I’M DRIVING BACK from a literary soiree somewhere in Sydney where yet again I’ve been hauled over the coals for teaching creative writing. I was standing in a circle of new acquaintances and a man of a certain age asked what I did. I do various things, writing not the least of them, but, having spent the afternoon in the classroom, I automatically answered: “I teach creative writing.” “You teach creative writing?” he said, glaring at me over his glass of chardonnay. “Creative writing can’t be taught.” This was a self-evident truth and clearly I was somewhat backward for never having thought of it. Every head in the circle nodded in agreement. Uh, oh, I thought, here it comes again: a bit of sport, a spot of rough-and-tumble with a creative-writing teacher.
I wasn’t terribly fazed; I’ve often argued my case to the various tribes of the literati both in and outside the university. I proceeded to explain: “Most universities around the country … ” At the word “university” the flutes of chardonnay froze mid-sip and the heads nodded even more insistently. I instantly recognised my mistake. I had used the word “university”. Oh, we all know what’s happened to the “universities”. They’ve become a joke! And it’s precisely because they teach things like body piercing, cultural studies and creative writing. Good grief, the fellow is clearly a hopeless case.
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