Monday, November 30, 2009

Guest Post: The Oxford University Creative Writing Summer School


by Emily Lacika

There are many great things about being a writer based in Switzerland. The misadventure of daily life is fodder enough for excellent material, and the opportunities for travel, well, that speaks for itself. However, there is a lack of creative writing programs conducted in English. So, wanting to take some time to work on my craft, I started looking for options online, and that's how I discovered the Oxford University Creative Writing Summer School.

The program sounded fabulous: three weeks of creative writing while staying in one of the Oxford Colleges, miles away from such intrusive things like laundry schedules and language classes. Priced at two thousand pounds, the program was not cheap, but at least with Oxford's proximity to Zurich, there would be no jet lag to contend with.

To apply to the program, you had to (1) provide a statement of intent, (2) procure a letter of reference, and (3) put together a portfolio of your writing that was relevant to your first-choice workshops. (When I applied, there were six workshops to choose from. I chose the Writing Fiction and the Writing Lives workshops.) After a week of frantic editing, I pulled off a respectable application. Needless to say that I was ecstatic when I learned that I was accepted into the 2008 program.

The program was held at Exeter College one of the oldest colleges in the Oxford University system, and being based there was spiritual from a writing perspective. The call to write was just about everywhere. My room, at the top of eighty stairs, had the most amazing view of the town's famed spires. The dining hall inspired one of the settings in Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass and the father of Middle Earth himself, J.R.R. Tolkien, was an alum. In fact, a bust of the famous Inkling was illuminated under an incandescent halo in the college chapel.

The director warned us at the start that they planned to work us hard, and work us hard they did. Workshops were scheduled to meet Monday through Thursday, and each workshop met twice a week. Every day, there was a plenary lecture with topics ranging from readings and discussions conducted by writers in different media (novels, biographies, poetry, drama, screenwriting, etc.) to the business side of writing (publishers, agents and booksellers.) With all that on our plates, it was a wonder that I ever found the time to complete both the short and long assignments, as well as forming critique groups with the other writers in the program.

What I enjoyed most about the program was the camaraderie. Writing can be a lonely, existential-crisis-inducing experience, especially when living in a non-English speaking country. Going into the Oxford summer course, I expected lots of constructive feedback and lengthy meta-discussions about writing, but I did not think about the type of environment that would flourish when you threw thirty writers together from around the globe. For me, the friendships formed proved to be the most invaluable part of the entire program.

Emily Lacika moved to Zurich from Boston in 2005 and tries to maintain a precarious balance between writing and the other projects in her life: traveling, language learning, lindy-hopping, and trying to not irritate her neighbors when practicing the fiddle. You can follow her musings at her blog.

Have you participated in a writing program abroad? If so, Writer Abroad wants to hear about it. Please leave a comment or contact Chantal about writing a guest post.

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