SG’s MA Creative Writing

Singapore’s LaSalle College of the Arts is launching the country’s first taught graduate program in Creative Writing. Course leader Dr Darryl Whetter explains how his writers will master many voices.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-44-14-amDW: You might come in thinking that your strengths are in poetry, that’s wonderful, you’ll probably write a Creative Writing thesis in poetry. But we do ask you to move through a series of distinct genre modules. So we have a Story module primarily for fiction and non-fiction writers, which is also good for dramatists. We have a Non-Fiction module, a Drama module and a Poetic Voice module. So when someone has had a broad training in the opportunities of those major genres, then they specialize in a thesis in the genre of their choice.

JF: A lot of writers will think of themselves as either a novelist or a poet, what does it bring working across different genres?

DW: It’s a required courage, it’s an invitation to change. So many of us wouldn’t try drama or poetry, and yet we all know those novelists who are empowered by a poetic sensibility, particularly with metaphor and simile.

We all know those novelists who write closet dialogue, like Edward St Aubyn, a very talented novelist who writes interesting dialogue that no human says.

That’s distinct from the so-called dialogue of someone like Michael Ondaatje, which is the dialogue of poets. So for someone to go through the course and learn dialogue and learn how to manifest a story through the body, though action, through props etc, that creates great core skills.

Also, it might be a necessary grounding in an national education environment where there isn’t a pronounced system of undergraduate creative writing and education.

There is such a passion for poetry here in Singapore, which is unique and exciting. But when I hear a lot of contemporary poetry, I often wonder ‘do people not know about the personal essay?’ Because a lot of poetry is the personal essay with line breaks.

Remember that for some, poetry is inherently artistic, while prose is not. And so you want to give people an experiential and substantial introduction to those forms.

JF: The advantage of a taught MA is that people from different disciplines will come together to form a community and share those perspectives…

DW: …while simultaneously shining that light. For better or worse, literature in English is primarily the novelists’ domain. It would be tempting to just have great novelists coming through {to lecture}, but if you’re going to treat these genres fairly—for example, the great memoirists, the artistry behind creative non-fiction—it is also the chance for us as curators to think about who we are ignoring if we just try to bring in a great novelist to speak every month.

JF: The MA will cost S$27,000. As we know, writing isn’t the most lucrative career choice. Is there an additional value to this qualification?

DW: A creative writing education is good for the citizen, the thinker and the communicator, as well as the future writer. So these are good educations, not just good educations in writing.

If you were interested in a future career in communications, journalism or publishing, this is a great way to ground yourself in these skills. Also think of the transitional opportunities.

If someone did an electrical engineering undergrad and had a Macbeth point in the degree where they thought they might as well finish it instead of starting all over, and they’d also been writing so that they have a great writing portfolio, they could use this program to turn their career opportunities around.

If you’re a Creative Writing postgraduate student, you’re able to write in a lot of different modes. If I were hiring a communications officer, I know which I one I would choose.

JF: So let’s talk about admissions. You mentioned that someone from an engineering background would be able to get a place on this course.

DW: Absolutely. Just like with musical ability, there are people with advanced training and there are also people with flagrant, raw talent.

And so our program is an opportunity for the person with the demonstrable talent to turn the work habits of an undergrad degree in something vastly different, like biology, and turns that intellectual curiosity onto these different challenges.

Provided that the application portfolio is strong. For Shakespeare, the play was the thing, for us the portfolio is the thing.

JF: There’s always been a spirited discussion about whether or not Creative Writing can be taught. A lot of writers claim that it can’t. What’s your point of view because you’ve been teaching writing for a long time?

DW: I do hear writers say it. I rarely hear writers who are teachers say it. Hanif Kureishi being the exception; he gets paid well to teach it and yet tells people not to study it.

Anything can be taught. It ultimately reckons with an anxiety that people have about artists in academia or artists in conservative institutions (in the sense of working to a schedule).

Yes, putting up S$27,000—or 3 times that in the UK or US—is a massive financial decision, but when else in your life are you going to clear your schedule for two years and devote yourself to writing? And so some people are also buying that time, for themselves, from their family, from other expectations.

JF: This is the first taught MA Creative Writing program in Singapore, what role do you hope it will take in the country’s cultural life?

DW: Everyone tells me that the literary scene in Singapore has taken off in the last 5-7 years. It appears to be in a period of acceleration.

So I’m very confident that our grads will be the editors and curators here in Singapore. The best-case scenario might be, if we see these trained and professionalized writers then teaching future generations. Their writing would be part of the public consciousness manifesting in literature in a country that—like all countries—is going to change.

JF: You’ve come a long way from your home in Canada to run this program. Tell us little about your writing and why you came to Singapore.

DW: So I’ve published three books of fiction and one book of poems and another one that’s about to come out. I’ve been writing for 20 years and one of the great joys of deepening your craft is working on projects at different stages. Different pots on the stove.

Stephen King refers to his ‘toy truck’ story—he’s writing the next book in the morning and in the afternoons he works on the thing that is just a game, an early draft where there are none of those pressures. So I’m working on novels in different stages.

And I came here in part because LaSalle is exclusively an art school. It’s primarily a fine art school that also welcomes writers, and that’s a really wonderful pairing. Even at big schools where creative writing is a huge concern, generally they are overshadowed by very expensive MBA programs or massive scientific programs. But here, everyone loves art and that’s very unique.


Applications for the next intake on the MA Creative Writing at LaSalle College of the Arts close on 31st October for International Students and 30th November for local applicants.

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