Two Chairs – A Creative Writing Competition

If you’re itching to give your creative writing skills a go, look no further – we’ve got a competition for you! Organised by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Warwick, entries to the competition can be submitted in English or German. For more, read on…

This creative writing competition is open to everyone. It asks you to consider the pictures of the two stone chairs above. The chairs make up the ‘Hafez-Goethe Monument‘ in Weimar, Germany. This commemorate the work of the German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), whose collection of poems the West-Eastern Divan (1819) not only imagined a dialogue between the Christian European and Islamic worlds, but also sought to break down of rigid cultural divisions between them. The chairs, though, were left empty by the sculptors in 2001. They do not only represent Goethe and his Muslim counterpart, but allow anyone to occupy them, or even to ‘swap’ chairs and see the world from the ‘other’ perspective.

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Artists and commentators alike continue to be drawn to the monument and respond to it with their own creative works. The two chairs are separate, solid structures, implying two distinct individuals, cultures, or perspectives – and yet they are both cut from the same piece of stone. The key idea seems to be that we can be connected to people of other cultures, mixing and intertwining with them, without losing our own identity.

In entering, you don’t have to write literally about Goethe and the monument. Try, instead, to run with the key idea. What do the chairs say to you? What personal experiences of encountering or crossing different cultures can you draw upon to inspire you?

Some basic points to note are:

  • You can write in English or in German;
  • Your piece can be a poem, short story or piece of prose no more than 1000 words in length;
  • The entry categories will be under 18s and over 18s, with a piece in English and in German picked from each (four winners in total); prizes will be £250 each.
  • The competition launches on Monday 25 September 2017. The final date for entries is 2 March 2018, 5pm.
  • Entires should be sent electronically (see particulars) to Dr Carly Hegenbarth: C.Hegenbarth@warwick.ac.uk

More detailed particulars, including conditions of entry,and more details about the themes and what judges are looking for, can be downloaded on the project website: warwick.ac.uk/twochairswriting 

We encourage you, please, to read these carefully before you begin, to avoid misunderstandings and disappointment!

Competition entrants and winners will also be invited to attend a prize giving ceremony and live performance at the amazing Holywell Music Rooms, Oxford, on Wed 9th May 2018 (please save the date!) and the winners in each category will attend writing workshops with our panel of renowned judges.

We will certainly undertake to pay economy-level UK travel costs for the four winners, and hope to be able to offer further financial assistance to allow unwaged and school entrants to attend in greater numbers. More details on this will follow.

Good luck – and we look forward to your entries!

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Competition Organiser, Dr James Hodkinson.

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A new OGN competition is launched – it’s going to be a classic!

The Oxford German Network is delighted to announce the launch of a new essay competition for 16-18 year olds in the UK: ‘A German Classic’. The piece of classic German literature celebrated this year is Goethe’s Faust, Part I. To find out all about entering the competition, visit the OGN website here, where you’ll also be able to download a wealth of podcasts and other study resources to help you. The competition prize has been generously donated by Jonathan Gaisman, QC, whose first encounters with German as a schoolboy left him with a lifelong enthusiasm for German literature. In this week’s blog, he tells us how this passion came about.

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Faust und Erdgeist, a sketch by Goethe

My first German teacher, a perceptive man called Roy Giles, wrote in my initial term’s report: “He will do well at this language, because he likes the noise it makes.” And so I did: aged just 14, I was immediately delighted by the disembodied voice on the audio-visual tape, which was how my acquaintance with the German language began: “Hören Sie zu, ohne zu wiederholen”. The cadences of this unremarkable sentence, bidding one to listen without repeating, still enchant me today. The story on the tape told of the prosaic doings of a German businessman attending an industrial fair. He was called Herr Köhler. Presumably this was a joke, though one unlikely to appeal much to schoolboys. But what caught my attention was the dramatic plosive – unlike anything in English – available to those willing to launch into the sentence “Plötzlich klingelt das Telefon”. That this sentence, like its companions, was of an almost Ionescan banality deprives it of none of its nostalgic appeal: I was already reaching for the handle of the door.

Four years later, by the time I left school, I had passed well and truly through. In those days, studying a modern language involved intensive study of literature. We studied Prinz Friedrich von Homburg and other writings of Kleist, carefully read Maria Stuart, and more than dabbled in the shallows of Faust part I.  A personal enthusiasm bordering on obsession led me to commit large slabs of Faust to memory, and they are still there. Giles had introduced us to recordings of Gründgens‘ performance of Mephistopheles in Faust; another teacher, Mark Phillips, earned my particular  gratitude by playing me Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin.  And so the way was opened though literature to poetry, to Lieder, to Wagner and to the extraordinary contribution of the German language to the life of the arts from the 18th century on.

German literature and culture had thus passed into my bloodstream, and become part of my imagination and mental being. So it was inevitable that I would take modern languages to university, where I was lucky enough to be tutored by a third fine teacher, Francis Lamport, at Worcester College, Oxford. Sadly, before long, but not before adding authors such as Büchner, Grillparzer, Kafka and Mann to my acquaintance, I abandoned the outer form of German studies, and dwindled into a lawyer. But the fire within was alight, and it burns still. The few years between the ages of 14 and 18 when I studied German represent the dominant intellectual influence in my education, and the one for which I am most grateful.

The simple aim of this prize is to enable other students to set out on the same journey which has enriched my way of seeing the world, to discover the inspiration of the German literary canon, and to avow the great truth uttered by Karl der Groβe himself: “The man who has another language has another soul”.

Jonathan Gaisman QC

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Faust spricht mit dem Erdgeist (1969), Margret Hofheinz-Döring (copyright Brigitte Mauch)