CHENNAI: How does one become a good writer? To answer that question, writers from University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP) in association with the British Council, were in the city for a workshop tour at the University of Madras.
Christopher Merril, director, IWP, says, “What I saw here was a higher level of writing. We have been doing this for almost half a century and this cultural exchange between Indian and American writers will facilitate ideas and creative writing.” Sandra Alcosser (writer and poet), Lincoln Paine (maritime historian and author) and Sandra Luckow (writer and director) were also part of the writer’s delegation.
“At some level, we wanted to talk about the ways we teach creative writing in the US where it is a popular academic discipline. We have tried to introduce that as well among students here,” shares Merril, who has published six books of poetry. “In this programme, we have hosted about 14,000 writers in 140 countries. There is good writing across the globe and it involves vivid description, a sense of what makes the clock tick and portrays the larger vision of us walking under the sun.”
Paine, who has authored several books on history including the award winning The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World (2013) adds, “Writing a book on history is not just about the facts, it is also about making the process of reading more enjoyable. If it just has facts, then it’s only a spreadsheet.” Quoting a book of short essays by historian Barbara Tuckman, he says that her six-page short essay called Historian as an Artist is a reflection of how facts must have essence and a structure.
Alcosser and Merril, who share a passion for poetry say that writing is a journey of the soul. So, do they think of inventing a new style in writing? “Every day, every time we put pen to paper,” grins Alcosser. “But most people resist new ideas and laugh at experimental writers.” Nodding his head in agreement, Merril says, “As writers we have been following a set structure. But, we want to do something new.”
Luckow on the other hand, specialises in both writing and filmmaking, and her favourite Indian filmmaker is Mira Nair. “I think the Indian filmmaking industry is conscious that they are at the service of their audience. Films in Hollywood are a high stakes financial gamble and, many times, filmmakers have to prioritise their investors’ sensibilities and not the audience,” she observes.
Due to the multiple platforms available now to share written work, writers say the quality is trickling down. “Anyone can write these days. Though it is healthy that people are opening up, the structure is going down,” rues Alcosser.
Recollecting the poem Song of Myself by Whalt Whitman sung by Barbara Dickson, Merril adds, “In all generations there has been good and bad writing. The good ones stay through time, like this one.”