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Language cluster researchers go on a Writing Retreat: 1-3 December 2014

Report from the Writing Retreat by Anna-Marie de Beer

In December 2014, a group of ten researchers from the Languages cluster of the Faculty of Humanities were privileged to participate in a Writing retreat. The retreat took place at Budmarsh Country Lodge, situated in the foothills of the Witwatersrand Mountain range in the Magaliesburg. The aim of this exercise was to provide an opportunity for academics to go away for a few days, together with an experienced writing coach, in surroundings that were conducive to reflection and writing. Participants were requested to bring a draft article or draft chapter that they were working on and all the necessary material they would need. Due to funding from the Faculty and an additional generous contribution by the Southern Modernities faculty research theme and Mellon Foundation funds, the group was able to invite Dr Pamela Nichols from Wits to accompany us. Dr Nichols is the current Director of the Wits Writing Centre and her research interests are Orientalism, Middle Eastern Politics, Literature, Transformation, Education, and Development of the Public. The centre works with both undergraduate and postgraduate students and staff in consultations as well workshops and writing courses.

The group was diverse, both in terms of research interests and methodologies, but also in terms of profile. There were participants who were busy with their postgraduate study and had not written articles before, together with UP staff members who are experienced in this field. Due to the diversity of the group and the nature of the programme, the interaction between the participants was exceptionally fruitful. Large amounts of time was provided for researchers to simply isolate themselves and write or reflect in the peaceful surroundings of the lodge, the writing coach was available throughout for one-on-one consultations, and at selected times, the group came together to share their progress and questions, and participate in short writing activities that stimulated their ability to write creatively.


Participants were Janus van As from eth Unit for Academic Literacy and Matemane Lekganyane from the Language Unit, Andries Visagie, Nerina Bosman and Suzan Thembekwayo  from the Department of Afrikaans and Marcelline Massoua, Willemien Rust, Kaitlyn Cooper, Ana María García Jerez and Anna-Marie de Beer from  Modern European Languages. They all felt that they benefited tremendously and that it was a very productive writing time for them. As proof of this, we arranged a first meeting in January 2015 where two of the participants shared their provisional articles with the others. Both these articles have now been submitted for publication and we look forward to more such results from the group.  The following comments were made by one of the enthusiastic beneficiaries of the retreat:         

"The writing retreat has been a precious and valuable experience. In terms of research development, the three days’ workshop provided me with a new understanding about my project and my own way of thinking.  It has been an opportunity to meaningfully connect with notable academics and colleagues who gave me feedback and comments from different perspectives that enrich the creation of my paper."

"It has been key for me to be able to work in a safe (physically and emotionally) space and have the opportunity to discuss my work with other academics. I succeed in reaching new ideas for my research project and in writing part of my conference paper. The wonderful setting allowed me to focus on reading, thinking and writing."

"I highly recommend that the University continues with this initiative and to foster the engagement of new researchers.  I would suggest offering a writing retreat for PhD students together with their mentors in order for them to enhance their understanding and practices of writing. I believe that it will also help to improve the skills for goal setting and real advancement in the writing production." 

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Last edited by Martina VitackovaEdit