This is the story of two journeys – my academic and creative journey at the University of Essex, where I studied for the MA in Wild Writing: Literature and the Environment and a PhD in Creative Writing, and my journey towards taking ownership of my identity as a queer, bisexual woman.
I started my MA as a mature student. I’d had a previous career as a solicitor, but was finding my work unrewarding. I’d always wanted to be a writer. Finally, I left my job in order to pursue my creative interests. I started writing and performing poetry and putting on literary events in the local area. I was attracted to the MA in Wild Writing as it combined two of my great loves, creative writing and observing nature. I enjoyed the course enormously, particularly its interdisciplinary elements (I took a Biological Science module along with the literary modules) and getting into the great outdoors on field trips. We explored the local landscape, such as the eerie, abandoned military site at Orford Ness and the mudflats at Mersea, and studying how these places had been written about. This led me to consider how I might also write creatively about the environment. My resulting MA dissertation was the basis for my travel/nature memoir, Heligoland, which is due to be published by Muscaliet Press in 2023. From the research involved in my dissertation, I developed my PhD proposal, a creative/critical study of the North Sea coast of the Netherlands and Germany.
I found my time at Essex both intellectually and creatively enriching. I also made a number of significant friendships which have had a lasting influence on my life. There is a spirit of openness and discovery here, and the opportunity to meet people of all ages and backgrounds. It was a fruitful place to grow and develop. During my doctoral studies I also enjoyed teaching on undergraduate literature and creative writing modules. I was awarded a Doctorate in Creative Writing in autumn 2019.
2020 was a year of considerable personal change for me. The quiet of lockdown, when most of my usual routines and support structures had been removed, gave me space to reflect on the direction I wanted to go in, as I moved through the post-PhD time of transition. Like many who have recently finished their degrees, I was looking for a job and thinking about my career, but also about what I wanted my life to be like as a writer. What you do, and how you do it, is so much more than your job title.
Coming out as bisexual was part of my attempt to live in a way that reflects externally how I feel about my place in the world. I have been used to writing from an environmental perspective, keeping in mind that our physical and biological surroundings are not just a backdrop to our human dramas, but part of who we are. In the same way, I started consciously reflecting on my experience as someone who loves in a particular way, which differs from the heterosexual norm, and began to write from that place. I started to explore themes of queer love and sexual identity more directly within my poetry, and am currently putting a poetry pamphlet together which brings together my concerns about how we live fulfilling lives in an environment, social and ecological, that is under threat in many ways. I am finding that interesting things can happen when I bring my whole self to my writing, and make myself continually open to learning and exploring.
Poems of a Queer Nature: Dr Elaine Ewart reads from her poetry pamphlet-in-progress. Monday 13 February at 12pm on Zoom. Register here.
This event forms part the University’s LGBTQ+ History Month events programme.