What is Creative Criticism? A Colloquium

June 20th 2024

University College, Oxford

Organiser: Joe Moshenska


Plenary Address: Mary Cappello

Panelists: Clare Connors (University of East Anglia), Deborah Bowman (Univeristy of Cambridge), Irina Dumitrescu (University of Bonn), Natalie Ferris (University of Bristol), Laura Haynes (Glasgow School of Art), Rowena Kennedy-Epstein (University of Bristol), Patrick McGuinness (University of Oxford), Jack Parlett (Independent Scholar), Bethan Stevens (University of Sussex), Susannah Thompson (Glasgow School of Art), Laura Varnam (University of Oxford).


The best thing “creative nonfiction” did as a category was to incite a definitional crisis around the genre of nonfiction; the worst thing it did was to extract that quality that is essential to our being alive—“creative”— and use it as an empty signifier. “Creative” as a descriptor almost always promulgates a falsehood: that some people are creative and others not; that some acts are creative and others not.

- Mary Cappello, ‘Propositions; Provocations: Inventions’


An abundance of recent work in literary studies deliberately complicates, interrogates, or thwarts the distinctions according to which writing is typically organised: such work sits at, blurs and redraws the fuzzy boundaries between the critical and the creative, the personal and the impersonal, the fictional and the non-fictional.

One of the few things that writers engaged in this kind of practice tend to have in common is a deep discomfort with the labels that get attached to their work; such labels often seek to re-categorise the deliberately uncategorisable. And yet, for a whole host of practical reasons – not least the ways in which their work is mediated by academic departments, bookshops, and other institutions – writers cannot afford to be uninterested in the work that such descriptors perform.

This colloquium will ask: are the categories in question only and inevitably experienced by writers as an imposition? If work of this kind aims in part to treat the practical circumstances of writing as conditions for its perennial reinvention, then might these organisational categories also provide opportunities for writerly practice?


Twelve speakers have been asked to engage with one or more of the following four descriptors:

- Creative Criticism

- Experimental Criticism

- Creative Non-Fiction

- Literary Non-Fiction

They have been asked to present a piece of work produced specifically with one or more of these designations in mind; some writing shaped by the way it might aspire to embody, rethink, or explode one or more of these categories.

A plenary address will be given by Mary Cappello, whose varied practice as a writer, and reflection upon this practice, embody much of the intended spirit of the colloquium. More information about Mary’s writing, and downloadable versions of many of her wonderful essays, can be found at https://marycappello.com/.


The event will run from 11am-6.45pm, including tea & coffee, and a sandwich lunch. There will be an informal, low-cost dinner after the event for those who register for a 'Colloquium + Dinner' ticket. There is some money to support graduate student attendance: please send an email to iris.pearson@new.ox.ac.uk indicating how the colloquium fits into your research interests.


To register, please buy a ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/what-is-creative-criticism-tickets-879337330627.


The colloquium will be taking place under the auspices of the project ‘Creating Criticism,’ led by Joe Moshenska and assisted by Iris Pearson, with support from the John Fell Fund. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to get in touch with Iris at iris.pearson@new.ox.ac.uk.