University of Sussex
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Krik? Krak! Exploring the potential of creative life writing for opening dialogic space and increasing personal freedom

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posted on 2023-06-08, 21:40 authored by Sindi Fiona Gordon
My doctoral research is a critical and creative investigation into the dialogic relationship between memory and imagination through creative life writing and its potential for personal freedom. It looks at what happens when writers enter into a creative relationship with their life stories, focusing on the potential of creative life writing for loosening narratives and self-conceptions that mould identity. I explore my topic in three different ways: through (1) qualitative research into the effects on participants of a series of creative life writing workshops I facilitated at a hair salon/barbershop serving a culturally diverse community of people of African, Caribbean, Asian and European heritage; (2) my own creative life writing, Skipworth Street’s Bonfire Night, written in response to the qualitative research; and (3) a case study of Lionheart Gal, a book of creative life writing produced by Sistren Theatre Collective in 1970’s Jamaica. My explorations of these three components are informed by two different but related bodies of literature: theory and practice of creative life writing for personal development and literary and political writings from the African Diaspora. Four main observations from the research are explored: (i) the practice of creative life writing enabled the writers at the salon, and myself through my own writing, to ‘access and objectify’ our personal material (Hunt 2001) and, by doing so, to distance ourselves from life-held narratives and open up psychic space for looking at ourselves from different perspectives; (ii) through the process of creative life writing the writers discovered a sense of self that was multiple and embodied; (iii) the notion of finding a voice in the creative writing process was intrinsic to the participants’ experience of finding personal freedom, allowing them to speak in the workshop with greater authority; (iv) creating a safe-enough environment for creativity to take place was essential to enable participants to move with confidence into their own personal space and writing. The research takes up Sistren’s director, Honor Ford-Smith’s (1986) call for a ‘unity between aesthetic imagination and the social and political process’. She believed that for real political change to take place there had to be an ‘altering’ or ‘redefining’ of socio-political structures and that, for this to happen, we needed to unlock ‘the creative power of rebel consciousness’ buried deep within our own stories. In bringing these ideas into the present, the thesis draws on Paul Gilroy’s (2005) suggestion that the idea of ‘multiculturalism’ should be revived by ‘conviviality’, which, he says, better reflects the complex issues of diversity and difference in present urban societies. The creative life writing workshops in the salon/barbershop created a space for putting conviviality into practice: by redirecting participants’ attention to their feelings and emotions, the workshops enabled them to recognize and negotiate difference and multiplicity rather than conforming to fixed hegemonic ideals. Skipworth Street’s Bonfire Night explores key concepts informing and emerging from my research that I either explored consciously in my own creative writing or that arose spontaneously through it. I was able to challenge my own tacit assumptions and life held narratives, as unconscious material emerged that enabled me to look at myself, as well as my research, from a broader perspective. This study offers new perspectives to emancipatory processes located in the use of creative life writing for personal development as well as to socio-political discourses of identity. It has practical applications for schools and youth and community groups, as well as adult education.


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