Writing Cultures Group

About the Group

The Writing Cultures Group brings together those engaged in writing practice from across Kingston School of Art. Combining research activity and knowledge exchange, the group includes poets, literary critics, film scholars, designers, artists, architects, journalists and cultural critics. They are brought together by practice that engages with the cultural and artistic significance of the written word.

Each year, the Writing Cultures Group runs a series of research seminars and networking events designed to create interdisciplinary and collaborative research possibilities. Aiming to redefine the dialogue around writing and explore its creative potential, these events engage with writing in its broadest definition: as text, as symbol, as artwork, and as communication. With a particular focus on issues of diversity and inclusion, the group recognises, as an explicit part of its mission, the political power of writing, both as a tool of repression and of liberation.

For 2021/22, the theme of the group is para-ability. This includes (but is not limited to) disability, neurodiversity, mental health and chronic illness.

  • Chair: Professor Sara Upstone
  • Research Director: Kate Scott

Writers' Kingston

The Writing Cultures Group is the home of Writers' Kingston, a literary cultural centre dedicated to the practice research and knowledge exchange of creative writing in all its forms, with an annual programme of events, talks, workshops and festivals. Each of the dozen special events that make up the annual programme are themed, from Living to Dying, Loving to Hating. WCK utilises many of Kingston's beautiful and unique venues, such as The Rose Theatre and Dorich House Museum.

The programme brings together some of the finest writers from across the UK and the world, in conversation with the exceptional staff of Kingston University. The understanding of writing is inclusive and innovative, and it is fundamental to WCK's mission that audiences and participants are a mix of students alongside the considerable local community of writers and literary devotees.

  • Writers' Kingston director: Steven Fowler

Life Narratives Research

Writing Cultures also supports the activity of Life Narratives Research, whose work shares best practice across all genres of life narrative work through impactful research and applied research projects in partnership with academic, governmental, humanitarian and industry stakeholders and produce publications centred on the experience, methodology and formats of life narratives across written, visual, and virtual cultures.

  • Life Narratives lead: Meg Jensen

Events in 2023/2024

Tré Ventour-Griffiths – Honey, I Shrunk Racism: Whiteness and the Subatomic Dimension in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

14 March 2024, 12-1pm

"Forty years ago, I created a formula that altered atomic relative distance. I learned how to change the distance between atoms" — Hank Pym.

Fictional characters and imaginary worlds "…have long been on a quest to articulate an alternative vision of life, love, and labor and to put such a vision into practice" (Halberstam, 2011: 2). Last summer, I thought how Marvel's ‘fictional' quantum theories in their story-arcs of Ant-Man and The Wasp may offer other ways of thinking about racism (Ventour-Griffiths, 2023). The subatomic particles that make these characters possible (Pym Particles) – tinier than atoms – shrink the distance between atoms, while increasing density and strength. What if we thought about the impact of everyday racism in this way?

However, papers that use seemingly ‘childish' endeavours, like comic book media, in serious ways risk being ridiculed. Yet, ‘seriousness' in academia tends to be double talk for ‘academic rigour' – also observable through what bell hooks described in, imperialist, capitalist, white supremacist patriarchal culture. Being seen as silly is also what allows trendsetters to think against the grain of normative knowledge production. And though I engage with fields like Critical Race and Whiteness Studies, it was not they who encouraged me to seriously engage with comic media – the eccentric creative world did!

Through the fictional language of ‘quantum' from the Marvel lore, we may use Ant-Man and Wasp to think about the impact of ‘racial microaggressions' on human bodies. What psychiatrist Chester Pierce (1970) coined as ‘microaggression', moves beyond surface worlds. Fictional quantum realties (not quantum physics) may offer real implications in contemporary anti-racism work and the language used to articulate our pain. This paper works to develop Pierce's language via racism / whiteness as subatomic – where make-believe worlds, not just ‘pure facts', are also vital to the human experience.

Events in 2022/23

Recordings of online events can be viewed via the Writing Cultures Research Group's YouTube channel.

Charlie Wilson (Kingston): From protest to party, the development of the reporting of London Pride and Pride events in the UK

23 November 2022, 1pm

Recording available

Tré Griffiths (Kingston): Why are period dramas so white?

