Writing the Pandemic: students share their experiences of lockdown in creative writing project

  • Manchester Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester led a writing initiative for students across Greater Manchester
  • 200 students from 26 school submitted poems, short stories, diary entries and reports
  • 15 winners awarded prizes and their writing published online in Manchester Review

College students painted the pandemic in a writing initiative led by the Manchester Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester.

The initiative, entitled Writing the Pandemic, gave young high school students accross Greater Manchester the opportunity to submit written pieces of their personal experiences of lockdown.

The collection includes reflections about self-isolation, expressions of grief, as well as political commentaries such as governments’ handling of the pandemic and police brutality.

In total, 200 students from 26 schools participated, with formats ranging from poems and creative short stories to personal experiences, diary entries, and reports. 

The writing was judged by a panel of professional writers and led by John McAuliffe, professor of poetry and director of the Manchester Centre for New Writing.

Responses from the judging panel were overwhelmingly positive.

Professor McAuliffe was struck by how sensitive young writers were to the “changing dynamics of ordinary activities” and by their ability to convey the complex emotions their loved ones experienced during lockdown.

He said: “To be creative can be its own reward – to feel that you have at least made something out of the nothingness that these days often feel like.”

Prof. John McAuliffe by Poetry Foundation
Picture: Professor John McAuliffe, credit to the Poetry Foundation

In the wake of the global George Floyd protests, many of the poems concerned the Black Lives Matter movement, highlighting the students’ awareness of wider issues faced by many groups in society.

Professor McAuliffe said: “Reflecting on their own experience wasn’t in any way narrow or separate from the world, but it was touching on other big things that are happening in the world too.”

Fifteen winners who stood out for their outstanding creativity were selected: Alice Courtney, Armaan Shahzad Caitlin Bones, Elliot Taylor, Farah Al-Rikabi, Fatimah Naser, Freya Stanley, Jacob Rashidi, James Tyrrell Brown, Josh Cummings, Madeleine Storer, Paige Hamilton, Sama Sameer, Grace Greaves, and Winston Ado-Kofie.

They were awarded a variety of prizes, including book vouchers and online mentorship sessions with acclaimed writers.

The winning submissions were also published in a special issue of leading international arts journal the Manchester Review.