers’ retreat, “where we pretend that the city doesn’t exist. It should give a sense of critical and creative energy to this city where it is located and also take from the creative milieu of that city. For me it’s important that the first workshop is located in Calcutta. And I’m hoping that there will be some give and take between the city and the workshop.”
Speaking about UEA’s decision to come to India, Chaudhuri said one thing that had them interested was that South Asia and India were seeing a lot of high-level activity in writing, where the last 30 years had produced many eminent writers.
The Calcutta course is open to people who are serious about their writing, from around the world. Going by the response, UEA would hold another one in Calcutta later in 2013, may be on non-fiction writing. Eventually the university would like to take this workshop to other cities as well.
The course will also give the budding writers a chance to meet with publishers and understand the process of getting published. Chiki Sarkar, publisher of Penguin India, will be a visiting speaker and eminent Bengali writers will address the students too.
Writers taking the course will be “workshopped”, which essentially means their work will be critically analysed and provided with feedback on a very detailed level, by other students as well as the tutors. “That feedback is invaluable for a writer and we get very little of that in India,” Chaudhuri said.
The course will not just be about workshopping, though. Chaudhuri, who has set up the programme along with Jon Cook, director of creative and performing arts at UEA, said he wanted to turn the workshop into a stimulating literary environment, where there would be discussions on various things that interest the students as well as the tutors... from music to film to paintings and more.
Clearly enthused about bringing a page of UEA’s critical and creative atmosphere to his city, Chaudhuri is also hoping for an interesting mix of students.
“We hope people come from everywhere. Also, we’re not looking at writers just from the big cities. We hope to receive applications from our districts and towns too,” he added.