Creative Writing: Oulipo and the Avant Garde

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 02 July 2021
05 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Whether you're an experienced writer or a beginner, whether you're into writing stories, poems, science fiction, autobiography, essays or detective fiction, whether you're into Shakespeare, Lars Von Trier or Agatha Christie, Oulipo will have something for you.

Over 20 weeks, this course explores the theory and practice of creative writing with particular emphasis on the unique work of the Oulipo (Workshop of Potential Literature) founded in Paris in 1960 by Raymond Queneau. While there are many aspects to the work of the Oulipo, three principal strands stand out: the search for new literary structures or constraints as a way of generating new texts; research into methods of transforming existing texts to create new ones; the use of mathematical concepts in writing as in what the Oulipo call "combinatory literature". The group's insistence on language as play, which has strong connections with surrealism and with traditions of theatre improvisation, links its work directly to all aspects of creative writing practice and creativity in general.

Teaching will combine a study of key Oulipian texts across a range of genres with practical workshop exercises. Alongside study of recognised Oulipian practitioners, the course will broaden out to study non-Oulipian contemporary and postmodern writers whose work is similarly constructed. In like manner the ways in which Oulipian methods can be applied to and overlap with more conventional concerns of creative writing such as plotting, rewriting, poetic form and developing character will be explored.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

• To familiarise students with Oulipian techniques and methods and approaches applicable to a range of creative writing across different modes and genres.
• To introduce students to a range of key Oulipian texts by a variety of writers both inside and outside Oulipo.
• To enable students to combine different Oulipian methods in new ways and to create similar methods of their own invention applicable to their own creative writing.
• To enable students to understand critically the theories and practices explored by Oulipo and related writing groups.

Module learning outcomes

After successful completion of this module, students will:

1. be able to apply a range of Oulipian methods of writing to develop their own writing practice.
2. be able to critically evaluate theories and practices of the Oulipo both in published texts and in their own writing.
3. have a broad knowledge of a range of Oulipian and related texts, and an understanding of the constraints underpinning their creation.
4. be able to use and combine different Oulipian methods and apply these to their own writing.
5. have the tool kit that enables them to create constraints and writing methods of their own invention and apply this to their own writing practice.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

Anticipated teaching delivery for 2020-21: Students will be taught by a combination of mini-lecture, seminar, workshops, practical writing exercises, writing experiments, and online engagements. This will take place over a twenty week period in which there will be 2 hours of scheduled contact per week.


  • (2019) The Penguin book of Oulipo: Queneau, Perec, Calvino and the adventure of form, London: Penguin Classics.
  • Jackson, Kevin. (2004) Letters of Introduction, Manchester: Carcanet Press Ltd.
  • Roubaud, Jacques. (1981-) 'The Birth of a Form: Elementary Morality', in Review of contemporary fiction, Normal, IL: Illinois State University. vol. 17 (3)
  • This window makes me feel,
  • Queneau, Raymond; Terry, Philip. (2007) Elementary morality =: Morale élémentaire, Manchester: Carcanet Press.
  • Mathews, Harry; Brotchie, Alastair; Queneau, Raymond. (2005) Oulipo compendium, London: Atlas Press.
  • Calvino, Italo; Weaver, William. (1993) Time and the Hunter, London: Pan Macmillan.
  • Queneau, Raymond. (1998) 'A Story as You Like It', in Oulipo: a primer of potential literature, Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press. vol. French literature series, pp.156-159

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Participation marks    5% 
Coursework   Alphabet Essay (3,000 words)    40% 
Coursework   Independent Research Project (3,000-4,000words)    55% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Philip Terry, email:
Professor Philip Terry
LiFTS General Office - email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

Dr James Michael Miller
Kingston University
Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing
Available via Moodle
Of 116 hours, 40 (34.5%) hours available to students:
76 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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