Author Kit de Waal is to fund a Creative Writing scholarship at Birkbeck, University of London, for a budding writer from a low-income household or a marginalised background.
Among those being targeted by the scholarship are care leavers, ex-prisoners, members of BAME communities, people with a disability and those of low socioeconomic status.
De Waal, whose début novel My Name is Leon will be released by Penguin Random House’s Viking imprint in June 2016, told The Bookseller the scholarship was born “out of the wish of make dreams come true”.
The scholarship is for a student who would not otherwise be able to afford the course; it will pay for them to complete Birkbeck’s part- time Creative Writing MA over two years from October 2016. It will also include a travel bursary to enable the student to travel into London for classes, and Waterstones vouchers to buy books on the course’s reading list.
De Waal said it was important to make sure voices from all backgrounds were creating literature: “I think literature and art needs to be representative of everyone. It needs to explore and to bring different stories out so that when people connect with art on any level, it’s talking about stories or experiences that those people can relate to.”
De Waal said she was keen to back someone who would not ordinarily think about taking a creative writing course, whether because “they haven’t got the money, or because no one in their family has been to university, or because it’s someone who thinks: ‘How on earth would I get there?’”
She added: “Too often university education is for the few—the best doesn’t always rise to the top. I’m convinced there is an exciting writer with a new, distinctive voice who is ready to take the next step.”
De Waal, who left school at the age of 16, completed a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. “There is a debate about whether creative writing can be taught,” said de Waal. “I don’t have a definitive answer, but if you say, ‘I am taking this year to work on my writing’, you will get better.” Julia Bell, novelist and course director of the Birkbeck Creative Writing MA, said: “We believe that the development of talent and ambition should not be the privilege of [only] those who can afford it.
Six candidates will be shortlisted; the five runners-up will be offered mentoring and support from Spread the Word, The Literary Consultancy, the Jo Unwin Literary Agency, The Word Factory and Penguin. The scholarship will be judged by Bell, senior lecturer and author Benjamin Wood, professor Russell Ceyln Jones, senior lecturer Toby Litt (all from Birkbeck), and Paul Sherreard from Spread the Word.
Applications for the Kit de Waal Scholarship will open on Tuesday (10th November 2015) and close on 15th February 2016. The Birkbeck course does not require a BA degree, but applicants must submit 5,000 words of their writing, together with a personal statement of not more than 1,000 words along with an application form on which they must provide details of their financial status.