MA Biography and Creative Non-Fiction

"My year at UEA was on of the best of my life"

In their words

Ian McEwan, Creative Writing Graduate and Booker Prize winner

Article

UEA has announced the launch of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW), which contains the extensive personal archive of the Nobel Laureate, Doris Lessing, and literary material from other prominent authors such as Naomi Alderman, Tash Aw, Malcolm Bradbury, Amit Chaudhuri, J.D. Salinger, Roger Deakin, Lorna Sage, WG Sebald and the playwright Snoo Wilson.

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The MA Biography and Creative Non-Fiction is for anyone seeking to develop their writing in the increasingly diverse and exciting genre of non-fiction.

UEA is the country’s leading university for the teaching of Creative Writing. In 2018/19 the MA Biography and Creative Non-Fiction will be taught by Kathryn Hughes, Ian Thomson and Helen Smith, all of whom have won major literary awards. The course may be taken full time over one year or part time over two, and the seminars are timetabled to be convenient to those who wish to travel from London.

During the year you will meet agents and publishers, hear talks by distinguished non-fiction writers and write a piece to be published in the annual student anthology.

Overview

Literary non-fiction is currently undergoing rapid change and reformation. Instead of the old ‘cradle to grave’ narratives of well-known literary or political figures, our best writers are now experimenting with new forms and subjects. Nature writing, the personal essay, food journalism, art criticism and memoir are all part of this exciting, emerging mix. This MA programme is for anyone who wants to develop their own writing in any of these genres. while studying at the UK’s leading university for the teaching of creative writing.

Teaching is by three-hour seminars during which you will discuss a set text and workshop your own writing. You will take two modules in the first semester and two in the second, and submit a dissertation at the end of the summer.

Course structure

At the heart of this Master’s programme are three compulsory modules: Writing Lives, The Life of the Book and Writing the First Person. These will allow you to explore the form and function of biography and creative non-fiction, via discussion of a range of influential examples both old and new. As well as examining the many forms that autobiography and biography may take, you will address practical matters such as how to write a proposal, conduct research and take a project through towards publication.

In addition you will take a fourth module, which you may choose from the wide range available within the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing. These include The Theory and Practice of Fiction; The Art of Short Fiction; Adaptation and Interpretation; and Living Modernism. Please note that the choice of modules may change from year to year.

In the summer semester (May–June) you will have one-to-one sessions with a tutor as you work on your dissertation – a 15,000-word piece of non-fiction.

We also invite leading non-fiction writers to give seminars on aspects of their craft. Recent guests include Kate Summerscale, Alexander Masters, Richard Holmes, Olivia Laing and Philip Hoare. These are supplemented by one-to-one tutorials with your module leader. In most years students also choose to set up informal reading and writing groups among themselves. 

We encourage you to take advantage of UEA’s vibrant literary culture. Each year a dozen or so leading novelists, poets and non-fiction writers visit Norwich to take part in our autumn and spring literary festivals. You will also have the opportunity to meet some of the UK’s leading agents and publishers, who make regular visits to the University to give talks.

We publish an anthology of our students’ writing each year and distribute it to a key list of editors, agents and critics. In addition, you will be encouraged to post your writing on UEA’s Creative Writing website, a new platform designed to showcase the best work emerging from students of Creative Writing.

Assessment

In addition to the final dissertation, submitted in September, each compulsory module is assessed on a 5,000-word essay.

Course tutors and research interests

All our teaching staff are acclaimed writers. Kathryn Hughes’s work includes George Eliot, the Last Victorian, which won the James Tait Black Prize, The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton, which was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, and, most recently, Victorians Undone, a study of celebrated body parts. Ian Thomson’s Primo Levi won the W. H. Heinemann Award and his book about Jamaica, The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica, was awarded the Ondaatje Prize in 2010. Helen Smith is the winner of a Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction and the Biographers’ Club Prize for her book The Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett.

Where next?

Each year a couple of students will go on to publish with a major house. Many others will produce work for smaller, more specialist publishers. Some choose to stay with us to undertake a PhD, working on a full-length project; others return to their original discipline (teaching, journalism, law) with the intention of integrating what they have learned into their practice. 

Frequently asked questions

Who does biography and creative non-fiction at UEA?

You should have a bachelor’s degree, but this doesn’t have to be in any particular subject: our previous students have included doctors, barristers, teachers, therapists and an asparagus farmer. We also take younger people who have just completed their first degree. What we are looking for is evidence of interest in and engagement with non-fiction of all kinds (this might include memoir, travel writing, nature writing, sports biography and food journalism).

