Sunday, March 20, 2022

Week 14: Writers as teachers

Last week, after a week's delay caused by the floods, another teaching semester began, at last with the expectation (or at least realistic hope) that classes can be held in-person all year. 

For most, I think, being back on campus is an enormous relief. That feeling of novelty and freshness when everyone returns at the beginning of the academic year - something you always feel during the first weeks - is heightened after two years of disruptions. And the nature of teaching, which demands energy and commitment and a degree of performance, is also made more obvious by virtue of the various distances that came with COVID-19.

Like most writers, I don't make a living from writing alone. As a result, writing forms part of my professional life, even if it often occupies a disproportionate amount of time. A challenge for writers like me is to find other activities and occupations that complement rather than detract from the writing life. 

For me, teaching at university has been almost ideal in that respect. This is partly because I was always interested in the Humanities, and my PhD is in literary studies. It's also because teaching engages the mind in a very active form of learning that requires you to communicate, test, and apply your knowledge iteratively across years and subjects. Teaching asks you to be clear in your expression, and to allow what you think to change on the basis of conversations with others.

Teaching is also, at its best, grounded in both theory and practice: it is a place where the two must be joined, because the individual experience of writers and critics is also a way of considering wider contexts, be they technical, social and cultural, political or ideological. The classroom allows writing to be an expression of individuality and, simultaneously, a way of hosting dialogue and debate.


Yesterday, ABC Radio National's 'The Bookshelf' show featured a discussion of The Sorrow Stone, in the main between host Kate Evans and a scholar of Old Norse, Lisa Bennett, who like me is also a creative writer. The episode, available here, was rather similar to what I describe above: a review of creative work, and one that was very aware of the literary-historical contexts and theories framing it.