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MA in Creative Writing

The Creative Writing MA is not a course for beginners: it does not teach those who are not already writing how to write. Rather it is for those who are committed to writing, who have already produced work, whether published or not, who have a strong formal and aesthetic curiosity, and who welcome the chance to develop their writing in a university atmosphere, whilst also considering South Africa’s wider social, linguistic and literary context.


The programme consists of TWO compulsory semester-length modules and ONE elective. The two compulsory modules focus on prose and poetry respectively (ENG860 and ENG861), and are open to MACW students only. The elective modules examine digital culture and ecological issues (ENG819 and ENG821). A Directed Reading module, that allows flexible content, is also available in consultation with the department. The mini-thesis is a 15 000 word creative project. You are also required to write a reflective essay of 3 000 words. A formal academic proposal for the project needs to be approved by the Senate Higher Degrees Committee before you may begin.

NOTE: On application, a full thesis Masters in Creative Writing as well as a PhD in Creative Writing is also be available for students who wish to write a more substantive thesis.


The aim of this course is to enable students to strengthen their own original literary voices whilst encouraging them to acknowledge and draw inspiration from South Africa’s unique multi-lingual literary landscape and legacy. Therefore we particularly welcome those writers writing in more than one Southern African language (including English), although this is not a prerequisite acceptance onto the course.

This is a workshop- and supervision-based MA programme in which students critique their own work and the work of their peers in a weekly group setting. They also benefit from individual consultations with their supervisor. Students can also expect to benefit from UWC’s unique multi-lingual approach through lectures and workshops conducted in English by leading Xhosa and Afrikaans writers, and visiting international writers.


Students should be prepared to work under the pressure of deadlines, and to produce writing regularly. By the end of the course, they will have completed a substantial body of work for the dissertation: a collection of poems of a considerable length, or a collection of short stories, or a large part of a novel.


Comments of the External Assessor of the Creative Writing Programme in 2015

Professor David Medalie (English Department, University of Pretoria):

“This is a course in which there is extraordinary creative energy and achievement – all the more important when one considers that UWC does not offer fine arts, drama, music or dance. … UWC is very fortunate in the quality of the staff who teach on the course. In addition to the internationally renowned poet and writer, Antjie Krog, there are several prominent and highly respected South African writers, working in both prose and poetry. They offer the students experience, versatility and a range of crucial skills. … There is no question that, where the quality, achievements and reputations of the writers who teach on the programme are concerned, UWC has a distinct advantage over most other Creative Writing programmes in South Africa: I would go so far as to say that, for creative work in English, it is the best in the country, or certainly one of the top two. … What struck me throughout the day is the extraordinary level of commitment and enthusiasm shown by the staff as well as the students. Despite their many obligations in other areas, the staff members are, without exception, passionate about the course, proud of its achievements thus far and positive about its future.”

If you wish to apply:

In addition to an English Honours degree or equivalent, applicants should submit a portfolio of about 40 pages comprising published or unpublished prose and/or poetry, a letter detailing their writing experience, and a writing plan for the MA. Please also supply a short academic essay. If you do not have one available, please contact the Postgraduate Coordinator for an essay topic and guidelines. Submit your portfolio to the Postgraduate Coordinator (Prof. Kobus Moolman ) who will forward it to the Departmental Creative Writing team.




ENG860 Studies in Prose
The objective of this module is to foster each student’s unique literary and critical voice, whilst gaining a greater understanding of creative process and how their work relates to South African (and broader) literary traditions. Given the emphasis upon multilingualism and diversity within the programme, students are encouraged to read as widely as possible within South African literature (including work in translation), and to engage with lecturers and peers in the Xhosa and Afrikaans departments. By mid-way through the semester, the student should have a more acute sense of what makes their own work unique and how it relates to the South African canon. For further details on this module, contact Meg Vandermerwe at
Term 1
A weekly seminar will focus on writing and editing via peer feedback. Where relevant, students’ work will be carefully compared with relevant published prose in order to provoke critical and creative discussion and to offer potential inspiration and ‘problem solving’. Creative tips and exercises will also be offered.
In addition, the work of students (circulated before class) will be discussed and critiqued. Each student will also meet regularly with the supervisor in one-on-one sessions to facilitate intensive work on their prose with the emphasis on self-awareness and craft.
Term 2
We will continue the above process, but students will now have the opportunity to facilitate a writing exercise in the seminars. We will also have talks by visiting prose writers on topics such as: keeping a writing journal, editing, letting the character lead, getting published, and using creative writing in an NGO context.
Students will complete three or four short stories, or a couple of chapters from a novel/novella, a self-reflexive essay and a short critical essay on a contemporary South African prose writer.
General Recommended Reading