What kinds of things do students write about?

There are no guidelines regarding what you should write about: it can be anything and everything, from football or murderers to wine, poets, saints and music.

How many students do you recruit each year?

We generally accept between 12 and 16 students each year.

Can I talk to someone before I put in my application?

Yes, if you have any questions please email the course Director, Helen Smith (helen.smith@uea.ac.uk) in the first instance.

Course Modules 2018/9

Students must study the following modules for 160 credits:

Name Code Credits

CREATIVE WRITING RESEARCH METHODOLOGY CONFERENCE

This 10-credit module consists of a day-long series of presentations and plenary discussions delivered by Creative Writing and Critical faculty of direct relevance to the practical aspects of researching and writing a major piece of creative work. It is intended for all students on the Prose Fiction, Poetry, Scriptwriting and Biography and Creative Non-Fiction MA courses. Attendance is compulsory.

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10

ENGLISH LITERATURE DISSERTATION

You are required to write a dissertation of a length as specified in the MA Course Guide on a topic chosen by yourself and approved by the Course Director or other authorised person.

LDCE7015X

90

THE LIFE OF THE BOOK

This module will follow the arc of a biography or work of creative non-fiction from inception to reception. How do you choose a subject, determine a book's structure, find a voice and build character? What about the often daunting question of research? Once the book is written, how do you set about writing a proposal, finding a publisher and what happens during the editorial process? The emphasis will be practical, with a significant workshop element.

LDCE7003A

20

WRITING LIVES

This module explores the many ways in which writers have grappled with getting 'life' and 'lives' down on paper. We will look at samples of writing from many different genres, for example, travel, nature, music and sports writing. You'll be encouraged to find your own special subjects, to study comparative non-fiction and to look at the many new experimental approaches that make biography and creative non-fiction such flourishing phenomena today. During the workshop you will be expected to submit your own creative work and critique the work of other members.

LDCE7001A

20

WRITING THE FIRST PERSON

You'll look at autobiography in the broadest sense, taking in memoir, nature writing, travel writing, reportage and essay. We'll be talking about the history and variety of first-person narratives, the ways writers reveal themselves in their words, how autobiography keeps to and departs from the facts, the importance of form and structure, and about non-fiction's relationship to novels and poems. Seminars will feature practical writing exercises as well as readings and discussions.

LDCE7005B

20

Students will select 20 credits from the following modules:

Name Code Credits

ADAPTATION AND INTERPRETATION

Critical reading and creative writing collide when adapting a text for performance in another medium. The very process forces a string of questions: Is it possible to separate a story from its expression? What, if any, are the obligations owed to the source text? Must the adaptation always be 'secondary'? Can we define a 'good' adaptation? The questions only grow more interesting if we consider changes in reception and more complex when we alter era or cultural setting. This module focuses on key questions in dramatic adaptation, establishing a foundation in basic theory and then focusing on readings of source works and screenings or performances of adaptations. Seminar discussions probe the choices offered by original texts and explore the possibilities and limitations inherent in different forms. In the later sessions, you will have the opportunity to workshop an adaptation for a final project. Writers are expected to produce scripts, while theatre directors will have to option to produce a script or a performance. The module is a must for scriptwriters, but no prior scriptwriting experience is necessary as the seminars teach the basic techniques of dramatic writing. Class workshop will further develop skills in the specific dramatic forms.

LDCC7010B

20

CONTEMPORARY FICTION

Various attempts at (sub-)categorising contemporary fiction interpret it as a departure from previous aesthetics or a response to political or historical events or movements: post-modern; post-colonial; post-feminist; post-communist; post-9/11; post-millenial; post-national; even post-post-modern etc. As a prefix, "post-" suggests supersedence rather than novelty; at worst it is merely an aspirational syllable. Its proliferation co-exists with more conventional attempts at temporal taxonomy such as monographs and student guides dedicated to specific decades. One way of reading "post"-something-or-other is to think of it as an engagement with, and critical reassessment of, the past it so assiduously hyphenates: its literary conventions, cultural heritage, philosophical traditions, political ideologies, and - paradoxically - its long shadows way beyond the present moment. The manifestations of these engagements and reassessments can be rather contradictory. The memory boom of the 1990s put paid to claims about "the end of history" or skepticism over Grand Narratives. The renewed popularity of the (neo)historical novel and period drama also chafes against the recent turn towards trauma studies. The effects of new market forces, media and digital technology on the form of writing and the construction of the "author" could also be seen as one of the legacies of modernism. A focus on mindfulness, ethics and affect sits uneasily alongside the necessity for art to provoke and push boundaries. Expressions of the regional contend with an increasing awareness of transnational subjects, diasporic identities and global issues, and some of the most interesting writing today comes from 'the East' or writers with hybrid origins and hyphenated identities. Can fiction still be formally inventive and how might it enter into dialogue with other art forms (photography, sculpture, painting, cinema)? In the light of the critical and commercial success of 'creative non-fiction' we might also want to ask precisely how narrative can perforate disciplinary and generic categories. On this module we will attempt to construct a (naturally provisional, selective and incomplete) genealogy of the contemporary by examining some of the discernible trends and tensions of relatively recent. Much of this writing will be Anglophone but you should be prepared for adventures in reading translations. We will also have the opportunity to do some work in UEA's newly founded Archive of Contemporary Literature: what and who is being archived according to which criteria, and what do archivists, academics and critics consider archival about the contemporary?

