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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Literature
in the city

Jeanette Winterson photographed by Sam Churchill

As our Centre for New Writing reaches its 10th year, we look at the impact it has had in shaping Manchester, a city of literature.

Culturally and creatively, Manchester is an especially stimulating place to be at the moment. Something we saw first-hand during our bid to make Manchester a UNESCO City of Literature. On Tuesday, 31 October 2017 UNESCO broke the news that the bid had been successful.

Research for the proposal reveals the sheer extent of literary activity across the city – from open mic nights like Bad Language, to experimental poetry performances like The Other Room; from intimate community reading groups, to large-scale author events pulling in huge crowds; from creative writing programmes in the city’s universities, to successful, independent small presses like Comma and Carcanet, and innovative writer development organisations like Commonword or The Real Story.

At the Centre for New Writing (CNW), staff and students participate in and contribute to much of this literary activity, refining our own creative practice and making our mark on the city. Our online journal, The Manchester Review, remains the leading city source for quality reviews of new theatre, music and literature.

Ian McGuire signing copies of The North Water
Novelist and Honorary Lecturer at the Centre for New Writing, Ian McGuire launched his book The North Water at the Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama.

We like to think – with good reason, and not a little pride – that the CNW is one of the best places to study and practise creative writing in the UK. Our expanding team of award-winning novelists, poets and screenwriters teach dynamic programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate level, but we also engage with our students and the city in other ways, and in the tenth year of our existence, our activities and opportunities are brighter and more varied than ever.

The events we run as part of our ‘Literature Live’ series attract audiences from across – and beyond – Manchester, and we are increasing and diversifying those audiences now via exciting collaborations with HOME and the International Anthony Burgess Foundation.

We are also now the official higher education partner and sponsor of the Manchester Literature Festival (MLF) – which runs upwards of 80 events every year and brings a host of international literary stars to the city. Arundhati Roy, Rebecca Solnit and Shami Chakrabarti are just three of the authors making an appearance in 2017.

We have worked very happily and productively with the MLF for years, but in this new partnership we will be taking an even more active role in organising, chairing, hosting and promoting festival events.

We are making our mark in other ways, however; notably, through the involvement of our students and staff in various vital schools projects across Manchester: for The Whitworth Project, CNW students worked with puppet troupe The Whalley Range All-Stars to devise imagined worlds and stories with year 5 students; the Writing with Rylands Project sent our undergraduate students to primary schools to teach storytelling skills; and our collaboration with Alliance Manchester Business School’s ‘Business in the Community’ scheme led to workshops with high school students and a popular poetry competition.

The schools involved and the students running the workshops and events learn a huge amount from these projects, and we consider them a crucial part of our commitment to a social responsibility agenda – benefiting communities who might otherwise seem to have little access to the educational opportunities and rich resources of The University of Manchester.

Our Burgess Writer Fellows likewise contribute to the city via their residencies, which means that next year’s fellows, poet Kayo Chingonyi and fiction writer Joanna Walsh, will give tutorials at CNW, but also in Manchester Museum and at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation.

Despite these many projects and collaborations with cultural partners, we remain, at the CNW, committed to our writing, research and teaching.

The Centre for New Writing brings together writers who excel in a range of different kinds of fiction, poetry and screenwriting, bringing their individual talents to bear on the work of all our students.

Jeanette Winterson / Professor of New Writing, Centre for New Writing

Vona Groarke’s Selected Poems won the 2017 Pigott Prize for Poetry – for the best collection of poetry by an Irish poet – while Vona herself was recently inducted into the Hennessy Literary Awards Hall of Fame; in April, Geoff Ryman’s series of articles on African writers won a British Science Fiction Association Award for best non-fiction; graduate Alys Conran was shortlisted for the 2017 Dylan Thomas Prize; Beth Underdown was selected as one of The Observer’s new faces of fiction for 2017, thanks to the publication of her debut novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister; Tim Price began work on the imminent new series of Dr Who, and Jeanette Winterson will this year be honoured by the Lambda Literary Trust.

And in Autumn 2017, coincident with our ten year anniversary, we welcome two new writers to our team. Kamila Shamsie is the internationally-renowned author of six novels, including Kartography (2002), Burnt Shadows (2009), which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, and A God in Every Stone (2014), which was shortlisted for numerous prizes including the Baileys Prize. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Patron of the MLF, and in 2013 was named one of Granta’s ‘Best Young British Novelists’.

Honor Gavin, our other new appointment, takes a multi-platform approach to the creative and the critical, involving music, performance and collaborations with groups such as Theatrum Mundi; she is the author of a monograph on modernism literature and film, and of an exuberant, experimental novel, Midland (2014), which was shortlisted for the prestigious Gordon Burn Prize.

Both appointments embody the commitments to cultural and creative collaboration, and to social responsibility that we have long sought to encourage; and both will offer inspirational teaching to our students.

As Jeanette Winterson says: “CNW brings together writers who excel in a range of different kinds of fiction, poetry and screenwriting, bringing their individual talents to bear on the work of all our students.”

We heartily agree, and we are also delighted that in 2017 we have been able to confirm the permanent appointment of Jeanette, whose work has done so much to energise the students and shape the character of the Centre in recent years, as Professor of New Writing.

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