Beukes, Zoo City. Jacana
Cameron, The Artist's Way. Pan
Coovadia, High Low – In Between. Umuzi
Cox, Writing Short Stories: A Routledge Writer's Guide. Routledge
Dooley (ed.), How Novelists Work. Seren Books
Duiker, Thirteen Cents. Kwela
Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Novel. St Martin’s Press
Jacobs, Confessions of a Gambler. Kwela
King, On Writing. NEL
Lodge, Consciousness & the Novel. Penguin
McKee, Story Structure. Methuen
Ndebele, The Cry of Winnie Mandela. Ayebia
Newman et al, The Writer's Workbook. Arnold
Magona, To My Children’s Children. David Philip
McKee, Story Structure. Methuen
Patel (ed.), The World of Nat Nakasa. Picador Africa
Themba, Requiem for Sophiatown. Penguin
Van Niekerk, Agaat. Jonathan Ball Publishers
Wicomb, You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town. Umuzi
(I have a small prose and poetry library in my office where some of these texts can be found, Meg Vandermerwe.)
ENG821 Ecology and Writing
Term1: Bushman Letters
Convenor: Prof Michael Wessels
The Bushmen’s letters are in their bodies. They (the letters) speak, they move, they make their (the Bushmen’s) bodies move. They (the Bushmen) order the others to be silent ....  A dream speaks falsely, it is (a thing) which deceives.
||Kabbo (Bleek & Lloyd, Specimens of Bushman Folklore, 1911)
In 1870 Governor Henry Barkly agreed to the request of German linguist Wilhelm Bleek for some |Xam men from the present day northern Cape who had been imprisoned in the Breakwater prison to be released into his custody at his home in Mowbray, Cape Town. They were to act as informants for his research on the |Xam language and /Xam mythology. Bleek himself died in 1875, but the work was continued by his sister-in-law Lucy Lloyd.
The materials that resulted from this engagement form the richest collection of recorded oral literature in the world. The Bleek and Lloyd Collection archive consists of traditional narrative and mythology as well as a range of biographical and historical material and information about |Xam life and culture.
|Xam was just one of many Khoisan languages that existed in pre-colonial southern Africa. It was, however, the San or Bushman language that possessed the largest number of speakers. By the beginning of the twentieth century, almost all the speakers of |Xam had been either killed by settler commandos or incorporated into the Afrikaans speaking population of the Cape Colony, a process that frequently involved the separation of children from their parents. The language’s demise was swift. Part of Bleek’s motivation in preserving the language and its mythology was what he saw as the inevitable extinction of Bushman languages and their speakers. In this respect, the Bleek and Lloyd project can be understood as an example of ‘ethnography’s tendency to become an imperial culture’s rite of mourning of what it destroys’ (Moran 2009: 127). While the language disappeared, the storytelling culture did not. People still tell stories in Afrikaans today that are closely related to the /Xam tradition.
The /Xam materials form an inexhaustible reservoir of stories but they are by no means the only source of San and Khoi literature. Other archives of nineteenth century San and Khoi narratives exist from the area of present day South Africa while Khoi and San storytelling is still very much a living practice in Namibia and Botswana. The /Xam materials in particular have elicited intense interest from academics over the years. They have also inspired creative responses by writers. These take the form of fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and travel writing. This course will use various forms of creative writing in order to engage with the /Xam archive. The idea is not just to rework the materials into poetry, stories and other forms of writing but to draw on San literature critically and creatively in order to produce writing that engages with the contemporary world.
The core of our critical and creative engagement with the San materials will be the ecological basis of the literature, understood in the broad sense of the webs of relationships in time between place, plants, animals, men, women, children, cosmos and the living and the dead. The /Xam narratives powerfully evoke a world in which all things are animated and conscious. The sun, moon and stars speak and interact with animals and people. There are no hierarchies: a striped mouse is as important as an elephant, people are not superior to animals, women are not subordinate to men. The cultural world is predicated on reciprocal relations with the natural world and with other people. The boundaries between animals and people and between the living and the dead are fluid.  Categories of difference and likeness are created and dissolved. The stories explore gender, sexuality, individuality, communalism, knowledge and identity. In contrast to the more traditional stories, the personal histories provide a stark account of genocide, dispossession and violent conflict with other groups. The consequences of the cultural and ecological loss experienced at the time by the /Xam still resonates today. Their social life, aesthetic culture, spirituality and economy were inseparable from a particular region and its animals and plants. Nevertheless the /Xam and related peoples proved to be extraordinarily resilient, courageous, resourceful and adaptable. The /Xam narrators themselves responded to the urban environment of Cape Town with humour and insight. They all spoke Afrikaans and had both /Xam and Afrikaans names. They grew up in an environment in which the quagga still roamed but died in the same places on white-owned sheep farms.
