For centuries poets, playwrights and novelists from Mary Shelley to Ian McEwan have engaged with scientific ideas, not only to explore their meanings and import, but to interrogate, interpret, develop and challenge them. At the same time scientists, from neuroscientists to physicists have drawn from the insights of literature. We have established the UEA Centre for Writing and Science to provide an international platform to develop that robust dialogue between science and the arts.
Our aims are to bring together scientists, creative writers, historians of science and philosophers to enrich and challenge each other's practice and knowledge. We will establish collaborative projects, explore common working methods, collect and publish essays and bibliographies online, creative focus groups, symposia, workshops, reading groups and networks. We will also provide mentoring for scientists seeking to write for larger audiences and supervision for postgraduates and postdoctoral students working creatively or academically in this area.
Current and forthcoming activities
In June 2013 we hosted the first public Writing and Science Project event called Writing and Climate Change: The Story So Far. 60 international delegates attended the one-day event, key players in climate change science. It was supported by UEA's science fund, programmed and organized by Waters, and juxtaposed commissioned short theatre by young playwrights with talks, debates and polemics to dramatise and investigate key questions at the heart of climate change science.
We have established a mentoring scheme for scientists seeking to write for larger audiences and have taken on our first mentees. Stott gave a workshop on science communication for The Society of Genetics in April 2013.
Waters is working on a new play called The Known Universe and Stott on a novel about consciousness and brain trauma called Dereliction. Stott continues to give talks or seminars about her work on the history of evolution to zoology and biology departments around the world, including most recently at Cambridge, Oxford and Paris. McNeil is teaching the first public-facing creative writing course at the London Zoo in October 2013, focusing on consciousness, wildness and the lives of animals. In February 2014 she and Stott will contribute to a workshop on creative approaches to writing about science at UEA. Foden has worked with scientists to co-write a range of reports for the European Commission, and participated in the Royal Society/British Academy collaboration Addressing Tipping Points. Wertenbaker is working on a symposium conversation with biologists on the decline of the bee population. Wilkes is continuing to develop poetry deriving from the experiences of his residency at UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.
Members and selected publications
The project, directed by Steve Waters and Rebecca Stott, builds on the research expertise of its members.
Giles Foden, novelist and professor at UEA, is the author of Turbulence which examines the meteorology of the D-Day landings and the lives of the forecasters who made them possible. His workshop reports for the European Commission include: Towards a Science of Global Systems; Future Technology and Society; and Art and ICT. He is also a co-author of Global System Dynamics and Policies, a guide to system dynamics for policy makers, and contributed a chapter on metaphor to Addressing Tipping Points for a Precarious Future (OUP, 2013).
Jean McNeil is a short story writer, novelist, poet and senior lecturer at UEA. She has been exploring the potential effects of climate change on landscape and human relationships for almost a decade. She is the author of several works about climate change and the polar ice including The Ice Diaries and The Ice Lovers (2009) a novel that explores the likely and complex consequences of the melting of the polar ice, and Night Orders (2011) a polar notebook that combines poetry, prose and scientific images. She has travelled extensively in the polar regions as part of Arts Council funded creative residencies and expeditions and curated a series of workshops for young people about climate change for the National Theatre.
Denise Riley is a writer with a background in philosophy. She is a professor of the History of Ideas and Poetry at UEA, and A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Her recent writing is concerned with the immediate emotionality of language. Her main books are War in the Nursery: Theories of Child and Mother ; ‘Am I that Name?' Feminism and the Category of Women in History ; The Words of Selves: Identification, Solidarity, Irony ; The Force of Language, with Jean-Jacques Lecercle ; Impersonal Passion: Language As Affect  and Time Lived, Without Its Flow . She hopes to extend her work on the history of understandings of the inner voice and inner speech, and how they enter into our ideas of what's interior and what's outside. Drawing on material from recent neurology and philosophies of affect, her work concerns self-presence and the neurophenomenology of self-awareness, while still considering the traditional spectrum of innerness from hallucination to revelation and conscience.
Rebecca Stott, novelist, professor, non-fiction writer and historian of science is the author of two books of creative non-fiction, Darwin and the Barnacle (2003) and Darwin's Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists (2012) and the author of two history of science novels, Ghostwalk (2007) and The Coral Thief (2010). She curated the Darwin and the Arts strand for the 2009 Darwin Festival in Cambridge which drew 1,400 international delegates. She is a regular participant in radio and television programmes about science.
Steve Waters, playwright, screenwriter and senior lecturer at UEA, has long been engaged with the possibilities offered by the theatre as a space for the investigation of scientific ideas, most influentially in his highly-acclaimed diptych of plays on climate change, The Contingency Plan (a film adaptation has been commissioned by Cowboy Films and Film 4). He gives many talks about his work on climate change with theatres, with groups such as Tipping Point, the Tyndall Centre, The Smith Institute in Oxford. His new play on cosmology The Known Universe examines the conflicts between Fred Hoyle and Martin Ryle in the 1950s and 1960s to show how this complex relationship shaped the development of science. It had a workshop reading at Cambridge Science Festival in both 2012 and 2013.
Timberlake Wertenbaker is an internationally acclaimed playwright, screenwriter, translator and professor at UEA who has written two important plays on scientific subjects: After Darwin and Galileo's Daughter. She is currently working on a project about bees.
Postgraduate and Postdoctoral Members
Sandy Goldbeck-Wood, clinical lecturer in psychosomatic gynaecology (Tromsø, Norway), poet, and international medical journal editor, has just completed a first collection of poems as part of a UEA based PhD, many of which interrogate medical language and experience. As part of her UEA based PhD she is currently investigating aspects of the relationship between medicine, poetry and narrative from a psychoanalytic standpoint.
James Wilkes is a poet, writer and Postdoctoral Lecturing Fellow at UEA, and has a long-standing interest in the intersection between poetics and cognitive science. In 2009 he collaborated with Louise Whiteley to write and produce Interior Traces, a live radio play and debate exploring the social, legal and ethical consequences of changing ways of seeing the brain. In 2012-13 he was poet-in-residence with the Speech Communication Lab at UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience: this residency resulted in a new body of published poems and critical reflections, a series of live and radio conversations between scientists, writers and artists, and a symposium at the Science Museum's Dana Centre.
External Members, Partners and Consultants
- Patrick Morris, Craig Baxter and Menagerie Theatre
- Don Paterson, poet, St Andrews
- Armand Leroi, evolutionary biologist, Imperial College, London
- Richard Holmes, award-winning non-fiction writer
- Enrico Cohen, geneticist, UEA
- Darwin Correspondence Project, Cambridge
For further information about postgraduate opportunities, the mentoring scheme or collaborative projects, contact either: