Basil Bunting on Creative Writing

Hanif Kureishi isn’t the first author to cause outrage with off the cuff remarks about creative writing (see this Guardian article). Over 40 years ago Basil Bunting (probably deliberately) blew up the English department at the University of Victoria over the same issue. At that time the department was dominated by the flamboyant and charismatic poet Robin Skelton who was pioneering the new field of Creative Writing. Skelton had vigorously opposed Bunting’s appointment as a visiting lecturer, citing Bunting’s ‘lack of experience of Creative Writing’, which rather points up the difference between Creative Writing and creative writing, a difference that Bunting was to expose cruelly. As soon as he arrived Bunting gave interviews to the Victoria Times and The Daily Colonist and at some point in the course of each of them told the reporters that ‘the only thing worse than a Creative Writing student is a Creative Writing professor’. Perhaps unsurprisingly Skelton accepted this as the personal insult that was probably intended and Bunting was ostracized by the entire English faculty with one or two honourable exceptions. He returned prematurely to the UK, on the way pocketing a full year’s professorial salary for about one third of a year’s teaching. Hanif Kureishi’s cause might not be lost. Criticizing creative writing from within can be quite profitable.

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