Lumen - The University of Adelaide Magazine The University of Adelaide Australia
Lumen Winter 2005 Issue
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Writing from Strength to Strength

Professor Tom Shapcott has been one of Australia's leading writers for some time--and for the past eight years at the University of Adelaide he has also been helping usher in the next generation of literary talent.

The first Professor of Creative Writing at an Australian university, the recently-retired Professor Shapcott has seen the program expand and produce many writers now making an impact here and overseas.

However, this appeared to be quite some way off when the program first started in 1997.

"When we began we just had the MA in Creative Writing. A lot of people enrolled who had a lot of life experience and who wanted to be writers," he says. "When this course came along, it became an outlet for them and we were faced with a huge outpouring of material which needed quite a bit of work in many cases.

"But the thing that struck me was how much they improved, even just in their first year here. If you compared their writing at the end of the first year to the start of their first year, it was so much better because they had been exposed to the skills and attributes needed to improve."

The program has since gone from strength to strength, and given a new energy to writing in South Australia. In 2000 a PhD in Creative Writing was added, and students from as far away as the US, Sweden and India have enrolled.

Past and present students such as Stefan Laszczuk (see Critical acclaim story) and Anne Bartlett (Knitting, available through Penguin) have also released debut novels to widespread acclaim.

"The publication rate of students in our programs has been very good but it's not the only benefit of the course," Professor Shapcott says.

"We have had critical success with the various anthologies of students' work that they write, edit and produce, and I think that the way the course is structured, it gives students the opportunity to improve their skills in the craft of writing, which I believe is really important.

"We have also introduced a mentoring scheme for PhD students which sees them getting feedback on their work from some very good writers (including Nobel Prizewinner, JM Coetzee)."

After retiring from his position at Adelaide, Professor Shapcott moved back to Melbourne to further concentrate on his own writing. His most recent novel is Spirit Wrestlers (available through Wakefield Press).

"I'm looking forward to having a little bit more time to spend on my writing, but I'll continue to be the supervisor to a few PhD students who are close to finishing," he says.

"I believe the course at Adelaide has been a successful course, and I hope my successor can build upon what I've done and also build their own ideas into the course to keep it challenging and relevant." ■

Story Ben Osborne

Professor Tom Shapcott

Professor Tom Shapcott
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