Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lancaster-the week that was, Summer of 2011.



Where do I even begin to talk about the enriching week at Lancaster during the Summer School? And do I love that we were not in London? Of course. Because here the houses and gardens are more Ugandan style, with flowers, trees, space, water and everything London is not. And do we love that the Professors are so non imposing? Oh yeah. They have huge profiles, award-winning publications and their confidence and self-assurance as writers comes from something deeper than all that.
Lancaster, inanimate, grid-like, empty that Summer so all 16 of us in the class have to create an acceptance of warmth, hugs and listening ears for the week in order to survive in the otherwise quite vacant academic space. Oh yeah, there was a group that had hired a little of the space for a Karate camp and a few Asians there for a pre-English course but pretty much, we only had each other. It was easy for Maria and Shola, whose warmth diffused any tension and whose light heartedness and glows were always welcome. And then, Martin, whose novel could easily, easily win an award.
It had been long since I was in class and my last class was full of Ugandans and a few Kenyans and Tanzanians. This was at a whole new level of a global experience. Lancaster is all into diversity, so it helped that the 4 Africans in the class added to the aesthetics and also enriched the literature discourse. By enriching, I do not mean shouting others down because of a disagreement on Chimamanda’s novel but rather bringing our own experience and ideas to the core of discussions.
On the first day, it took me about 30 minutes to get to my room and not only because I suck at map reading but because the only person who could help was a cyclist we met 15 minutes into the walk who gasped at how far we were from Cartmel college. Everyone complained about the beds but they have never slept in Mary Stuart where you carry your own mattress, duvets, sheets, soap and many students sleep in garages because of the limited accommodation. It is incomparable.
In the evenings, we had readings, first from our tutors and then us. There were always polite nods of approval afterwards, I like the character’s diction, I like your style, oh and I like your humor, and it is very clever the way you delivered the surprise at the end. Most of these comments came from people who were half awake. It is not easy after a four course meal to sit in comfy sofas with a glass of wine in hand and expect to pay full attention to one hour of readings. Isn’t there a law against that kind of thing?
I loved Lancaster, truly I did. I love being with people who take literature seriously and are so engaged where you don’t have to exchange business cards and pretend to be interested but where everyone is really cut out to be a writer.

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