It’s March already and each winter term, I see how quickly our time with our Edna Staebler Writer in Residence zooms by. Our 2016 Staebler WIR, fiction writer and playwright Drew Hayden Taylor, has been at Laurier since mid-January and will give his second public talk on Thursday, March 10, in The Hawk’s Nest at 7:30 p.m. Many people remarked after Drew’s first talk in January that he is a remarkable performer, speaking entirely without notes about his start as a writer, his years with Native Earth Performing Arts, and writing for film and television.
Don’t miss this second talk, which will feature Drew’s discussion of his writing process.
And for the origin of “stone soup,” check out the folk tale:
Honours Communications and Film Studies ’13
“I was intimidated by the uncertainty of pursuing a career in a competitive industry such as film and television so I initially enrolled in the Film Studies program as a solid second choice to film school—a safe bet. But my program ended up being the perfect foundation for my career in film. The program broadened my knowledge of film history and genre, exposed me to the formal language of cinema, its use as a social and political medium, and its hands-on editing course cemented my passion in filmmaking and motivated me to pursue film production after graduation. In the end, my experience was integral in supplying me with the foundational tools that has helped me become a well-rounded filmmaker and producer working in the industry today.” Priscilla is an Associate Producer at Blue Ice Pictures in Toronto and, currently, is producing and directing a dark comedy web-series, “How to Buy A Baby,” about an infertile couple going through fertility treatments. Check out the series teaser .
Read about Priscilla’s web series about infertility in The Cord.
Dr. Mariam Pirbhai presented the 100 year old history of South Asian immigration to Canada and noted the importance of the Komagata Maru for this community. She has recently edited a special issue on South Asian Canadian writing for Studies in Canadian Literature.
Aboriginal playwright and author Drew Hayden Taylor discussed the challenges of being half-Caucasian and half-Ojibway and growing up in the small community of Curve Lake First Nations. He says that as a child, he escaped from the limitations of his community by reading comics and adventure books, and is now writing more genre fiction, such as his Aboriginal vampire novel, The Night Wanderer and his forthcoming book of native science fiction.
Creative Writing at Laurier
Prize sponsor Doug Heard presented Danielle LeDuc with the Chris Heard Memorial Writing Prize. The prize was established by the Heard family for Chris Heard who was a student at Laurier who loved to write.
Danielle LeDuc read her amazing story, “War: A People’s History” which was surprisingly not about the kind of war you’d imagine.
Dr. MacDonald and several other students from Dr. MacDonald’s creative writing class read the following short pieces:
Anthony Haslam, “Shaman’s Brew”
Dan Douglas, “Fact”
Jenna Galluccio, cento song: “Tired Lovemaking” and poem “Snap, Crackle, Pop”
Jenna Hazzard, “King of Pool”
Dr. MacDonald, “Very Wide Awake,” a poem about the space race and Planet of the Apes
Dr. Maria DiCenzo introduced three alumni who graduated from English or the Film Studies Program.
Andrew Baechler (BA English 2007) played football when he was at Laurier and has now combined his love of reading and his communication skills with sports at his current job. He is the Media Relations, Communications, and Sports Information Officer at the Athletics Department at Guelph University.
Ron Butler (BA Film Studies 2012) loved studying films and even made films for the Fringe when he was at Laurier. He is a cinematographer and filmmaker at Final Frame Productions.
Hanna Burnett (MA 2013, BA EN/FS 2012) says that her MA year at Laurier was the best educational year of her life. She is the Coordinator, Program Services at the Toronto International Film Festival and had entertaining anecdotes about the challenges of classifying and rating films for TIFF.
English Student Association
The English Student Association, represented by Daniella Cavallini, Beniah Lanoue, and Chris presented a PowerPoint series about the association, including aims, benefits of joining the ESA, and events planned for the Winter term, then held a short meeting with prospective members.
During fall semester 2015, students have been sneaking around with plastic bags and surreptitiously slipping them to Dr. Hron or furtively smuggling them into her classes. What are these suspicious-looking packages?
