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The Creative Turn: Toward a New Aesthetic Imaginary by Anne Harris

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Title:The Creative Turn: Toward a New Aesthetic Imaginary
Author: Anne Harris
Publisher: Sense Publishers
Publish Date: February 2014
ISBN: 9789462095496

Tell us a little bit about your writing and educational background

Anne: I started writing when I was a small child living in the country in upstate New York, writing adventure and science fiction stories for my cat named Elmer. I got turned on to poetry in high school through an amazing English teacher who introduced me to E.E. Cummings, Gerard Hopkins’ Glory be to Dappled Things and Nikki Giovanni – quite eclectic influences! And then he gave me Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I was outraged. I couldn’t believe such a piece of garbage had been published, much less produced professionally! I protested its poor quality by saying “it says farts!” – scandalous. "Well that’s the way YOU write,” he told me. I was offended! – Little did I know at that time what Beckett was doing, but it was an amazing shock and the beginning of the expansion of my mind about what writing can be. And that teacher encouraged me enormously, which is so important for any young person – to be taken seriously as a writer, or in whatever you are passionate about.

And when I was 17, in my last year of high school, he sent off one of my plays to the Young Playwrights’ Festival in New York City and that was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with professional writing. I ended up in the 1984 finals, my play produced by Joseph Papp at The Public Theatre on Off-Broadway, directed by the incredible Christopher Durang (Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You!, etc). It changed my life in both artistic and material ways. I got a scholarship to New York University, and I kept writing. I got an agent at William Morris, I wrote and produced lots of plays, and then I decided I wanted something different, so I left New York and went to Australia for a production of one of my plays, and so far I’m still there! It’s been a great place for me, giving me the room and time to expand my writing in ways I needed to. I wrote a (nearly-finished) novel. I taught (and learned) about creative writing in Indigenous communities, and then in 2007 I started a PhD and started combining my writing for performance with video in working with Sudanese young people in Melbourne. I’ve been writing in hybrid ways between creative and analytic within an academic setting since then, but I still consider myself a creative writer.

What is your book about?

Anne: This book is about the ways in which peoples’ understandings of and language about creativity are becoming increasingly ‘for profit’, or commodified (this is the ‘turn’ in the title). How creativity is being appropriated by industry, by economic concerns, and decoupled from the arts in order to try and package, circulate and sell what used to be thought of primarily in aesthetic terms. Not that arts and crafts are not still going strong – they are! But the difference can be most easily understood by the notions and growing business language of ‘Creative Industries’ or ‘Creative Economies’, or even ‘Creative Class’, a combining of creativity with innovation and critical thinking (both largely workplace goals) rather than some older ways in which creativity used to be understood as artistically-aligned. Today, creativity can refer to just about anything, as long as it is globally circulable, usually digital, and most often has a clear and definable ‘use-value’ (profit return).

Why should readers read your book?

Anne: Because so many people are grappling with these ideas right now, because creativity is at the heart of the contemporary global zeitgeist that seeks originality, newness, but also emotion and affect, feelings that take us back to something we remember with nostalgia, and forward into a future we can’t yet predict. Because all people want to be creative, feel creative somehow (at least as children), and so this idea that creativity is universal and reproducible is very attractive. Who doesn’t want to be creative? So the idea that you can read a 10-step list (an example of that ‘commodification’ impulse) and then know how to ‘do’ creativity, is a really attractive notion. And I agree, creativity IS universal, and should be encouraged in everyone – in fact I have based my entire 20 year teaching career on that belief. Yet there is something disquieting about talking about creativity as having ‘value’.

My book acknowledges that people understand that creativity can’t be summed up with words like ‘technology’ and ‘innovation,’ but that at the same time it is an incredibly exciting time for the arts and creativity – a fascinating contradiction! People are excited about this topic, that’s all I know. I can’t tell you the number of emails and postings I’ve received from readers already (it only came out five months ago) saying how excited and relieved they are to see that someone else is thinking about these things, and synthesizing them in a way that combines aesthetics, arts, education, industry and a history of imagination. I think the book has clearly struck a nerve.

Did you have any obstacles while writing this book? What were they?

