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About writing it right and telling tales

As UK's top-most creative writing programme floats it's second fiction workshop in the coming months, course conductor and award-winning author Amit Chaudhuri speaks to Kanika Sharma about the workshop while giving us a sneak peek into his new book, Telling Tales: Selected Writing 1993-2013

As a tutor of the course, what are your key focus areas?
I want to bring in critical thinking when it comes to literature. I wanted to and still want to bring in critical vocabulary, something we are not very used to, in India especially. Thinking critically about literature. If you look back, at the 20th century or even at the Romantics such as Coleridge, Matthew Arnold, or TS Eliot and even Irish poets like Seamus Heaney — they were involved with criticism. So there is a deep connection between a creative writer making a new kind of poem or piece of writing and a new argument.

Amit Chaudhuri’s new title showcases his writings from over two decades. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Amit Chaudhuri’s new title showcases his writings from over two decades. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Is the span of the workshop (eight days) sufficient for such an exercise?
Nothing is sufficient; eight days are not enough, one month is not enough, or more, unless I believe that you really need to learn to critique yourself. And one of the intentions of the course is to make you familiar with ways of distancing yourself from your own work.

Telling Tales - Selected writing 1993-2013, Amit Chaudhuri, Penguin, Rs 440. Available at leading bookstores
Telling Tales - Selected writing 1993-2013, Amit Chaudhuri, Penguin, Rs 440. Available at leading bookstores

The course is designed; we are doing what is done at UEA over eight weeks. The MA at University of East Anglia (UEA) comprises one such workshop a week. We are doing one such workshop a day. In the course of a term, which is 13 weeks at UEA, a person has his work looked at three times. In this workshop, a person has the opportunity of having his / her work looked at twice by his peers and then also discussed by the tutor twice. It’s actually quite strenuous as we are packing in a lot.

Your new book consolidates your critical writing alongside your everyday writings. How does Telling Tales canvas your thinking?
Let me first distinguish it from previous writing called Clearing a Space. As the title proclaims, one is trying to clear the space for writers such as myself who felt at an angle with the way fiction or writing was being looked at in India. One was trying to argue for the ordinary and making a writing out of that in Clearing a Space then.

This new book of essays is also an attempt to create an audience for the thing that I do. The book is in four sections. The first, which is the biggest and the longest, is a selection of columns for the Calcutta Telegraph; I named that column as Telling Tales. The moment I returned from Cambridge, England, they invited me to write a column irregularly for them. But the column was anything that I felt like writing about and they didn’t seem to notice that I was writing about everything. So I would write about Derrida, Cheese Toast, Chanachur (a snack mix).

The kind of challenge at the back of my head was — can I turn this into writing within 1,500 words? Is it possible to cover something? The second part is slightly political. Getting into an argument with a writer I know and like. The third section is about making music, reflecting on how I began by writing poetry and also how I wanted to be an artist without knowing how to paint or that kind of talent. The fourth part is kind of literary, about authors. It was written for the London Review of Books or an introduction for Penguin Modern Classics. It's kind of a form of literary restiveness and discovery.

About the workshop
The University of East Anglia (UEA) is organising a third workshop to be held in Kolkata from April 3-11, 2014. Amit Chaudhuri, UEA Professor of Contemporary Literature will lead the course along with Kirsty Gunn, prize-winning novelist and Professor of Writing Practice and Study at the University of Dundee.

Last date for submissions: February 20, 2014
Applications can be mailed to: b.poubeau@uea.ac.uk
For More details: www.uea.ac.uk/literature/creative-writing/creative-writing-india-workshop

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