The Litmus: Ali Smith launches creative writing project

Award-winning author Ali Smith has launched a creative writing project for Year 9 to Year 13 students at UK schools.

Ali Smith, Senior Fellow Commoner in the Creative Arts at Trinity

As Senior Fellow Commoner in the Creative Arts at Trinity College, Ali Smith was inspired to establish The Litmus: Writing in Common, which she hopes will become ‘a writing collective like no other.’

Students are invited to submit an artwork and/or 500 words in poetry, prose or any other format that considers the phrase ‘in common.’ The deadline is 24 April 2020 and each entry will be published in an online gallery. A panel of writers including Ali Smith will choose a selection of entries and the authors and a relative or teacher will be invited to the Litmus celebratory day on 17 July at Trinity.

In the introduction to The Litmus, Ali Smith writes:

What comes into your head when you hear or read or think about these two words: IN COMMON?

Anything? Something just did. Something always happens, when words get put together. Even just two words that look like they’ve got nothing much in common, like the word in and the word common.

Write down what happens when you hear these words. Make something of them. Send us what you write or make, we’ll publish it in our online display, and you’ll become part of a writing collective like no other, a collective that reaches all across the UK and will act as a touchstone for readers interested in what your generation is doing and writing right now – because you’re the people about to inherit the planet, make it your own, and make your own story and history happen.

Terri-Leigh Riley, Project Coordinator for The Litmus

Project Coordinator, Terri-Leigh Riley, said The Litmus enabled the College to go beyond regular widening participation activities and work with a broader range of students. ‘We are particularly keen to engage with students who have little knowledge or contact with universities, including Cambridge. There can be barriers to reaching less advantaged students and schools, as there are preconceived ideas about Cambridge. Offering creative writing workshops sidesteps this, with results that were unexpected and very welcome, allowing us to reach a more diverse range of students,’ she said.

Ms Riley said The Litmus was a different way of engaging with students.

It’s about listening and letting them contribute as individuals, and the response has been brilliant. We’ve been thrilled by the creativity and enthusiasm of students – you never know what to expect and that is one of the great things about The Litmus.

We hope that participants will gain more confidence from seeing their work published, and that the initiative brings Trinity and Cambridge in general to the attention of students who may not have otherwise thought about Cambridge University, or university at all.

Teams of Trinity student volunteers are running creative writing workshops in UK schools as part of The Litmus until this year’s submission deadline of 24 April. So far they have visited schools in Newcastle, Milton Keynes and Peterborough, with visits to London schools scheduled. Teachers of any subject interested in a Litmus creative writing workshop should contact Terri-Leigh thelitmus@trin.cam.ac.uk

The Litmus is supported by a Trinity alumnus and Professor Adrian Poole, Fellow for Communications at Trinity, said.

It is wonderful that a Trinity alumnus shares our enthusiasm for connecting with students from a wide range of backgrounds who might be inspired to write creatively and so get their voices heard. Any initiative that encourages more young people to express themselves in thoughtful and creative ways in our fast-changing times is to be welcomed. Who knows, it might set someone on a path they never dreamt of.

Perhaps that is the real value of this project. As Ali Smith says: ‘You’re the future. Write about what it feels like to be in the present. Write about what we have in common, the good, the bad, anything and everything the phrase brings to mind.’

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