Creative Collaborations: Michael Morpurgo, a Lifetime in Stories
Museum curators from Newcastle have teamed up with local English scholars to develop an unprecedented insight, including a touring exhibition, into one of the UK’s most influential and best-loved children’s authors.
Seven Stories is the National Centre for Children's Books, a museum and visitor centre dedicated to children's literature based in the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle upon Tyne, close to the city's newly regenerated quayside.
It collaborated with Newcastle University to help uncover hidden treasures in the archive of former children's laureate and War Horse author, Michael Morpurgo, which he donated to Seven Stories last year.
Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories was facilitated by an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded initiative, the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP).
The KTP – where businesses work with universities to innovate – is believed to be the first of its kind between a university’s English department and an external organisation.
The exhibition is based around Michael’s archive, which Newcastle University research associate Dr Jessica Medhurst has been working on, supervised by Dr Anne Whitehead and Dr Lucy Pearson from the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics.
Dr Medhurst explains: “Looking at Michael’s archive with the needs of Seven Stories’ exhibition and visitors in mind has turned the idea of public engagement on its head – it has shaped the research agenda of the project rather than coming out of it.
“The Knowledge Transfer Partnership has presented the opportunity to experiment with the ways in which academic research can inform and contribute to a public exhibition.”
The exhibition showcases the original notebooks and manuscripts behind Michael’s stories, including Private Peaceful, Kensuke’s Kingdom and The Butterfly Lion. A handwritten draft of War Horse is on display for the first time, showing how the story evolved from first draft to publication of the book, to adaptation for the National Theatre and Steven Spielberg film scripts.
Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories ran at Seven Stories from July 2016 to June 2017 and is now showing at the V&A Museum of Childhood until 25 February 2018.
Michael Morpurgo said he was “enchanted and moved” by the exhibition at Seven Stories. “There’s no other place in the country which understands the importance of literature for children as well as this place does,” he said. “The people here care deeply about what they’re doing.”
He also told The Evening Standard that the exhibition would give young people a valuable insight into his stories.
“It gives them an understanding of how one writer tells his tales, which may well encourage them to feel that this storytelling is for them too, that we can all find our writing voice,” he said.
In April 2017, Michael and his wife Clare Morpurgo became patrons of Seven Stories and in July 2017, Michael was made an Honorary Doctor of Letters by Newcastle University.
On accepting the award, he said: “I am delighted to receive this degree from Newcastle University’s School of English. What a huge honour and from a city that is home to the wonderful Seven Stories, who look after my archive and for which my wife Clare and I are joint Patrons. It feels a bit like coming home.”
The KTP is funded by InnovateUK and the AHRC and is supported by the Arts Council England-funded Vital North Partnership between Seven Stories and Newcastle University.