/Xam literature is rooted in a foraging economy in which the only marks people made on the landscape were paths (used also by animals) and rock art. It was transcribed and then translated  into English at a time of profound and shattering transformations. /Xam narrative and /Xam stories of dispossession and loss together form a rich cultural  and historical experience on which to draw creative inspiration today.
The course will use material from collections of /Xam stories, primarily Specimens of Bushman Folklore (Bleek and Lloyd 1911). It will also refer to some of the academic literature on San narrative. It will examine the ways in which creative writers and other artists have reworked San stories and also look at the ways creative non-fiction has explored the Bleek and Lloyd materials. Comparisons will be made between the /Xam representation of the natural world and those of other forms of representation from the same period, such as praise poetry, travel writing and lyric poetry.
Term 2: The Animal Subject
This course is taught by Prof Wendy Woodward and convened by Prof Michael Wessels.
Key concepts: How do we imagine nonhuman animals? How do we write about nonhuman animals? How do we represent relationships between humans and other animals?
In this half of the module we will read a number of texts which foreground very specific, current issues in relation to animals as well as relevant creative writing: short stories, and poems from an anthology called Beasts Alive put together especially for this course.
John Berger believes that animals “first entered the imagination as messengers and promises.” For him, they were our first symbols. Yet if animals remain symbols, we discount the individualities of particular animals and they are merely extensions of our projections. The philosopher Rosi Braidotti believes that “animal[s] can no longer be metaphorized as other but need to be taken on [their] own terms.” In the Humanities a quiet revolution has been taking place for the last 20 years or so as “the animal turn” has gained momentum and now permeates history, geography, English studies, philosophy as well as the social sciences.
In literature, novelists depict animal subjects and/or animal narrators; poets imagine themselves into the bodies and minds of the nonhuman. How do we engage with these texts? JM Coetzee’s “sympathetic imagination” is a good place to begin. We can also consider whether animals are represented as having a point of view or are assigned agency, in short, whether they are knowing subjects.
Each week we will focus on a theme discussed in an essay as well as a creative text or texts to read ahead of class. A series of questions will guide the discussions. After class you respond in writing to this text. You may write a poem, or a short story which you will send on email to all before the following class.
Written requirements for the course:
A critical bibliography of the set texts plus two others which you have found.
A portfolio of creative writing: 7-10 poems or two short stories
Plan for the course
1.    Imagining Animals and Empathy
JM Coetzee, 1999. The Lives of Animals. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (in the library and online). Focus on what Costello says about the sympathetic imagination in “The Philosophers and the Animals” and how she analyses the poems in “The Poets and the Animals”.
Poetry by Les Murray (“Two Dogs”), Philip Levine (“Walking the Dog”)
Creative Assignment: Imagine an encounter with another animal and/or inhabit the body of this nonhuman animal.
2.    Captivity
Gruen, Lori. 2014. “Dignity, Captivity, and an Ethics of Sight.” In: Gruen, Lori (ed). The  Ethics of Captivity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Poetry by Ted Hughes (“The Jaguar”), Rainer Maria Rilke (“The Panther”).
Creative Assignment: A poem or short story on your experience of a captive animal or on the experience of the animal him/herself.
3.    Biopolitics
Rutherford, Stephanie. 2011. Governing the Wild: Ecotours of Power. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, ix-xxvi.
Extract: Tucker, Linda. 2013. Saving the White Lions: One Woman’s Battle for Africa’s Most Sacred Animal. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Poetry by Ted Hughes (“Hawk Roosting”) and Vicki Hearne
Creative Assignment: A poem or short story on an experience of or an aspect of biopolitics i.e.human power over the nonhuman.
4.    Insects: Empathy
Microcosmos, the film (arrangements to be made with the department office)
Extract from: Gaita, Raimond. 2002. The Philosopher’s Dog. New York: Routledge.  117-140.
Poetry by Wislawa Szymborska (“Seen from Above”), Mary Oliver (“How everything adores being alive”), Les Murray (“Insect Mating Flight”).
Creative assignment: Respond to Microcosmos and/or imagine or re-create an experience of empathising with an insect.
5.    Insects: Disgust
Sleigh, Charlotte. 2006. “The Unsettling Nature of Insects.” In Brown, Eric (ed.). Insect Poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 281-297.
Kafka, Franz. “Metamorphosis.” (
Poetry by Jo Shapcott (“Scorpion”) and Ruth Miller (“Mantis).
Creative Assignment: Respond to Kafka’s short story and/or imagine or re-create an experience of feeling revulsion for an insect.
6.    Ferality/Shapeshifting
Extract from Abram, David. 2011. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York: Vintage. 229-258.
Short story: “With Sheep” by Carol Guess and Kelly McGee.
Poetry by Vona Groarke (“Family”) Jo Shapcott (“Mrs Noah”; “Goat.”)
Creative Assignment: A short story or poem about becoming animal.
Facilitator: Wendy Woodward



