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September is a month of change. We trade in our flimsy, summer wardrobes for their warmer, wintry counterparts, the leaves begin to turn and the weather certainly alters for the worst. If you’ve been on the roads recently, you may have noticed an increase in the number of overloaded cars heading to all ends of the country, stuffed full of the accumulated treasures of 18 years. It can mean only one thing: Freshers’ Week is upon us and it’s time for many young people to make the ultimate change from home to university and begin a new academic term.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that university isn’t just a place for studying. Although there are textbooks to be read, lectures to be attended and dissertations to plan, many students find that the university timetable and lifestyle affords them the time to pursue their other interests that aren’t purely academic. For some, this mean playing sports or singing in the choir but for bookworms like me, university is a perfect place to indulge my passion for all things literary and spend my time engaged in various English pursuits.
Literature hasn’t always been a part of university life. When it was first introduced as a discipline, English Literature was seen as a ‘poor man’s Classics’, taught in working men’s colleges and Mechanical Institutes as a means of promoting moral values and avoiding social unrest. In the early 1930s, however, institutions, such as the University of Cambridge, began to re-evaluate their opinions on English and, soon, the study of Literature began to flourish on campus.
Nowadays, English is not only a subject taught at almost all of the top UK institutions, but there are also plenty of additional literary activities going on for all students and creative writers alike, whether you are studying English or not. So for all of the book-loving students, sixth-formers counting down the days until Freshers’ Week and those who still hold fond memories of their time as undergraduates, I’ve put together a list of essential things every literary aficionado ought to try whilst at University – three years goes alarmingly quickly and it may be your only chance to truly live a full and literary life.
1. Join your English Society
What better way to meet new and like-minded people? You can chat about Chekhov, debate about Dickens and swap stories of your first literary epiphany to your heart’s content at one of the weekly meetings, that often conveniently take place at the pub.
2. Go on an English-themed Pub Crawl
Once you’ve met your new best friends at ‘LitSoc’, get to know them even better on a literary pub crawl. The theme varies – sometimes you’ll be required to dress as a favourite literary character, other times you might have to embody the spirit of a literary movement. The dressing up is all part of the fun so make sure you go all out to really impress your fellow bookworm peers.
3. Attend a Book or Poetry Reading
Famous authors often pitch up at Universities in order to promote new work or give a talk on something that they are passionate about. There’s no better place to catch your favourite writer performing some new pieces and absorb some of their words of wisdom on creative writing. I’ve been lucky enough to see Andrew Davies, screenwriter-extraordinaire, and attend a lecture by Philip Pullman.
4. Write for your Student Newspaper/Journal
For all the budding journos with big aspirations, careers have been started working on the University paper. Totally organised, run and edited by students it’s a great way to get some experience to put on your C.V. and get your voice heard, as well as the opportunity to throw yourself into university life and keep everyone in the loop on various events. If fiction is more your idea, most universities also have a Creative Writing Journal you can contribute to or edit.
5. Take A Creative Writing Course
Universities are finally beginning to take Creative Writing seriously. Make the most of your free time and enrol on one of the excellent Creative Writing courses often led by prize-winning, best-selling authors: the University of Exeter can boast Philip Hensher on its staff roster, whilst former poet-laureate Sir Andrew Motion has been made Director of the new Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London.
6. Have a Crush on a English Lecturer
This one isn’t compulsory (and certainly shouldn’t be acted upon!) but intelligence is extremely attractive, especially when the lecturer in question is spouting deep, interesting new theories on your favourite books and authors. It will certainly help you stay awake in lectures at any rate!
7. Explore the Literary Gems your University Town has to Offer
Universities can be in or near some of Britain’s most beautiful towns and cities that have years of literary history behind them. Whether you’re at the University of Kent and visiting Marlowe’s birthplace in nearby Canterbury or swanning around the colleges at Oxford pretending to be Sebastian Flyte, there are plenty of activities for any book enthusiast to enjoy.