Anne: My biggest obstacles are always the demands of everyday life. When I’m in the midst of a writing project, I hate taking a break even to have dinner, clean the house or walk the dogs. It is total immersion. This book came to me pretty much fully-formed in my head, so the writing was only a matter of racing to get down my ideas as quickly as my thoughts were going. I had worked out the argument before I even started writing.

Is this the first book you have ever had published? If not, please share with us what other books you have previously had published

Anne: As I mentioned above, all my earliest writings were play-scripts, and some of them were published in part of in full, but mostly they received productions rather than publication. I also worked for a while as a journalist and some of those articles were published in the early 1990s, before the internet made everything searchable by Google! Since I moved into academic or hybrid writing, in about 2009, I have published over 45 articles and 4 books all dealing with diversity, gender, and the creative arts in some aspect. Readers can see a full list of my publications (some available for download) at my Academia.edu page http://monuni.academia.edu/AnneHarris, or my university research profile at: http://monash.edu/education/research/profiles/profile.html?sid=1034083&pid=6156

In addition, my other books include:

Harris, A. 2012. Ethnocinema: Intercultural Arts Education. The Netherlands: Springer SBM.

Marlowe, J, Harris, A & Lyons, T. (Eds). 2013. South Sudanese Diaspora in Australia and New Zealand: Reconciling the Past with the Present. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Harris, A & Gray, E. (June 2014). Queer Teachers, Identity and Performativity. London/ NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harris, A. & Sinclair, C. (July 2014). Critical Plays: Embodied Research for Social Change. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Both out next month, and look for:

Harris, Anne. (forthcoming 2015). Video as Method. London: Oxford University Press.

Are you working on any projects right now? Tell us about your upcoming book

Anne: Well, my second book with Sense will be out in July and it’s called Critical Plays: Embodied Research for Social Change, and I co-authored that one with my friend and colleague Christine Sinclair, in Melbourne. It is in the award-winning Social Fictions series (Sense Publishers) edited by Patricia Leavy. And I’m so excited about it because it’s the first time I’ve truly been able to join my playwriting skills and passion with research texts. It is such a groundbreaking series, and Chris and I are very proud to be one of the titles pushing the boundaries on what constitutes qualitative research, and demonstrating some ways in which playwriting creates new knowledge in research contexts.

Currently I’m working on a book about using video as research method, and the scope is very comprehensive. It is such an exciting time for using video and film in research, and I’m so thrilled to be writing this text for Oxford University Press. So readers can look for the book Video As Method in the latter half of 2015.

What is your advice for writers wanting to turn authors out there?

Anne: My advice is the advice I received from Arthur Miller when I was a playwriting student at New York University – “develop your own regular writing practice, and follow it religiously. It really is true that creativity is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. You have to put in the effort.” And I have found that to be true – as long as I keep up my steady practice, the work happens, and with a little luck some of it is useful to others.

What made you become a writer?

Anne: I was always writing – from the time I was a little girl. In fact, I remember in 3rd grade getting in trouble for always writing and reading my stories to my classmates (‘disrupting class’ my teacher called it, but really it was the birth of an artist!). In the end, my classmates paid me 10 cents to publish the stories about the adventures of my cat Elmer, and I’d give them new installments every week – kind of like Dickens did! I played piano as well, and I’d often combine the two as different kinds of self-expression: I thought of piano as an emotional outlet, and writing as an intellectual one. I wrote in all my free time, and when people asked me why I did it, I’d say, “It’s like reading, but even better because I get to make up my own ending!”.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Anne: I have many favourites, including in prose Kafka, American Southern gothic writers like Carson McCullers and Eudora Welty, Toni Morrison and ethnographers like Zora Neale Hurtson, and I always return to Raymond Carver – clearly I like rich characters, and the dark and twisted underbelly of regular, working class lives. Playwright favourites are Chekhov, Beckett, Stoppard, Brecht, Sam Shephard. My favourite poets are Nikki Giovanni, Rilke and – well alright I’ll admit it, Gerard Manley Hopkins if you can believe it.

Where can we find you?

Anne: I run a site called The Creative Research Hub (http://www.creativeresearchhub.com) which other artist-researchers can join and share work and which houses most of my video-based work, or Academia (http://monuni.academia.edu/AnneHarris) or Monash site (http://monash.edu/education/research/profiles/profile.html?sid=1034083&pid=6156). Or readers can always email me directly at: Anne.Harris@monash.edu

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