UEA defends ‘decolonising’ curriculum of world famous writing course

Creative writing is a popular course at UEA. Picture: Getty Images

Creative writing is a popular course at UEA. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The University of East Anglia has defended moves to ‘decolonise’ one of its most popular courses to reflect the legacy of Britain’s colonial past. 

The curriculum of the UEA’s internationally famous creative writing course, which boasts Nobel Prize laureate Kazuo Ishiguro and Booker Prize winners Ian McEwan and Anne Enright among former students, is being changed to make it more diverse.

Last year in a letter creative writing students studying in Norwich described the current course as being centred on the ‘privileged, white, male experience’.

The university said it had met with students to discuss their views but had already embarked on a course review before the letter arrived.

The University of East Anglia is renowned around the world for it's prestigious MA in creative writi

The University of East Anglia is renowned around the world for it's prestigious MA in creative writing. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

The 2021 creative writing prospectus says a module called Writing Across Borders will see students study the “emergence of modern English from a multilingual medieval society and its colonial expansion to Ireland, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean”.

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However William Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Austen, the Brontës and James Joyce who were specifically named in the previous 2020 prospectus are no longer referred to. 

Kazuo Ishiguro will be speaking live at the UEA as part of it's Autumn Literary Festival (photo: Jef

Nobel Prize laureate Kazuo Ishiguro studied at the UEA. - Credit: Archant

The UEA said students still had the chance to study these writers, but added: “one of the ways that the study of literature enriches our students' lives is by opening them up to multiple perspectives”.

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“The award-winning writers of our time, such as Derek Walcott, Toni Morrison, Arundhati Roy and our own Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro, have crafted works that refresh ideas of the literary at the same time as they interrogate the legacies of Empire and global injustices,” they added.

Author Toni Morrison 

US author Toni Morrison citied as writer who interrogates the legacies of Empire in her work. - Credit: West Point/Flickr

Universities are under pressure to reform curriculum content to ensure there is greater diversity in the texts studied, but moves to ‘decolonise’ courses have proved controversial. 

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: “Demonising great writers because they were white is an absurdity. Young people need to understand that a capacity for good or evil is not skin colour dependent.”

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is no longer referred to in the prospectus for a UEA module called Writing Across Borders, though students can still study his works. - Credit: Wikipedia

A UEA spokesman said: “We welcome critical engagement from our students and recognise that it is at the heart of a university education to interrogate inherited cultural values and practices, and to debate what is at stake in the work we read and how we read it.

"The fact that our students are not afraid to challenge past and present injustices and structures of power is to be celebrated not vilified.”

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