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20

EAST ANGLIAN LITERATURE

Throughout the medieval and Early-Modern periods Norwich was one of England's most important cities - probably second only to London - and East Anglia one of the country's culturally liveliest and richest areas. You will explore the literature of these periods in its material contexts (the region's prosperity and power may still be seen in its architecture and in the rich holdings of its libraries and museums) and ask whether there was a specifically East Anglian cultural tradition. You will explore East Anglia's rich dramatic traditions, its devotional literature and practices (in orthodox forms and in those that brush against the heterodox), and, insistently, the manner in which its literature participates in its broader social and cultural worlds.

LDCE7002B

20

LUDIC LITERATURE

The aim of this mixed creative-critical module is twofold: both to explore together some of the major works of playful or 'ludic' modern literature across various languages, and to develop our appreciation of style and form by practising various forms of writing that are themselves ludic: creative imitation, parody, transposition from one style and form to another, creative translation. In play, we will find, the boundary between the 'creative' and the 'critical' becomes unclear. The module is generally taken by a mix of students from the various critical and creative writing MAs, as well as by students in Literature and Philosophy. On the 'critical' side, the module traces the evolution of leading postmodernist styles and themes, especially ludic ones, back to their origins in Dostoevsky, Joyce, Kafka, Borges, and Nabokov. Using these enormously influential authors as a starting point, we read a range of ludic authors, passing back and forth between languages, nations, and genres. Each week we usually pair two authors. In previous years we have studied, for example, Dostoevsky against Nabokov, Kafka against Borges, Perec against Queneau and Calvino, Carter against Coover, Muldoon against Heaney, Pynchon against Barthelme, and Ashbery against Mallarme. There is also a strong philosophical element of the module, you will be encouraged to explore the philosophical theory of aesthetic play in Kant, Schiller, and Nietzsche, and later in Huizinga and Derrida. On the 'creative' side in previous years we have, for example, read Kafka's short tales against Borges's re-writings of them, tried to write like Kafka or Borges, turned a Kafka story into a Dostoevsky paragraph or a Nabokov poem, explored the various translations of these authors, and played with re-translating them. We have taken a story by Coover and re-written it as a sestina, two kinds of sonnet, and a villanelle. In doing all this, we are asking fundamental questions not only about play but also about style and form, how they shape meaning and make possible certain kinds of writing and thinking. We are also returning to the way in which literature was studied, and creative writing engendered, before the invention of professional literary criticism and creative writing courses in the twentieth century. All students will be encouraged to try their hand at parodying and imitating the texts we are studying, though this is not compulsory. Final assessment can take the form of a 5000 word critical essay or of a combination of a creative piece and a critical essay, to make up 5000 words.

LDCE7006B

20

PROCESS AND PRODUCT IN TRANSLATION

Throughout this module you'll produce translations in conditions that encourage and facilitate reflection on the process and product of translation. You'll be encouraged to think experimentally, not only about the forms a finished translation might take, but also about the ways in which process might be incorporated into the translation. The module will have a workshop format and will culminate in a series of presentations of the projects on which you and your peers have chosen to work. In a series of sessions preceding the presentations you'll devote your time to the discussion and hands-on tackling of practical problems connected with translation and the projects ahead. You'll attend one class meeting at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts and another at the Special Collections of the UEA Library. Throughout the semester you'll be encouraged to discuss a variety of texts, both critical and creative, that help illuminate the process and product of literary translation. You'll also be invited to circulate your own bibliographies (developed in relation to in-class presentations as well as the main project) to other members of the class, and to bring to our attention any text(s) you encounter that may be of particular relevance. Your final project will engage with the process of producing literary translation, and will comprise a scholarly discussion thereof illustrated by your own translations of a more or less experimental nature. The in-process project will be presented to the class for discussion and feedback in the second part of the semester.

