Alumni Profile - Mags Webster

Mags Webster

Mags (Maggie) Webster (Photo credit: Bewley Shaylor)

What did you study at Kent and when?

I was there from 1982-85 and studied English and Drama. I was at Keynes.

What are you doing now?

I’ve been living overseas since 2003, mainly in Perth, Australia. I also spent three years living, working and studying in Hong Kong, returning to Perth in 2015. I’m the writing and research lead at a cultural organisation called FORM, I’m also a freelance copywriter and editor, and an occasional teacher in creative writing. And I’m a poet.

What attracted you to your course, and to Kent?

Choosing English and Drama was a no-brainer, and I always say that I’d make exactly the same choice again if I were doing my first degree now. Simply, these were the subjects for which I felt the most affinity and fascination. The University of Kent, bless it, was the only one of my choices to offer me a place to study these subjects!

Which aspects of your degree did you enjoy the most, and why?

I remember doing courses on Shakespeare, Dickens and medieval drama, and I loved those, I liked the lecturers and I remember how they challenged me to read more widely. I wish I could have been smart enough then to ask more questions! But the desire and ability to learn deeply are things that develop over a lifetime, I believe. I had a good start with my experiences at Kent. Incidentally, I’ve still got the ‘Director’s Work Book’ I made for my ‘Drama in Performance’ course, taught by the late Professor Michael (Mick) Hattaway. I fancied a tilt at The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter, and my set design included a hugely incongruous spiral staircase…I’d have been a nightmare director.

Which skills/knowledge did you learn on your course that you use most now in your career?

There’s no one thing, but I am sure my experience at Kent informed the choices that I made later on to go back to higher education, and do further study. I’ve also become a pretty committed independent, auto-didactic learner. Actually, you’d find that a lot of poets would have this in common. At Kent I discovered I had a massive appetite for learning, and for teasing apart complexities, but I was a really ‘raw’ learner in so many ways. As I’ve grown older, I’ve had cause to be grateful for what I did manage to learn.

What are your future plans/aspirations?

Continuing writing and publishing; have thinking and writing remain central to my life, and experience a really full and active future with lots of travel (and love!). Basically, carry on what I do (or had been doing, until COVID).

What is your favourite memory of Kent?

Of the ones I can share in polite company, I’m tempted to say they are about Simon the goose, who was the most important inhabitant of the Keynes pond (if that even exists now). Simon was a legend. Let’s just say he commanded respect!

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of coming to Kent?

Embrace the whole experience. Try to stay as mentally and physically well as you can while you do it, because that’s important, and something I could have done much better. Be open, enquiring, learn from your peers as much as from your teachers. If you can, cultivate friendships with people studying other disciplines, and don’t just stick to your own. I was so fortunate to make friends with some fine people with whom I’m still close today.

How would you describe your time at Kent in three words?

Intense, complicated, rewarding.

Are you currently working on any interesting projects that you would like to tell us a bit more about?

At FORM, I’m part of a team that’s opening a major exhibition of art at The State Art Gallery of Western Australia in mid-March 2022. Tracks We Share: Contemporary Art of the Pilbara is a survey of artworks by Aboriginal artists from five art centres based in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, plus some work by independent artists. It’s a project I’ve been involved with since 2019, aimed at drawing some long overdue attention to the Pilbara’s extraordinary Indigenous art movement and artists. Producing the 250-page catalogue has been occupying a lot of my time and energy! The art is astonishing, it’s going to be a fabulous show.

Tell us about your experiences of overseas university systems?

In 2011 I completed another undergraduate Honours degree in English and Creative Writing at Murdoch University here in Perth. Murdoch is where I also did my creative writing PhD, completed in 2020. In Hong Kong from 2012-14, I received a scholarship to do a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, following the American model for post-graduate learning. I can truthfully say that all of these experiences were incredibly positive for me. With any degree, anywhere in the world, the most important elements are the people who are mentoring, teaching, and learning alongside you, and I am so grateful to my mentors, peers and supervisors for their support, expertise and encouragement. I met so many amazing people, formed lasting international friendships and networks and was exposed to so many opportunities to improve and strengthen my academic and creative work. The MFA was a low residency model at City University of Hong Kong – sadly, they don’t do it any more – and it allowed me total focus on poetry. I was also really fortunate to have the experience of lecturing and teaching at both Murdoch and CityU.

Tell us about some of your work that has been published?

I’ve had quite a few academic papers, essays and poems published in a variety of journals and anthologies. Recently I’ve been involved in a poetic jam/collaboration with a mentor from Hong Kong days, poet Ravi Shankar, and our chapter will be published, all being well, in a University of South Australia book highlighting collaborations and exchanges between poets of Australian and Indian backgrounds. I’ve also produced a couple of poetry collections. My first, The Weather of Tongues (Sunline Press) won Australia’s Anne Elder Award for best debut collection in 2011, and then Nothing to Declare (Puncher & Wattmann) was shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2021. The recognition for both of these books was such an honour, and an affirmation to keep going. I’m now at work on a third collection, which will include poems written as part of my doctorate.

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