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Athabasca University

Glen Bays

Glen Bays came to PNG in 1970 to establish the Creative Training Centre (CTC) at Nobonob, near Madang. He served as Director of the CTC from 1970-1973, when he left PNG for family reasons. The Centre, which did not survive his departure, represented an attempt on the part of several missionaries from different agencies to co-ordinate their efforts to train writers.

Prior to arriving in PNG, Bays had been working for many years at the African Literature Centre, in Zambia, where he trained journalists. In PNG, Bays tried to apply his African training model at first. But courses that were going to last four to six months did not appeal to PNG students. In Bays' opinion, the disruption to indigenous life by colonialism was less intense and of shorter duration in PNG than it had been in Africa. Therefore, his writing students did not want to be away from home more than three weeks. His students were mostly teacher trainees, high school students, and employees of mission presses. He began instruction in English, but soon realized the necessity for instruction in Pidgin, learned the language, and used it afterwards.

Bays used standard texts to teach the principles of good writing, before moving on to factual and creative writing. He drew heavily on E.B. White and William Strunk Jr.'s The Elements of Style. He was inspired by Teacher, by Sylvia Ashton-Warner of New Zealand and followed her text closely. He kept at his elbow David Holbrook's English for the Rejected (Bays Letter, May 1993). Research for factual writing was managed through field trips to local businesses and institutions. When students returned, themes and approaches would be discussed and then they would write their stories after class. Every second day they were required to submit a manuscript of 500-1,000 words (Schild 84 ff; Bays interview 1993).

The literary models for creative writing used in Glen Bays' writing courses were chosen for their style and content. Besides Biblical writing, much of the modeled material was folkloric and much of that was African. He also used those PNG texts that were available to him in 1970, namely Kiki: Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime, by Albert Maori Kiki (Melbourne: Cheshire, 1968) and The Crocodile, by Vincent Eri (Milton, Qud.: Jacaranda Press, 1970) (Bays letter, May 1993).

In the end, Bays discovered that students would develop their own Papua New Guinean style of writing, which he described as "rambling, folksy," and "feelings mixed with facts." Instead of imposing his African-based model on them he decided to let them be themselves, to let them do their best, but most of all to encourage them to keep writing. Bays felt that what islanders needed most was encouragement, to feel good about who they were and what they were doing.

Bays' courses were very popular. In the first year and a half, he taught over 120 people. Many of those students went on to careers in national journalism, in radio, in government, as well as with church organizations. He is particularly proud of the fact that many women attended the courses. What his students tended to write at the workshops were legends and folktales. This tendency demonstrated the same generic bias found in the pages of (P)NGW and in the entries to the Literature Competitions run by the Literature Bureau. Bays worked closely with Don Maynard of the Literature Bureau, who became a regular instructor for him. Maynard introduced the students to Kumalau Tawali and to poet Apisai Enos, who taught at one course.

Glen Bays' legacy as a teacher and as an editor is firmly established in many programmes of the mission system: the form and content of mission writing courses, the writing programme of the United Church, the audio projects of the Christian Communications Commission, the activities of the Christian Writers Association of Melanesia (CWAMEL), and in the range and quality of the journals he established or helped to shape.

After Bays left in 1973 and the CTC had ceased operations, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (and other organizations) were prepared to continue teaching creative writing at more advanced levels (R.L. Johnston 80; Rickert 1-8). Other mission agencies followed suit. The United Church hired Philippina, Josie Runes, as its Director of Literature at the Malmaluan Christian Education Centre at Rabaul. The mission agencies felt that the university-based system would not produce a national literature that would serve most islanders. And they were agreed that they would have to maintain another system that would. R.L. Johnston outlined this issue clearly:

An attempt was made to show that the village setting has a wealth of interaction in it to stimulate the writer: man against the environment, man against man, group against group, and handling of conflicts caused by a clash of cultures. It seems that much of the creative writing training in developing nations is conducted with an educated elite, writing principally as a means of personal catharsis, and emotionally rationalising their personal dissatisfaction at being caught between the traditional and the intruding life styles. These student writers cater for an elite audience. What we have been attempting in the courses at Ukarumpa is to provide a creative outlet for the less sophisticated and less privileged group, an outlet which produces materials useful for the further development of the rural communities from which the writers themselves come. (80)

This populist ideology was evident throughout Bays' three tours in PNG. In 1971, while at CTC, he was instrumental in helping his students to form a writers union, CWAMEL, and writers' clubs for union members. The goal was to supply a vehicle that would allow graduates of his courses to stay in touch and to find a publishing outlet. He assisted students in establishing a journal called Precept, which was written in English and first appeared in May of 1972. After he left PNG in 1973, Precept, and its sister Pidgin publication Singaut Strong (first issued November 1, 1972), were taken over by the United Church, under Josie Runes. In fact the United Church took over the whole CWAMEL programme. During his time at CTC, Glen Bays published several anthologies gathered from individual workshops. One example is New Voices, a Pidgin/English collection of about 14 legal-sized mimeographed pages. Bays also established a number of periodicals devoted to writing. Nobonob Nius dates from his 1970-1973 tour at the CTC. A precursor to Precept, its readers were previous course participants. Its contents were poems, plays, short stories, and essays mostly in English, the odd one in Pidgin. Occasionally one of the students would edit Nobonob Nius.

On Bays' second tour, from 1979-81, he was attached to the United Church's Christian Education and Communication Centre at Rabaul, the successor to the CTC. Seeing the need for a Pidgin journal for pastors, he established the interdenominational Umben. As an outlet for Pidgin literature, Bays also began a Pidgin literary journal called Toksave, using the same subtitle he had used for Nobonob Nius: "Rit Moa na Save Planti" [Read More and Learn a Lot].

In 1984 during Bays' last tour, the periodical was transferred to the Melanesian Institute with Bays once more as editor for that year. In addition, he edited the Institute's scholarly publication Point, as well as its flagship pastoral journal, Catalyst.

Updated October 13 2016 by Library Services