6 December 2022, 1pm (online)

Recording available

'Why do you like period dramas?' is the question Tré receives as a Black viewer of British historical programmes. Growing up, living, and working in the Home Counties, he ponders the number of contemporary-set dramas about Black British life that predominantly centre British cities, while period dramas more strangely represent his experiences of provincial Britain in the Town and Country.

Speaking from this positionality, Tré takes us on a journey showing how British history is more "melaninated" than our cinema and television screens might suggest. There is a further story of Black people in provincial Britain (Carby, 2019; Robinson and Pitts, 2022) showing that Black creatives should not only be auditioning for roles in these dramas, but have every right to make them as well, as Black people were part of some of the most pivotal moments in British history.

Positioned outside of Britain's major cities, Tré shows the stories we tell matter – since the term "historical accuracy" in period drama discourse has often been used euphemistically to mean those racialised as white, at the racist and historically inaccurate expense of those racialised not white.

Crystal Sam (Kingston): Places, Metaphors, Memories

10 January 2023, 1pm (online)

Recording available

Julien Clin (Kingston): Walking with Martin, thinking with Heidegger

26 January 2023, 1pm (online)

Join the event via this Teams link

Julien's doctoral project explores the untranslatable German notion of Heimat (loosely: home) in the context of gentrification and the dynamic, multicultural urban environment of London. In his piece of creative nonfiction, Julien reflects on writers' and thinkers' engagement with home as well as on his own 'home-making'.

In this session, Julien will present some work in progress. Going on a walk with Martin Heidegger in the Black Forest, he reflects on Heidegger's 'Dasein' or 'being-in-the-world', and attempts to separate Martin (the specific person and context) from Heidegger (the concepts and ideas).

Matt Hams (Kingston): Text-to-image: Considering language and the rapid development of AI image generation

7 February 2023, 1pm (online)

Join the event via this Team link

Para-ability: An Exhibition

March 28th to April 14th 2023. The Dean's Space, Knights Park

A dynamic exhibition of new visual art and poetry made by staff, students, those local to the University and artists from around the UK. On the theme of Para-ability, the exhibition explores (but is not limited to) disability, neurodiversity, mental health and chronic illness. In all the complexity of those issues, it celebrates the ambiguous, quixotic and expansive in reflecting the necessity of the theme. Curated by Steven Fowler.

More details are available on the Writers' Kingston website.

Events in 2021/22

Recordings of online events can be viewed via the Writing Cultures Research Group's YouTube channel.

Adam Baron (Kingston): Elements of Narrative

13 January 2022

Adam Baron is a multi-award winning, best-selling author. His crime novels have been dramatised by BBC Radio 4 and were followed by his highly praised literary novel, Blackheath. Now writing for children, his novels have been translated across Europe. Boy Underwater was Waterstones Book of the Month, The Sunday Times Book of the Month, and one of the Guardian's Books of the Year. In 2022, he will publish two novels, both with HarperCollins (Some Sunny Day and Oscar's Weekend).

In this first talk, you will be treated to a viewing of a brilliant short film, the identity of which will be revealed on the day. Adam will analyse it, unpacking the numerous narrative elements that make it work. He will talk about the ways in which he uses these narrative elements in his own work. The session will be informative, creative, and fun.

Anna Johnson (Kingston): A mother/child intersection of chronic illness, surgery and neurodiversity

21 January 2022

In this session, I will read an extract from a creative-non-fiction/essay hybrid I wrote for the book From Band-Aids to Scalpels: Motherhood Experiences in/of Medicine, published earlier this year. My piece looks at a complex intersection between multiple, simultaneous and out-of-step experiences of para-ability across two interconnected people, myself and my son.

Through a combination of creative life-writing and more traditional essay structure, my piece is performative of the complex dynamics of a specific parent-child relationship. It is structured around anecdotes that draw out particularly heightened moments of awareness around the effects of para-ability on my experience of motherhood. These include my son's minor surgery and one tiny step in the lengthy process towards his autism diagnosis. Both these moments are, for me, deeply affected by my own experience of living with chronic illness and its impact on temporality, trust, and care.

Around these anecdotes I discuss the limits of medical narratives to reflect, or even acknowledge, the unwieldy intricacy of such experiences and I call for a reflection on the alternatives that might serve us better. I argue for life-writing as one possible, powerful, alternative.