The outcome of this course is for students to develop their own original poetic voice within a rigorous and critical self-reflexivity.
Each writer’s voice will become apparent and develop in an organic process over the module. By mid-way through the semester the student should have a good sense of a topic and style(s) to use for the portfolio. The topic should be related, in some way, to being grounded in twenty-first century South Africa.
The student will draw up a reading list of contemporary poets and texts about writing in collaboration with the supervisor. A plan for a portfolio will also be mapped out. For further details, contact Prof Kobus Moolman:
Term 3
A weekly seminar will focus on writing, editing as well as the critical analysis of contemporary poetry. In addition, the work of two students (circulated before class) will be discussed and critiqued. Each student will also meet regularly with the supervisor in one-on-one sessions to further facilitate intensive work on the portfolio with the emphasis on self-awareness and craft.
Term 4
We will continue the above process but students will now facilitate a writing exercise in the seminars. We will also have talks given by visiting poets on such topics as the following: the writing process, editing, publishing, performance.
Students will complete a portfolio of poetry, a self-reflexive essay and a short critical essay on a contemporary poet who has influenced their work.
General Recommended Reading:
Hirson, Denis (ed). In the Heat of Shadows: South African Poetry 1996-2013. Deep South: Grahamstown.


Convenor: Francois Verster (Visiting Lecturer – contact the Postgraduate Coordinator, Kobus Moolman, email: )
Note: This is a very intensive course which involves seminars, film viewing sessions and practical workshops. Because film is a medium of study new to most students, the course requires significant background reading and viewing. Students who wish to register for this elective must supply the Postgraduate Coordinator with a brief, single paragraph outline of their academic and creative experience and how they see these combining in the creation of documentary films.  What is your motivation for doing the module? What are your goals? Please also supply an updated CV and a portfolio of creative work if you have a portfolio available. The supporting documents must be received by the Postgraduate Coordinator at least 3 weeks before you register.
This 12-week course, part practical and part theoretical, will reconsider the idea of "documentary film" from both formal/aesthetic and political perspectives.  It will examine the ways in which tensions amongst reality, art and morality have been addressed in various South African and international films, and explore the role that formal innovation can play in this regard. Students will be encouraged to draw on their own personal, creative and academic backgrounds in producing both written assignments and short documentary pieces.  Particular attention will be paid to the relationship between documentary and fiction, and to moral considerations involved.  Free creative exploration - in interaction with theoretical analysis - will be strongly encouraged. Ideal participants will have at least an undergraduate degree in humanities or in a related field, and will have some track record of previous creative work in whatever form.  A general working knowledge of issues in documentary film would be very beneficial. Students will be expected to attend screenings of set documentary film/s prior to seminars and to read a limited number of texts on aesthetic, cultural and film theory as well as moral philosophy. They will need access to a visual recording device of reasonable quality (SD or HD handycam, high-quality cell phone video recording device etc). Seminars will be based partly on free exploration of 12 "documentary propositions" as identified by the lecturer, partly on formulation and development of students' own documentary projects, and partly on viewing and discussion of students' work.


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