Master Class for Progressive Writers

I’ve recently had the following interchange with a writer about the Overland Master Class for Progressive Writers. I sent the writer an invitation to apply, and she responded:

Hmm..not sure that I’m ready for something like this…

Also not sure that I (should) write for a purpose…I have been thinking that it undermines the story and the characters to use them as mouthpieces for ‘change’ or ‘morality’ or whatever other goal may seem ‘worthwhile’. At the moment I write stories to write stories. I think I would write essays otherwise. Not fully sure about this but it does resonate at the moment.

To which I responded:

I think you misunderstand the idea. The idea is to write stories – not to write polemics (otherwise, as you say, just write essays). The idea isn’t to be didactic. It’s really just for writers to come together who have a social conscience, learn more about story writing, and investigate in what ways those stories might be socially conscious – or not as the case may be. For some it may just be subject matter: picking different sorts of characters, for some it may be reversals of traditional stories that are sexist, for some it may be something else entirely. And really it’s also just a networking opportunity in the sense that writing is a solitary profession and wouldn’t it be great to have a group of left-wing writers who support each other etc … Up to you of course.

My correspondent replied with:

Questions that come to mind:

* is there a difference b/w a ‘left-wing writer’ and a person with left-wing ideas (whatever they are!) who also happens to be a writer?
* “to investigate ways to make stories socially conscious (or not)”- doesn’t this already have the seed of didacticism in it?
* yes, writing is solitary and networking is great but would the group of ‘left wing’ writers end up (at least some of the time) judging each others’ work as to their respective ‘left-wingedness’?
* who is being excluded from this (I don’t mean literally but if you are wanting a ‘left wing writers networking and support group’, then who is in and who is out)?

I am not saying this is not a worthwhile thing for you and others to do. I am just voicing my reservations.

Hope it’s great.

It might be worthwhile to add a few comments now.

In general, Overland is committed to developing progressive culture, whether that be poetry, essays, or fiction. In each of these areas, we think that, like the progressive movement as a whole, we’re in a bit of a difficult time. Still, we would like to develop and strengthen all of these, and there seems to be few places where progressive fiction writers can discuss their work with people of the same outlook. (I’ve been in writers’ groups where writers participating simply haven’t understood why their work might be considered sexist, racist, etc).

The three writers (Kate, Tony and Lucy) taking the afternoon sessions will have free play with the students. So the content of the afternoon sessions will be entirely up to them.

Most likely, we’ll be very open in terms of who we accept. We certainly won’t be looking for “didactic” stories. But will assess the applications on the stories and the bios of the people applying.

Is it a worthwhile experiment?

Rjurik Davidson

Rjurik Davidson is a writer, editor and speaker. Rjurik’s novel, The Stars Askew was released in 2016. Rjurik is a former associate editor of Overland magazine. He can be found at and tweets as @rjurikdavidson.

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Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. I think the Progressive Writing Masterclass is a great idea, and will certainly be applying to be part of it, but just stop talking left-wing word-militias. Not because left wing is a dirty term, but res ipsa loquitur (the facts speak for themselves).

    It does strike me though that the above comments from the writer are similar to some comments made on your last blog entry about the response to the Kinsella/Campbell ‘debacle’. Both discussions raise the possibility of a group which declares it’s affiliation with the Left and proceeds to stand guard at the door of said cubby house, vetting entry.

  2. This is Rjurik’s project and perhaps he can respond to Maxine’s concerns.
    For me, though, there’s a couple of things that might come from such an event.
    Writing is hard enough at the best of times but it’s even more so if you see it as fulfilling some kind of social function, since that’s not exactly a fashionable position. So even if the class just serves to put some like-minded people in contact with each other, that seems a good thing in and of itself.
    More generally, though, it might foster some discussion about what exactly progressive writing means in this context, when there’s neither an obvious social movement to which to relate nor any clear aesthetic models to copy.
    This is not a peripheral question for a magazine like Overland. Overland came, after all, directly out of the Realist Writers movement. In other words, the whole project of the magazine sprang, not only from a conviction that political writing mattered but from one particular model of how it might be done. That model has entirely collapsed. So what now?

  3. Masterclass, cool. Where do I apply?

    (1) Please enable pingbacks so that blog posts linking to this article show up in the comments section. This enables the discussion to spread into the larger metatext of the amazing internet.

    (2) The distinction between a left wing writer and a person with left wing politics who writes is a moot one indeed. I would suggest that if you have a genuine left wing politic it should inform everything that you do in some way.

    (3) The main reason there is no ‘movement’ in Australia is because the left won’t embrace the word ‘revolution’ and young people know there’s no fundamental difference between one politician and the next. No word ‘revolution’: no movement.

    (4) I believe that if you are a left wing writer you should develop a voice which can be heard, understood and hopefully enjoyed by people of all socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Not necessarily your only voice but if you are a left wing writer you should be trying to create change. movement, anti-haiku style by communicating ideas and energy to the people to get them up off their arses.

    (5) Please insert appropriate modifers, in my honest opinion, may I humbly suggest, by the way Jeff I was down the pub the other day and there was blood shed over the Great Poetry Review Controversy.

  4. Yeah, the idea isn’t that there should be some gang which defines progressive literature, and stands at the door. I guess we’re interested in discussing what it means to write literature which is informed by a progressive outlook. And there seems to be all kinds of ways to do this: from realist to avant garde. To me (and this is my personal opinion) it seems that you would use a different form or style, depending on your political purpose. If you’re interested in writing about the historical experience of a particular group of people (say black South Africans), you might choose a realist mode, if you want to explore the wild side of gender relations, you might choose science-fiction (think Ursula K. Le Guin or Joanna Russ).

    In any case, there seem to be two levels of politics: literature whose subject matter is directly or narrowly political (about strikes, protests, etc); and literature which is political in its world-view (so it might be simply a matter of how it treats its subject, e.g. a story about a housewife and her every day experience).

    I’m personally as interested in the latter as the former, just as I’m as interested in realist as in non-realist or avant garde fiction.

    All this is just my view. The point of the workshop is to discuss these things, help each other with what we’re trying to achieve, and hopefully learn a lot, discuss a lot, and have fun. to open out rather than close down the discussion, if you like – I don’t think any of us have ‘the answers’.

    What’s more, the three guest writers (Kate, Tony, Lucy) will have freedom to do whatever they like. They might concentrate solely on technique (or other non-political issues), or they might participate in critiques of individual stories. It’s up to them.

  5. Just a very quick question, Rjurik motivated by curiosity. Wouldn’t both the types of stories you have described be considered ‘didactic’?
    1 a: designed or intended to teach
    b: intended to convey instruction and information as well as pleasure and entertainment .
    2: making moral observations.
    From the Greek ‘didaktiko’, from ‘didaskein’ – ‘to teach’.

  6. And lashings of ginger beer!

    And on the question of didactic – in a certain sense all art is didactic. In the sense that it takes the world and turns it on an angle so that the audience can see the world anew and their own place in it afresh. I guess the distinction above is related more to the kinds of directly moralistic stories that at times have come out of both progressives and reactionaries. You have the “bad” capitalist and the “good worker” and so on. Or you have the “bad” trade unionist and the “good” christians (see Tim Winton’s ‘The Turning’ for this). Both intended to “educate” the reader, whereas, in fact, art must operate according to its own laws. You can judge a piece of writing according to its politics, but this doesn’t mean that it’s a good piece artistically. There is, instead, a relationship there, and it’s a tricky complex and immensely interesting one.

    And did I say lashings of ginger beer? Let me re-emphasize that point. I think it’s the most important one….

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