LDCE7014B

20

PUBLISHING - A PRACTICAL APPROACH

Are you interested in how a book is selected for publication, in how to write for an online readership, or in learning how to edit? Whether you are a writer or a would-be publisher, this module will give you an introduction to the modern publishing industry and equip you with some of the practical skills involved in the successful publication of texts. As well as becoming acquainted with the structure and economics of the contemporary publishing world, the opportunities and challenges posed by digitalisation, you will examine the process whereby books are chosen by literary agents and publishers, review principles of text and jacket design, acquire basic copyediting and proofreading skills, learn tips for publicising books online, write jacket 'blurbs' and press releases. You will also engage with the principles and practice of blog-writing, with copyright law and aspects of publishing finance. In recent years speakers such as Chris Hamilton-Emery from Salt, Philip Gwyn Jones of Scribe, Rosie Sherwood of art-publisher Elbow Room and Eloise Wales of The Literary Platform have addressed the seminars. We have examined correspondence between authors and publishers in the UEA Archive of Contemporary Writing, visited the Jarrold's Print Museum in Norwich and the London International Book Fair. Towards the end of the module you will also have to opportunity to become involved in the editing of the annual MA Creative Writing anthologies. Assessment is by formal essay OR creative-critical assignment such as a literary blog.

LDCC7012B

20

RADICAL DRAMATURGIES

Do you want to write outside the box? Define your own kind of performance text beyond the constraints of conventional story-telling? Radical Dramaturgies offers you the chance to study a range of dramatic texts and theory that explode conventions of playwriting and performance. Weekly seminars and workshops will deepen your understanding of form and practice in a variety of modes of writing: the solo play, the micro-play, site-specific writing, verbatim, 'post-dramatic' work, devised, multi-media, or hyper-naturalist. You'll explore the work of writers such as Wallace Shawn, Samuel Beckett, Suzan Lori-Parks, Tim Crouch, Martin Crimp, Caryl Churchill, Moises Kaufman, Simon Stephens, Franz Xavier Kroetz, Sarah Kane, or the ideas of Hans Thies-Lehmann. You'll read and discuss work and then explore it in your own practice - create your own site-specific piece on campus, explore self-presentation through the solo play, and experiment with 'found-text'. These writings and a short essay will make-up the portfolio of works by which you will be assessed. Writers and artists across disciplines are welcome as are theoretically minded students wishing to work creatively.

LDCD7001B

20

THE NON FICTION NOVEL

Some of the most exciting and innovative fiction of the moment is in fact a hybrid form of fiction, borrowing subject matter and techniques from traditionally non-fiction modes such as memoir, criticism, journalism, reportage and life-writing. These novels depart from the usual concerns with character, realistic dialogue and plot to focus on voice, place, time, employing strategies of literary craft to be formally innovative. You will look at original non-fiction and also at contemporary 'realist' novels which are pushing boundaries and gaining attention in the wider literary culture. You will study the forms, techniques and thematics of both non-fiction and fiction, with an aim to experimenting with and improving your writing in both forms. Some writing in class and between classes will be required.

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20

THE NORTHERN RENAISSANCE, 1500-1620

This module sets out to understand why and how humanism -- the advocacy of the study of the humanities, the Greek and Roman classics -- gave birth to the astonishing outpouring of literature that we call the Renaissance. We will situate English Renaissance literature within the wider context of the humanist literature of France, the Netherlands, and Italy. Questions we consider include: how did the rediscovery of classical texts generate new possibilities for literary writers? How did humanists understand the nature of poetic creation? How did their advocacy of rhetoric create new ways for writers to engage with public life? And what happened when humanists turned philological methods upon the most sacred text of their culture: the bible? Our work will focus on the writings of Thomas More, Desiderius Erasmus, and Michel de Montaigne, but there will be opportunities to read far more widely in the Renaissance literature of the period. Foreign language texts are all read in translation. The might be of interest to anyone who wishes to gain an in-depth understanding of one of the most dazzling periods of European literary history.

