Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

If one can argue against traditional non-academic literary schools, then one can reason against a purely academic model (Part1)

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Whoo! I'm exhausted writing that title. As stated in my first entry this month, all my posts are my opinion and are not necessarily shared by any members or staff of Open Book Toronto. Before we start, let me tell you a story about a fictional relationship:

Person A was a person of colour who was a talented writer and editor, but, because of their race, and stereotyping, very few people realized how talented they were.

Person B, a person of majority who was a more established writer, discovered A's talent and began a relationship with them.

The couple always separated business and relationship matters. For example, if A was running an event B was required to pay full price to come (for the record, A is an idiot and should of at least offered a discount). If B wanted A to take care of B's pet snake A was paid, even though A is not a professional snake-sitter. With these clear lines drawn, B offered A the opportunity to help one another out. A would be given the opportunity to get B's opinion on their work. In exchange B – the more respected writer would ask A for advice. A agreed.

For 3 years the collaboration worked. However, A realized that A no longer needed the help, only asking occasionally. B, however, was demanding more help. B began dragging out multiple drafts of writing, getting A to write full re-writes, and edit old drafts. A suspected the reason for A's continuing work was because the better known B was in multiple writers' groups. The writers' groups were destroying early drafts. B was becoming more dependent on A to write. A was feeling the imbalance, planned to ask for some sort of compensation, and was dumped.

A soon realized that B had only dated fellow writers their adult life; suspected that even though B was better known, they were less of a writer, and probably an alleged fraud. A believed that they had a legitimate civil case against B. A had gathered evidence, but as a person of colour, A realized B could easily have them black-balled and blacklisted -- B was a very connected writer. A was not.

If B was a real person they would be a fraud. They would not be a real writer. If their genre was poetry (like mine), they would not be a poet. A creative writer who places their name on a published document, and their name only, without acknowledging the work of others, who are dependent on the labour of writers' groups, partners, ghost writers (without acknowledgement), unpaid or unlisted editors are frauds.

So why the story? Clearly B thinks being a fraud is acceptable. The academic methodology almost encourages such narrow thinking. The difference? Professors get paid. Writers' groups “help” one another (note the quotation marks) and are paid that way. Unlike B's relationship with A these are balanced relationships – everyone gets something, so why the negative vibes by yours truly?

Taking advantage of others is merely the tip of the iceberg as far as what the modern academic school encourages. You're a university student who has a paper to write, but don't have the time? There are a number of services that will write your paper for you. One can get an accreditation in professional academic paper writing for others. This is just an example of how the present academic system encourages far worse actions than plagiarism.

Last year, at one of Canada's preeminent universities, an English literature professor was called out for having a reading list that was sexist and racist. His excuse? That his students never complained. Indeed, it wasn't his students that exposed him, but the professor's own mouth. Why? Because the modern academic system does not encourage the Platonic concept of education that involves debate, and challenging conversation. Instead it encourages subservience and silence in the name of a high grade. Challenge your professor? Get a C. Nod your head in a sheepish manner? Receive an A for your behaviour.

I have no problem with paid ghost writers, but in an environment where being a sheep is encouraged, where do unique ideas come from? Theft. Not ingeniously dressing up another person's ideas, but straight theft – just like the situation in my fictional example. So if the current academic system is counter-productive to genuine creative writing, what practices are conducive to creative writing?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Dane Swan

Dane Swan is a Bermuda-raised, Toronto-based internationally published poet, writer and musician. His first collection, Bending the Continuum was launched by Guernica Editions in the Spring of 2011.

Go to Dane Swan’s Author Page