“It was an oasis in a busy life, a busy city”: the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development writing retreat

  • Jane Castle University of the Witwatersrand
  • Moyra Keane University of the Witwatersrand


A growing body of research literature indicates that writing retreats for academics are conducive
for the development of writer confidence and competence, and for increasing participants’ rate of
research publication. Can writing retreats also restore a sense of community and collegiality? This
paper addresses this question by presenting a case study of a series of small-group, process-oriented
writing retreats held at an urban, research- intensive university in Johannesburg from 2011 to 2015.
Data in the form of participants’ free writes and post-retreat written evaluations, as well as
facilitators’ reflective dialogues and observations were collected and analysed. Dirkx’s (2001)
theory of transformative learning provides the main analytical lens. Key findings are that such
retreats restore the sense of community and collegiality that seems to be fast disappearing in the
high stress university environment in which the retreat is located. The authors argue that
residential, process-oriented writing retreats provide a safe, accountable and generative space for
writers to test their ideas and skills, and draw strength from the experiences of those around them.
“To have time and focus. . . to retreat from all else and concentrate on writing.”

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