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THE POETICS OF PLACE

This module will allow you to explore innovative and experimental forms of place writing, from the critical and theoretical to the literary and artistic. You'll study critical and theoretical approaches such as (though this may be subject to small changes each year) psychogeography, ecocriticism, critical heritage studies, deep mapping, animal studies, and literary activism. At the same time, you'll consider a number of original works of literature from recent years, thinking carefully about the relationship between theory, method and form. Some of the authors that you'll consider (though this may be subject to small changes each year) are: Richard Mabey, Alice Oswald, W.G. Sebald, R.F. Langley, Italo Calvino, Kei Miller, Sue Clifford and Angela King, Tim Robinson, Paul Farley, Kathleen Jamie, Iain Sinclair, and J.A Baker. During the module, you'll explore some of the following questions: how have different ways of 'framing' place influenced the sense of cultural identity associated with that place? What role might literature play in this? How might recent developments in theory and practice inform your own methods of place writing? How might they encourage you to experiment with new methods? What surprising literary forms might this lead to? And finally, what new ideas might this prompt about publication, exhibition and public engagement? On this module, you'll not only gain a strong foundation in debates concerning literature's relationship to the environment, to heritage, and to ideas of community but you'll engage with these debates following your own line of inquiry, and/or through your own developing practice, in ways that will equip you to take on similar projects after the MA as well.

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THEORY AND PRACTICE OF FICTION

This module is designed to complement the prose fiction workshop but is open to students on related programmes. You'll be provided with creative and critical knowledge in a single experiential burst, by exploring as they are relevant to writing fiction such topics as time, place, dramatic structure, character and concinnity. We'll also give consideration to professional issues confronting novelists, from writer's block to editing, contracts and dealing with the media. The module presents the writer as both artist and supplier of intellectual property to a market, while examining that and other tensions critically. Reading, writing and analysis happen alongside each other. You'll examine fictional, critical and professional texts, and write exercises illuminating the issue at hand. Assessment is by creative writing coursework with a critical commentary and you'll also be expected to make presentations on topics of your choice.

LDCC7015B

20

Disclaimer

Whilst the University will make every effort to offer the modules listed, changes may sometimes be made arising from the annual monitoring, review and update of modules and regular (five-yearly) review of course programmes. Where this activity leads to significant (but not minor) changes to programmes and their constituent modules, there will normally be prior consultation of students and others. It is also possible that the University may not be able to offer a module for reasons outside of its control, such as the illness of a member of staff or sabbatical leave. In some cases optional modules can have limited places available and so you may be asked to make additional module choices in the event you do not gain a place on your first choice. Where this is the case, the University will endeavour to inform students.

Further Reading

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Entry Requirements

  • Degree Subject UK BA (Hons) 2.1 or equivalent
  • Special Entry Requirements Sample of work - see below

Students for whom English is a Foreign language

We welcome applications from students whose first language is not English. To ensure such students benefit from postgraduate study, we require evidence of proficiency in English. Our usual entry requirements are as follows:

  • IELTS: 7.0 (minimum 6.0 in each section and 7.0 in writing)
  • PTE (Pearson): 68 (minimum 55 in each section and 68 in writing)

Test dates should be within two years of the course start date.

Other tests, including Cambridge English exams and the Trinity Integrated Skills in English are also accepted by the university. The full list of accepted tests can be found here: Accepted English Language Tests

INTO UEA also run pre-sessional courses which can be taken prior to the start of your course. For further information and to see if you qualify please contact intopre-sessional@uea.ac.uk

Special Entry Requirements

A sample of your biographical writing or creative non-fiction of around 3000 words.

Intakes

The School's annual intake is in September of each year.

Please note that those candidates offered a place on the course will not be able to defer their offer to the next year if they are unable to take up the offer of a place, however they are welcome to reapply the next year.

Alternative Qualifications

If you have alternative qualifications that have not been mentioned above then please contact the Admissions Office directly for further information.

Fees and Funding

Tuition fees

Tuition fees for the academic year 2018/19 are:

  • UK/EU Students: £7,550
  • International Students: £15,800

If you choose to study part-time, the fee per annum will be half the annual fee for that year, or a pro-rata fee for the module credit you are taking (only available for UK/EU students).

We estimate living expenses at £1,015 per month.

Scholarships and Awards:

There are a variety of scholarships and studentships available to postgraduate applicants in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. For further information relevant to the School of Literature and Creative Writing, please click here.

How to Apply

Applications for Postgraduate Taught programmes at the University of East Anglia should be made directly to the University.

You can apply online.

Further Information

To request further information & to be kept up to date with news & events please use our online enquiry form.

If you would like to discuss your individual circumstances prior to applying please do contact us:

Postgraduate Admissions Office
Tel: +44 (0)1603 591515
Email: admissions@uea.ac.uk

International candidates are also encouraged to access the International Students section of our website.

    Next Steps

    We can’t wait to hear from you. Just pop any questions about this course into the form below and our enquiries team will answer as soon as they can.

    Admissions enquiries:
    admissions@uea.ac.uk or
    telephone +44 (0)1603 591515