Finding Voice/ Giving Voice: Creative Writing at Kellogg

8 February 2017


By JC Niala

JC Niala is studying towards an MSt in Creative Writing.

One of the many pleasures of reading for an MSt in Creative Writing at Kellogg is the genuine interest people take when you tell them what it is you are doing. It is also regularly followed by “I’d love to do something like that.”

I came to the programme as a dramatist hoping to broaden my technical skills. What I found as well was inspiration. Nervous at having used a couple of Kiswahili words in a poem for my first creative assignment – I had one of those moments from which it is impossible to return. Commenting on its use, instead of asking for a translation as I had anticipated, my tutor Jane Draycott asked why I hadn’t used more Kiswahili. She encouraged me to embrace my voice within the complexities of my identity. The poem went on to be published.

As an Afro-British writer I have regularly bemoaned the fact that there are not enough African stories told in the context of international events. What I have learned at Kellogg has been to work towards remedying what I see as an issue instead of ranting about it.

My first opportunity came through a project produced by another Kellogg student, Olivia Robinson called Women in Oxford’s History. I was privileged to be the researcher for the podcast on Lady Kofoworola Ademola née Moore, the first African woman to graduate from Oxford (St Hugh’s, 1932-1935). While researching her life I found everyone I came across from Amanda Ingram (the archivist at St Hugh’s) to library staff overwhelmingly helpful. People wanted to know more.

I was discovering an audience different to the one I had expected.

My next project was a video podcast I produced on African Soldiers in WW1. Even though I am not a historian I was encouraged to enter the podcast into a competition run by the University because of interdisciplinary discussions I had over meals at the special Kellogg common table. These conversations have been instrumental to my understanding that there is a lot to be gained by the blurring of distinctions between areas of study. The Podcast was runner up and is now available on the Oxford podcasts site and on iTunesU.

When I came to Kellogg, I must admit that I saw college life as a nice addition to my studies. I had no idea that through the people I met, the Centre for Creative Writing and the steady support from fellow cornflakers, my writing would go to places I had not even imagined.