Interview with Literature Tutor Laura Baggaley

Laura Baggaley
Published: 25 October 2023
Laura Baggaley, Drama Tutor for the Literature and Drama Programmes at City Lit

Interview with Laura Baggaley, Drama Tutor for the Literature and Drama Programmes at City Lit as told to Patricia Sweeney, Literature Programme Coordinator in Culture and Humanities.

Given this is the 400th anniversary of the Shakespeare Folio this seemed like a good time to get your thoughts on teaching Shakespeare’s plays at City Lit.

The first job I had at City Lit was directing a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, which is one of his most obscure plays. At first the students were quite alarmed by the choice of text, but as we worked on devising new modern-language choruses and getting to grips with his language, it became a really exciting project. 

It was wonderful to see the students lose their apprehension about Shakespeare’s language and have fun performing it.

What courses do you teach at City Lit?

For Literature I recently taught an Arthur Miller Study Day and I’m currently teaching ‘An Historical Tour of Drama from William Shakespeare to Caryl Churchill’, as well as various courses for the Drama Department including Acting for Fun and Foundation in Drama. Next term, I’ll be teaching the literature course, ‘Reading Shakespeare: a director's perspective - The Winter's Tale and The Comedy of Errors.’

What do you enjoy most about teaching at City Lit?

The people – you get to meet such interesting people from all walks of life.

What do you find most rewarding about teaching drama through a literature lens?

You can consider things that you don’t always have time to discuss when teaching acting, like theatre and performance history, and you can take time to really dig into the language that the playwright is using.

Can you give us examples of literary works that you study on a City Lit course? 

On the course I’m teaching this term we’ve done Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Sheridan’s The Rivals and, in modern plays, Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. That course is a whistle stop tour through 500 years of plays but on courses like the Miller study day we just take one play, so different courses have different approaches.

What are some of your all-time favourite books, plays or authors, and why do they resonate with you?

In terms of modern fiction, I love Helen Dunmore, Rose Tremain, Bernardine Evaristo, Kim Stanley Robinson, Elizabeth Strout and Barbara Kingsolver. I particularly love Kingsolver because of her approach to thinking about the environment and the natural world - she doesn’t labour a message but weaves it through the narrative.  I’ve read her memoir and poetry alongside her novels, and it is fascinating to see her concerns and themes coming out in the different types of writing that she does. 

For playwrights, I’m particularly keen on Moira Buffini – her play Welcome to Thebes is an extraordinary play about the horrors of war, drawing on big classical characters and myths so it is both completely modern and also deeply rooted in the classics.

Can you share a memorable reading experience from your childhood or adolescence that shaped your love for literature?

I was nine or ten and reading Anne of Green Gables in my bedroom. I was reading the bit where Matthew dies, and something fell on the page - it was a tear! I hadn’t noticed I was crying because I was completely lost in the world of the book.

What lesser-known book, play or author do you believe is underrated and deserves more recognition? What makes them special?

The American writer Octavia Butler is not as well known in England as she deserves to be. She grapples with massively complex ideas in unexpected and experimental ways. One of her dystopian novels, Parable of the Talents, predicted the rise of populism in politics and she was writing visions of climate change long before it became mainstream. 

Apart from teaching literature and drama, what other personal hobbies or interests do you pursue that intersect with your love for books and storytelling?

I love to read and I write young adult fiction.  I’ve just signed a publishing contract and my first novel will be published in 2025.

If you could invite any author past or present to dinner, who would you invite and why?

The 17th century playwright, Aphra Behn, because she was such a ground-breaking writer, the first woman to earn a living from writing.  She lived at such a fascinating moment in history. I’d like to ask her what the times were like and, as her plays are so funny, I think she would be good company!

What would you say to anyone that’s wondering, ‘is literature for me?’ 

I think literature is for everyone! Anyone, if they look, can find books that engage and excite them. 

What tips do you have for anyone who doesn’t enjoy reading but would like to start reading or read more?

Try audio books. Put them on in the car or on your commute.  Make your bus journey more interesting by listening to a book.  Don’t feel you ‘ought’ to read anything, start with what interests you. For instance, I love reading fiction but I also read cook books because I’m quite greedy and love food.  I love reading recipes
but I also read popular science books about food, like Dr. Tim Spector’s Spoonfed. So I’m just following my nose on what interests me – if you like gardening, read about that. If you like action films, read Lee Child thrillers!

It can be hard to make time for reading. I’ve always loved reading, but I still find sometimes I put the tv on or scroll on my phone.  I get around that by doing a couple of things – I set myself a reading target (mine is a book a week, it can be any target that is right for you). I find that helps me to prioritise reading, and keeps it in my routine. Another way is to link reading to something you are already doing, like putting your book next to your breakfast cereal, so that it becomes a daily habit. I always feel happier after reading!

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Interview with Literature Tutor Laura Baggaley