English Literature and Community Engagement

Uploaded by UniversityOfBristol on 23.03.2012

The BA in English Literature and Community Engagement
is like any other University of Bristol BA,
conducted in an extremely rigorous way.
It consists
of a very substantially conventional literature BA course
in English Literature, but also has an important component
in which the students take their knowledge and experience of literature
out into the community in a variety of ways.
I find teaching on this course
uniquely stimulating and valuable and exciting
because the students have all come back into the system
with a real thirst for learning.
They're often people for whom reading has meant a lot,
but who are not content just to read books in private,
they want to find out more
about the totality of what's out there
and particularly the historical totality.
They've often read exclusively modern books, but they want to find out
what's out there in earlier periods
and different genres from the ones they're used to.
DAMIEN: I had no formal education. I left school at 12.
Could read and write, but didn't engage with literature
till I was in prison and was bored
and found it had a huge impact on me.
All my reading and interpretation of knowledge was my own,
so the academic side of the University really frightened me.
I've no experience
of doing exams, I've never wrote an essay.
Academically, I've grown in confidence.
Personally, I've grown in confidence.
Confidence in my own thinking,
that I wasn't far off the mark in what I was reading.
I just needed some structure and discipline around that.
In their Community Engagement part of their course,
they go out into the community,
taking the literary experience they've learnt into a variety of contexts.
We've got one student working with the Bristol Drugs Project,
we've got another conducting a reading group in the library at Knowle West.
What these projects all have in common
is that they're all, in their different ways,
making use of the literature that they have imbibed
during the literary part of their course
and they're taking this out in different ways
to enrich and enliven the lives of the citizens of Bristol.
The analogy that I've used, rightly or wrongly,
is that a guy that's spent 20 years in prison,
experiencing all of that claustrophobia,
within a prison cell from the age of nine, which one of them had,
can then some read some classic piece
about a woman in 18th-century Bath or whatever,
stuck in a loveless marriage,
and understanding that and being there.
So you're going across time, upbringing, class, all these things,
and that is really powerful.
I think the University could really benefit - this is my personal thing -
from opening up to the community and using that as a "university of life"
because there's a lot of skills that can be transferred, and knowledge two-way.
Because literature had had an impact on my life,
I felt I wanted to go back into the communities that I came from
and share that experience.
What I'm finding is that this experience is not unique to me,
that literature can affect people's life.
It's been wonderful working with the guys,
some of them who have never read,
and seeing their reaction, their passion, their excitement for life,
finding interests in things that they did not know they were interested in
and as a result of the work we've done,
one of the guys has signed up for a short course
called Reading English Literature,
so he will be following in my footsteps,
coming to the University on an evening course -
and that, to me, has really made it all worthwhile.