Derek Beaulieu | In Conversation

Why did you choose to do a PhD in Creative Writing, and why at Roehampton?

The lecturers in Creative Writing at Roehampton are all exceptional – they bring the best of engaged practices in fiction, poetry and criticism along with student-focused teaching. Dr Peter Jaeger, Dr Tim Atkins, Jeff Hilson, Dr Isabel Waidner – to name just a few – are creating exceptional work which exemplify what an engaged practice means in the 21st-Century. A PhD in Creative Writing is an advanced degree in thinking through a creative practice – a means of creating and theorizing the cultural discourse of writing.

Can you describe the journey your PhD took you on?

My PhD was a journey of self-discovery; the opportunity to look at my creative practice from a critical distance and examine how it had changed me, how it had affected how I saw the world and how I felt I could give back to the community.

What did you learn from your time at Roehampton?

My time at Roehampton introduced me to the wider discussions of creative writing and literary art and it introduced me to some of the best risk-taking authors in the UK; authors who are exploring what the future of writing may be.

What was your favourite thing about Roehampton?

I love that my work is on the walls of Fincham Court; that mural stands in gratitude of the exceptional work that is happening there – I was honoured to be commissioned for that piece by the University. I imagine that piece in conversation with students and emerging authors as they back-and-forth in their days at the University.

Do you think Roehampton has benefited you, and your career? If so, how?

Completing my studies at Roehampton built professional and personal relationship; it gave me the chance to dive deeply into career-making conversations and it helped make me the author and teacher that I am today.

How did you get to where you are now in your career?

I believe that the best way of building a career in writing, teaching and publishing is to look to building community – dedicate time and energy in to making space for other writers, be open to new conversations, be curious to what is happening outside of your neighbourhood – and look to writing as a dialogue around how we add to the artful exploration of where writing can take us. In terms of my own practice, I imagine a map which describes everything which might be considered writing; it’s my job as an author to find the edges of that map & attempt to add just a little more to the unmapped space.

What have been your career highlights so far?

I have been incredibly blessed to have published, lectured and performed around the world while also being recognized at home as Calgary, Alberta’s 2014-2016 Poet Laureate. The colleagues I’ve met have transformed my thinking around writing. Writing has invited me to be part of an international community of colleagues; from late-night arguments in the cafés of Paris to debates about fiction floating in the Bláa lónið in Iceland; from the opportunity to co-edit and publish work by my literary heroes and neighbours, to the chance to publish with some dynamic and risk-taking UK-based presses like Simon Morris’ Information as Material (York), James Davies’ ifpthenq (Manchester), Sharon Kivland’s MA Bibliotheque (Sheffield) and Anthony Etherin’s Pentaract Press (Shropshire).

Can you tell us a little about your new role, what you have planned, and why the organisation is important to you?

In October I joined the team at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity as Director, Literary Arts. Banff Centre is one of the world’s pre-eminent post-graduate arts centres. The Literary Arts programs here at Banff Centre feature interdisciplinary and writing-focused residencies which embrace fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism and much more – and it is my hope to bring new ways of conceiving of writing which reflect 21st-century concerns, to the mix as well – including digital writing, speculative writing, interdisciplinary practices with an eye towards national and international conversations. John Cage described education as “people together without restrictions in a situation abundantly implemented” – that’s my ideal. Banff Centre is an 85-year old arts and culture institution on the top of a mountain in Canada’s oldest national Park; its magical.

Do you have any tips for current Roehampton students studying a similar degree to you?

I often think of Sister Corita Kent’s “10 rules for Students and Teachers”; she outlines 10 amazing ways to transform your thinking … but I’m always captivated by the power of her Rule 6: “Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail, only make.”

 

 

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