Turning academics into writers for general readers

by | Feb 15, 2012 | Blog, Memoir | 2 comments

Can bridge-building be taught?

I’ve already made it clear I’m a fan of Griffith Review, though for this reason and that reason I could be considered one-eyed. I wanted to alert you to their Humanities in the Community masterclasses in Brisbane and Melbourne, which is a partnership between Griffith Review and the Writing Centre for Scholars and Researchers (WCSR) at the University of Melbourne. Applications close February 29.

The motivation behind the partnership is clear: to bridge the gap between the university and the world beyond it.

The ability to write for an intelligent, general audience is not sufficiently valued in universities where career advancement depends primarily on publication in specialist peer reviewed journals. As a result many academics have never learned how to communicate with an interested public beyond the bounds of their specialisation. Nonetheless much academic research is of wide public interest and social import and deserves wider exposure. Achieving this requires that research outcomes be written in a way that is accessible and engaging.

This is perfect for academics seeking to communicate with an audience broader than the faculties in which they research and teach. There’s a whole world of sophisticated and engaged readers who are eager for new and compelling ideas, and thanks to technology a proliferation of channels through which to publish them.

During the two-day workshops, successful applicants will study exemplary writing in the genre; explore style, form and content through practical writing exercises; and be subjected to an analysis of the writers’ own areas of interest, writing strengths and potential audiences. Griffith Review editor Julianne Schultz and WCSR director Simon Clews will lead the workshops.

As a reader, and as an agent looking for new writers with something interesting to say to a large audience, I wish this initiative well. Kudos to the Sidney Myer Fund for supporting it.

My own academic life was brief but mostly enjoyable. Halfway through my English Literature PhD I realised I did not wish to become an academic. Even if I had wanted to, it was the mid-1990s and there were no jobs. Me being me, I finished the PhD. The dissertation  – on American poet Hart Crane and his obsession with the Brooklyn Bridge – gathers dust in the bowels of Sydney University’s Fisher Library, but I did write this riff on it for Bookslut.

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