29 October 2014: The Art of Writing

Written by Elena Owyong | Images by Alyson Rozells

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The team behind the Writers’ Centre. From left to right: Caroline Manela, Professor Robin Hemley, Tse Hao Guang and Aieshah Arif .

Tucked away in the corner of basement one is a white room filled with many white tables with rollers.

A few colourful lamps adorn the tables and cast a glow on the inhabitants of the room.

This nondescript room belies the importance of what goes on here – writing.

In fact, plenty of writing takes place in this room, also known as the Yale-NUS College Writers’ Centre.

The Writers’ Centre opened its doors to students last year. Since its launch, it has introduced a slew of programmes to help students hone their skills in writing.

These include reading sessions by well-known literary talents such as award-winning Filipino writer Angelo Lacuesta, local playwright and poet Alfian Sa’at, as well as craft workshops by Yale-NUS College faculty members Professors Pericles Lewis, Jay L Garfield, Mira Seo, Robin Hemley, among many others.

Most recently, the Writers’ Centre collaborated with the Singapore Management University’s Wee Kim Wee Centre for the American Writers Festival 2014 which saw readings and panel discussions with talented writers Chinelo Okparanta, Nathalie Handal, Jeff Sharlet and Inara Verzemnieks.

A hybrid centre

Conceived as a hybrid centre that develops students’ writing ability in both academic and creative writing, the Writers’ Centre provides a conducive environment for students to learn how to better express themselves through words.

“The first clue that this is a hybrid writing centre is that it is not called a writing centre but writers’ centre,” said Professor Robin Hemley, Director of the Writing Programme and the Writers’ Centre.

“We wanted to make it a place where all kinds of writing was initiated, promoted and discussed. Not just academic but also the creative writing aspect so we had a Reading Series to bring in international and Singaporean writers. We also have a teaching component which is our Creative Writing Programme,” shared Professor Hemley, himself an accomplished writer of fiction and non-fiction.

Students can come to the Writers’ Centre for individual writing consultations and group workshops with Deans’ Fellows. These sessions will allow students to get feedback about their ideas and work.

The journey thus far

The small team at the Writers’ Centre has recently expanded with the addition of Ms Heidi Stalla, Associate Director of the Writing Programme and Coordinator of the Writers’ Centre. Formerly the Director of the New York University Abu Dhabi’s Writing Programme, Ms Stall was responsible for developing a first-year writing curriculum that combines classroom instruction with the Oxford tutorial system.

Apart from Ms Stalla, the Writers’ Centre is also supported by a team of Dean’s Fellows (DFs) — Aieshah Arif, Caroline Manela, Tse Hao Guang, Jacqueline Su, Lian Hai Guang, Emeka Ojukwu, Anh Vo, Vanessa Kim, Sara Amjad and Salma Dali who take turns to provide guidance during the writing sessions which are conducted from Mondays to Fridays.

The Writers’ Centre team is constantly thinking of ways to improve their work and they have since launched a booking system for writing consultations. Within a month of the launch, the Centre has received an encouraging response, with around 13% of students attending the consultations and some students coming for repeat visits.

“I would urge students to sign up for consultations if they are interested in better understanding their writing process and learning to become better writers,” said DF Caroline Manela.

Indeed, some students have recognised the usefulness of the sessions and sought guidance at the Writers’ Centre for various issues related to structure and the clarity of their essays.

“I have consulted with students who needed help with poetry, creative non-fiction, and even a blackout poetry project. Besides reading through essay drafts, I have also helped students who came in with only an outline or a paragraph or two,” shared DF Hao Guang.

Lest you think that the Writers’ Centre is a quick fix to assignments, Professor Hemley is quick to dispel this notion.

“The Writers’ Centre is not a place for you to go in and get your assignments fixed in a one-off appointment,” said Professor Hemley, who emphasised that students who come to the Writers’ Centre are encouraged to make a follow-up appointment.

“Students who have no problems with writing should come to the Writers Centre too because you need someone to bounce ideas off,” explained Professor Hemley.

Echoing similar sentiments, DF Caroline said: “What is most important is that writing is never perfect – everyone can benefit from another pair of eyes and another draft.”