This week I’ve been teaching Creative Writing to new students at the University of Leeds via online seminars. As my work usually involves a lot of live workshops and readings, I’ve been thinking hard over recent weeks about how to create welcoming, supportive spaces online: how can we re-create effective, friendly workshops and literary salons in a time when we can’t meet face-to-face?
I’ve facilitated and attended various events over the last few months, and have loved connecting with people in different countries and situations. Although there has been much recent talk of ‘Zoom Fatigue’ (and although I do find online events more exhausting) it is also clear to me that there is still a huge appetite for events that genuinely allow people to connect and share – to build communities and shape ideas.
The students this week set me a brilliant example. I was impressed and energised by their openness, enthusiasm and adaptability, especially under the current circumstances. Starting university can be challenging – it is lonely and bewildering for many. We should be giving credit to young people who are making the very best of this situation, often living independently for the first time, in new places and navigating new systems, rather than lambasting them, as in the media in recent days.
I learnt a lot from the hospitality and generosity I received recently from Uppsala University, where I was invited to conduct a mock thesis defence online. I thought hard about how to make the discussion constructive and encouraging for the student, while still offering the direction and critique that the process demands. I was given a very warm welcome to the Department of English and introduced to colleagues in such a way that made me genuinely feel part of their intellectual community. We still have lots to learn from this in our UK Higher Education institutions. I look forward to visiting Uppsala in person when restrictions are lifted and to meeting people face-to-face. There is still something in this, beyond the online, that I am missing!
At the Ilkley Literature Festival, we have just announced our Autumn 2020 plans, which includes a weekend of digital talks on 24 and 25 October. There’s also a fabulous telephone play “You don’t know me but…” – book your free tickets now!
And a final online event to mention this week – it is the virtual book launch for the Emma Press Anthology of Illness this Friday at which I will be reading. My poem in the book is about birth trauma, and I hope it raises the profile of this often hidden illness. I look forward to meeting the other contributors to the books and to sharing the poems with you – tickets are still available to book.