Writers Abroad Blog
Widening my horizons
Posted by Bieke Stengos

I have now successfully completed three creative writing courses with the University of Iowa’s MOOC program. I have taken one poetry and two fiction courses and I wanted to share with you what this has meant to me. Apart for the fact that these courses have thought me much, something has grown here that surpasses the individual efforts of each story teller who participated. Christopher Merrill is the professor at the helm of this excellent venture. He fights bravely, in this current anti-intellectual climate, to keep the program funded so that writers from all over the world can gather, learn together, and share their work. And, in the process, share their cultures. As if all this wasn’t reason enough for encouragement and praise, ventures are flowing from this open forum and I am fortunate to be a part of one of them.

I belong to a spin-off group of beta-writers. Beth runs this group with a sharp mind and much enthusiasm and gives a group of about 40 writers the opportunity to get feedback and offer it on a monthly basis. I know most of us have had the opportunity to workshop and we all know how this can help us, or hinder us but the uniqueness of this group is its cultural diversity. At Writers Abroad we have already had a taste of this as we, who live all over the globe, stand in the cheering and helping lines for one another’s work. Beth’s beta readers group takes me even further afield because the members of this group are not necessarily English speaking expats. Many of them lnever left their country of birth but what they all have in common is that they write in English, whether it be their first language or not.

Beth’s group is opening a world for me where people might have a fundamentally different sense of how to tell a story simply because it is embedded in the traditions of the culture they were raised in. With a growing threat to our openness to other cultures this is a little flame that burns brightly and I am delighted to be able to tell you that the University of Iowa is dedicated to give Christopher Merrill the means to do this. I can only recommend that you try it out one day. No only will you get lectures from the best, by this I mean published and successful writers from all over the globe, you will also meet the world. I remember fondly the Russian writer, published in Russian in Russia who brought such a different sense of what literature can do. Another was a Caribbean writer, who had to deal with a cast of characters that boggles most minds.

Here is the link. New courses will be offered in the spring. They are free and you can audit, if you want, and you can drop out without penalty if this is not your cup of tea. Or you can go all the way, pay the $50 US and get a certificate if you successfully complete a minimum of tasks. https://iwp.uiowa.edu/iwp-courses/distance-learning-courses/fall-2015/how-writers-write-fiction

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