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University of East Anglia Launches Landmark 50th Anniversary Project – Storytelling in a Digital Age

The University of East Anglia (UEA) is today announcing a major strand of its ambitious CW50 anniversary campaign, which celebrates 50 years of Creative Writing at UEA. The landmark project – called Future and Form – will see a number of leading writers work with creative technologists, local young people, schools and key cultural organisations to explore the interface between contemporary literature and creative technology. Writers commissioned by UEA include Ayòbámi Adébáyò, Mona Arshi, Tash Aw, Imogen Hermes Gowar, Mitch Johnson and James McDermott. They will work alongside UEA creative writing faculty including Rebecca Stott, Steve Waters, Tessa McWatt and Jean McNeil.

Calling the quality of the project “outstanding” and identifying its “strong legacy contribution,” Arts Council England have granted £240,000 for the Future and Form project, which has a substantial overall budget. The project will culminate in a six-venue exhibition and a sweeping interactive and immersive online platform scheduled for spring 2021.

Henry Sutton, Director of Creative Writing at UEA and the project’s lead, said: “We are thrilled to officially announce this unique opportunity for our writers to venture to the border of where writing meets technology. At the inception of this project, we couldn’t have imagined the unprecedented time in which we now find ourselves. The present circumstances will challenge our writers a step further in the development of their collaborations. Future and Form is bound to deliver exhilarating, surprising results for everyone, and perhaps even more so in light of the exceptional crisis we are living through. We are extremely grateful to Arts Council England for their generous support, and delighted to have such amazing writers and such a stellar line-up of partner venues and technology collaborators for this project. We look forward to seeing both the physical and digital productions as part of our anniversary programme in spring 2021.”

The venue and other partners UEA has signed up for Future and Form include National Centre for Writing; Norfolk & Norwich Festival; The Forum Trust; Ormiston Academies Trust; Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service; Norwich Theatre Royal; Norfolk Museum Service with Norwich Castle Museum; Norfolk Wildlife Trust; British Archive for Contemporary Writing; and Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.

The technology partners include StoryFutures Academy: the National Centre for Immersive Storytelling, run by the National Film and Television School and Royal Holloway, University of London, and Immersive Studios, Norwich, and will be under the direction of executive digital producer Tim Wright. Future and Form will seek to work with further national and international partners.

Hedley Swain, Area Director, South East, Arts Council England, said: “We’re really pleased to support the University of East Anglia’s 50th anniversary of its flagship course, which pioneered the teaching of creative writing in the UK. It will be really exciting to see how Future and Form will harness digital technology and UEA’s range of national and international partners to take new works of literature into places it’s never been before. I hope these new works will inspire more people to explore creative writing, both through reading and as writers in their own right.”

The writers were chosen from UEA’s pool of Creative Writing alumni and associated faculty. They will collaborate with technologists and the venues over a 9-month development period, which will explore new forms of writing and dissemination, while investigating how literary excellence can be sustained in a changing cultural environment.

Ayòbámi Adébáyò said: “UEA has been such an important part of my development as a writer and I’m grateful for this opportunity to consider how storytelling might evolve in and for the future.”

James McDermott said: ”As an alumnus of UEA’s Creative Writing department, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to have been asked to create a piece of new writing to mark the department’s fiftieth anniversary. I’m looking forward to working with UEA and Norwich Theatre Royal, and technical experts, to make a piece of work which will explore how contemporary culture, technology and social media might change the form of creative writing, theatre-making and theatre-going in the future.”

Jason Elkins, Head of Business Development & Client Services, Immersive Studios, said: “We are excited by the idea of bringing together writers and tech companies to produce exhibits for a range of nationally recognised venues.”

Chris Gribble, CEO, National Centre for Writing, said: “The Future and Form project aligns perfectly with the aims and remit of the National Centre for Writing. It offers an exciting, innovative and visionary way to look ahead to the impact of the digital on literature and vice versa, as well as to investigative ways to imagine literature into an increasingly networked world.”

Sarah Hassan, Assistant Head of Library Service, Norfolk County Council, said: “We are very keen to be part of the project, which feeds into our role of helping people from every background enjoy digital creativity.”

Mary Muir, Arts Development Manager, Norfolk County Council, said: “Our work is shaped by the belief that the arts play a pivotal role in the social, educational, economic, health and environmental life of the country, making a vital contribution to the changing needs of our local communities. We are therefore pleased to see that this highly ambitious and innovative project continues your strong commitment to making literary excellence and creativity accessible and relevant to our diverse audiences.”

Jo Warr, Head of Development, Norfolk Museums Service, said: “The Future and Form project offers and ideal opportunity to build on the burgeoning partnership between UEA and Norfolk Museum Services and develop a new digital, creative exhibit at Norwich Castle.”

Wendy Ellis, Learning and Participation Director, Norwich Theatre Royal, said: “This project offers a fantastic opportunity for organisations involved to explore the potential in not only a collaborative approach, but also engaging in digital platforms and emerging technological forms to reach new audiences, and also develop and nurture creative digital skills and learning across the region.”

Nik Khandpur, Head of Development, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: “We are excited by the groundbreaking approach that this project takes. Particularly by the way it proposes to bring together the university-based project curator, the digital technologists and the poet, all working together with the support of [NWT flagship reserve] Cley Marshes staff from the beginning.”

Ghislaine Wood, Acting Director, Sainsbury Centre, said: “We are very pleased to be developing this innovative project with the University of East Anglia. Future and Form draws on the expertise of several contexts and disciplines. It has potential to explore the digital future of storytelling in an increasingly global world and to achieve wide impact and reach a diversity of audiences.”

Sophie Conroy, Head of Public Facing Activity, The Forum Trust Limited, said: “We consider Future and Form an exciting opportunity to explore how digital technology could transform the production and consumption of literature in the future. It also offers an occasion to connect world class writers with cutting edge creative technologists and a diverse audience.”

Rebecca Gregory-Clarke, Head of Immersive, StoryFutures Academy, said: “As a technology partner of Future and Form, we champion the use of digital technology in storytelling, and will work with UEA’s fantastic cohort of established writers to pioneer new possibilities of immersive storytelling.”

The CW50 anniversary programme will launch officially on 1 October 2020. Other planned activities include the five-year International Chair of Creative Writing and Global Voices scholarship programme, an extended UEA Literary Festival programme, a pedagogical conference, symposiums and further national and international events.

The launch follows news last week that UEA has joined forces with the Rathbones Folio Prize on a new creative writing partnership. Amongst a package of activities, the move will see exceptional authors championed by the ‘writers’ prize’ offered a fixed-term visiting fellowship at UEA’s world-renowned school of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing. The first, 2019’s winner Raymond Antrobus, takes up his position, albeit remotely, this spring.

Find out more, and join the conversation via: futureandform.net | @uealdc.