Creative Writing in Hong Kong and Nuoro
Today, in the first creative-writing course held in Nuoro, Sardinia, there are 18 participants divided between two classes. The attendees’ ages range from 12 (a very talented young girl) to 70 years (a former teacher, who is very cultured). Reflecting on my experiences in Hong Kong, I can identify deep-seated differences between the two sample groups: international students in Hong Kong, most of whom were young; and local part-time students in Nuoro, who encompasses a variety of ages, backgrounds, objectives and approaches. I have to speak in general and not in personal terms, of course, and owing to the limited representativeness of the first, randomly selected local sample, several courses would have to be conducted in order to verify the validity of any comparisons drawn.
In any case, I would like to express my initial observations in the hope that they may be found interesting and useful. I will begin by considering the quality level of the writings first produced. Quality is a term replete with meaning: in this case it encompasses the dimensions of culture, form, craft, voice, structure, effectiveness, imagination, depth of feeling, knowledge, etcetera. Nevertheless, upon reading the first manuscripts, it was unquestionable that the Nuoro students’ accounts are more imaginative and structured, and I’d say more complicated and demonstrative of potential. Yet, they were also more impolite, and uneducated, tending to exhibit an evident lack of respect for the reader and frequent stumbles into cliché and gimmicks (special effects), and they were deficient in precision. It seems that the local world may be richer than the world revealed by the work of participants in Hong Kong, where, conversely, education, skill and expertise appear to be superior. So, the two cases each originate from starkly different starting points.
The evolution after a few weeks of the course is also interesting. While both cases are characterised by equal degrees of attention and willingness, I think the Hong Kong sample demonstrated more rapid improvement, perhaps assisted by their greater knowledge of literary methods and more deeply instilled discipline, whereas, the participants in the Nuoro sample were more strongly anchored to ingrained bad habits, so progress was more viscous. As a result, it is my opinion that the curve of improvement to date has been less steep in Nuoro than in Hong Kong.
The problem of a lack of respect for the reader, and in general a sort of textual impoliteness, is unfortunately also very common in the Sardinian books that I’m reading just now. Often you can find a lot of potential (the ideas are good, the story is appealing, innovation is present and sometimes strong), but the form is sloppy, craft is applied in a casual manner, and the voice is soiled by cliché, awkward phrases, flashy contrivances, and etcetera. So, in the end, the books are unpleasant and certainly do not leave a positive impression.
These considerations reflect, in my view, the fact that education – in Italy as a whole and not just in Sardinia – is in decline. The strong background is not drawn upon in appropriate way: it is not exploited, but taken for granted and then treated with superficiality. Conceptions of true, deep literature are far removed from the present writings, which are vain, arrogant and – as I have said – superficial. Also they are deficiencies in the level of attentiveness, and the capacity to commit oneself to a specific task. This is especially apparent when I remember with nostalgia the evenings in Hong Kong, studying in university facilities that were full of students and workshops, and the Saturdays and Sundays there, when we discussed authors or poems or literary movements, or reread Seneca and Michel de Montaigne.
I’m very curious to see how things will be by the end of the first course, which is divided into three six-week sessions. I’m optimistic and enthusiastic about this ‘experiment’, and it will be interesting to have accumulated data to analyse and discuss when planning new courses.