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Lists: A Creative Life-Writing Workshop

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Wolfson College

Linton Road

Oxford

OX2 6UD

United Kingdom

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Countless writers and artists – Susan Sontag, Umberto Eco, Louise Bourgeois – have kept lists; for inspiration, to confer value, as creative provocation. In this workshop exploring lists and life-writing, we will hear from two writers who have recently published acclaimed memoirs based on lists: Lulah Ellender (Elisabeth’s Lists, Granta 2018); and Clare Best (The Missing List, Linen Press 2018).The day will begin with a presentation from the Mass Observation Project from the University of Sussex, who will bring along material from their archive to inspire your creative writing. After lunch Clare and Lulah will speak about their work, and then lead you through a series of exercises designed to open up the creative potential of lists and list-making. Activities will include:

Mass Observing through lists

Mass Observation is a national archive of everyday life in Britain housed at The Keep in East Sussex. Its founders sought to capture the thoughts, opinions and experiences of people across the country in the 1930’s/40’s and 50’s and lists can be found throughout this unique collection. Volunteer writers were tasked to write day-diaries and respond to questionnaires on subjects such as what made them happy and what was on their mantelpiece to listing items in their wardrobe and rating political leaders. Today the Mass Observation Project (1981 – present) continues to document people’s everyday lives through its national panel of writers. This workshop will introduce you to the work of Mass Observation and through creative exercises use material from the archive to inspire the writing of your everyday lives.

Lulah Ellender: Reading Between the Lines

Using examples from her grandmother's book of handwritten lists Lulah will illuminate how these seemingly mundane fragments can have a greater resonance and meaning than may first appear. Alongside readings from her book Elisabeth’s Lists showing how she pieced together her long-lost grandmother's life she will also explore the function of lists, asking questions like: What purpose do they serve? What stories do they contain? How do they function as a liminal space between the interior and exterior world? Is making a list an act of faith, science or madness? Interspersing her grandmother's lists with those made by other people, Lulah hopes to examine this very particular and peculiar window onto someone's life.

Clare Best: The Missing List and other lists in my work as poet and writer

Clare will talk about how lists lie at the heart of her own creative practice, as prompts and props, and why they are central to her poetry and prose, as devices and formal structures. Reading extracts from her recent memoir The Missing List, she will show how this fragmentary narrative – in itself a kind of list – negotiates the boundaries of chaotic and structured groupings, lists and collections, often subverting the authority of list-thinking, as the text explores the fallout from abuse and trauma. Clare will probe the creative tension between an obsession with lists and an intuitive rejection of them, arguing the importance of both for creative writing.

Roll calls, recipes, catalogues and lexicons: writing by with and from lists

Clare and Lulah will lead writers through a series of exercises designed to open up the creative potential of lists and list-making. They will explore the many traditional and more surprising functions of lists, and show how writing and working with different kinds of lists can release memories, contain and control challenging material, provide imaginative structure and tell stories in new ways. There will be opportunities to share work in the full group or in smaller groups but this will be entirely voluntary.

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Wolfson College

Linton Road

Oxford

OX2 6UD

United Kingdom

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