John Miers (Kingston): 'I preferred it when this stuff was just theoretical'

28 January 2022

A lecturer in illustration and animation, John used his recent research in the Archives residency at London College of Communication to produce an autobiographical comic book in which he adopted the styles of other artists to express and process aspects of living with multiple sclerosis.

The publication is now held in the Wellcome Collection, the UK's leading institution exploring the connections between art and health, and was named as "Best One-Shot" in the 2020 Broken Frontier awards.

John has continued to publish new autobiographical comics drawing on the archival research conducted during the residency, as well as broadening the scope of his work in comics that explore the contribution graphic medicine can make to disability studies and public health discourse.

Joanne Limburg in Conversation with Professor Meg Jensen

2 February 2022

Joanne Limburg has published two collections of poetry with Bloodaxe Books: Feminismo, which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and Paraphernalia, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. She has written one collection for children, Bookside Down, which was shortlisted for the CLPE Poetry Prize and Highly Commended.

Her latest poetry collection is the pamphlet The Autistic Alice, also published by Bloodaxe. Her non-poetry book The Woman Who Thought Too Much, a memoir about OCD, anxiety and poetry, is published by Atlantic Books and her debut novel, A Want of Kindness, was published in July 2015. A second memoir, Small Pieces: A Book of Lamentations, appeared in July 2017.

Joanne recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Kingston University. She lectures at De Montfort University in Leicester.

Sara Upstone (Kingston): Radical Sensitivity in Richard Powers' Bewilderment

4 March 2022

Theories of the transglossic (Shaw and Upstone 2021) identify a planetary consciousness at work in contemporary literature that is centred upon a concerted aim to advance models of empathy simultaneously both between human subjects and between humans and non-humans.

In this paper, I take an auto-theoretical approach in order to consider how this unfolds in creative practice. Situating my own sensitivity as a neurodivergence in relation to Richard Powers's Bewilderment, I consider how the concept serves as provocation for radical connection.

Through its highly sensitive child protagonist, I suggest, Powers shows that our aims to create a planetary community can only be met through a revisioning of questions of feeling, sensory stimulation, and autonomy.

The ultimate consequences of such thinking deeply question the contemporary emphasis on rights and individualism, not only as a critique of neoliberalism but also as a challenge to what emerges as a disconcertingly similar discourse from those who position themselves as progressive.

Sian Loxston (Kingston): Fatigue, pain, and sex: a new materialist exploration of the sisters in Helen Dunmore's Talking to the Dead

18 March 2022

How is the ‘I' of the individual materialised through fatigue, pain, sex, and the interactions with others? This presentation will consider the ways in which shared emotional pasts manifest differently in the two sisters in Dunmore's novel.

The orientation of the reader to the unreliable narrator, and the clandestine sexual acts taking place in the garden of her sister's house in the days after her nephew's traumatic birth serve to destabilise any sense of certainty about illness and its relationship to the body in the novel.

I argue that the inherent sexuality of the sisters is materialised by the link between their mental wellness and their pain. I am interested in a new materialist interpretation of the way pain looks in the novel – especially in terms of the ‘invisibility' of chronic and traumatic pain.

Kingston Charity Research Network Project

Led by Meg Jensen, Kate Scott, and Brian Brivati, this project uses research, knowledge and best practice in professional writing to develop skills and capacity within a network of charities, local industries and KU staff.

The project arose from the Creative and Professional Writing Academic Excellence project, funded by the Vice Chancellor, which aimed at increasing the access of our diverse student cohort to the creative industries by developing unique and sought-after employability skills. It became clear, however, that the resources and teaching materials developed as part of this project would be of benefit not only to students and university staff but also to industry professionals and third sector groups.

With the help of Peter Ely in 2022 and of Daniel Read in 2023, the project has created an adaptable, transferable bid writing, professional writing and community of practice toolkit and tested it with a small number of students and KSA staff as well as a collection of local charities and SMEs.

Activities to date include:

  • A series of bid writing sessions for KSA staff on bid writing
  • A series of networking events including knowledge exchange sessions with members of Kingston Voluntary Action (KVA)
  • Workshops for local SMEs as part of the South London Partnership BIG Innovation Networks initiative.

Project Story

Project Story is an interdisciplinary group of researchers, educators, and practitioners with an interest in narrative and storytelling.