It all started when Dr. Madelaine Hron shared some of her experiences working in Rwandan prisons with her EN 313: West African Literature & Culture class. For a number of years now, Dr. Hron has been working with the small Canadian-based NGO, JustEquipping/Juste.Equipage , which runs various kinds of restorative justice projects in the Great Lakes Regions of Africa, especially projects related to prisons in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. Most notably, JustEquipping has encouraged more than 700 convicted killers of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda to write letters asking forgiveness of their victims. Local chaplains would then locate these victims and bring them these letters. Then, if the victims wished, the chaplains read them these letters, counseling the victims in their pain and grief. If the victims wanted, the chaplains would facilitate a face-to-face meeting with the killer in prison.
Dr. Hron has seen and done some pretty amazing things with this group – for instance, she has played soccer with teens in prison, coddled the babies of female prisoners (women can have their children in prison until they are six years old), or celebrated mass beside dozens of convicted priests and bishops.
Rilima youth playing soccer in prison
Dr. Hron has witnessed a poignant victim meet with an offender for the first time, an offender who killed many members of the victim’s family. She has also visited a village where offenders and victims live together in peace. In one case, they live right across the street from each other, with the victims’ houses having been built by those who massacred their families.
Dr. Hron also shared with her class the terrible conditions she witnessed in some of these prisons. For instance, in the central prison in Goma, Congo, there are 1800 male adults in a facility built for 150; there are no barracks, everyone sleeps in an open courtyard, be it rain or shine. Dr. Hron was particularly troubled by the situation of women in Rwandan prisons, since she spent quite a bit of time with them. In Rwanda, until 2012, prison facilities were co-ed; luckily now, there is one main prison for female prisoners in Ruhengeri-Musanze. Many of these women do not really deserve to be in prison, but, being poor and disenfranchised, cannot afford a decent lawyer. As Dr. Hron noted in class, “In Rwanda, having an abortion, or aiding in an abortion is a capital offence – meaning a life sentence. It is very easy to accuse a woman who has miscarried of aborting her fetus, or to indict a neighbour who brought her some tea. I know of women who gave birth to the infant they supposedly aborted while in prison. Yet they are still there, wasting away, awaiting trial, because they don’t have the money for a defence attorney, like many other poor women languishing in Rwandan prisons.”
Women in Rwandan prisons suffer daily degradation – for instance, prisons do not even provide them with underwear or sanitary napkins. Ostracized and ashamed, most women dare not ask family or friends for such basic necessities. Dr. Hron explained that last time she traveled to Rwanda she collected underwear and sanitary napkins for these female prisoners. She wished she could undertake such a project again, since a local member of JustEquipping was leaving for Rwanda in January.
Upon hearing that they could do something tangible to help these women, Dr. Hron’s EN313 class sprang into action. They wanted to provide each and every woman with a new pair of underwear for 2016. Dr. Hron was skeptical about this goal– there are more than 250 women in the Ruhengeri-Musanze prison… and there were only 26 students in her EN 313 class! However, nothing would deter these students – they spread the news and started bringing in underwear. Impressed, Dr. Hron then also recruited the help of her own friends, her EN/FS colleagues, as well as that of her large 160 person class, EN209 Fairy Tales. Soon, underwear starting piling up in Dr. Hron’s office, her car, her house… And by Christmas break, Dr. Hron counted that she had amassed more than 300 pairs of women’s undergarments! Amazing! Over the Christmas break, Dr. Hron carefully rolled them up, so that they would fit into a large suitcase (this rolling took more than 6 hours).
The women in Ruhengeri-Musanze prison will most appreciate all your gestures of kindness. The suitcase is in Rwanda right now (Feb. 2016), and the underwear will be distributed during the week of Feb 22-26. Thank you everyone for your generosity, and for making the world a bit better place – one pair of undies at a time…
The 2016 Winter term started off with a treat for students in Dr. Katherine Spring’s brand new course FS 258: Musical Film. Not only did they get to learn about the classic 1930s musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but they also had a chance to see some of the energetic dance styles of the era performed live in class by one of Laurier’s Film Studies professors, Dr. Sandra Annett!
Dr. Annett and her dance partner David Barth, both regulars at the Hepcat Swing dance studio in uptown Waterloo, made a special guest appearance in class on January 19, 2016. Together, they demonstrated some popular dances from the 1930s and explained how those dances were adapted in the movies.
Dr. Annett put the dances in context by noting that “When you watch a musical with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, like Top Hat (1935) or Swing Time (1936), what really stands out is how they make dancing look so easy and natural. Their dance seems to evolve spontaneously from the situation and perfectly express the character’s emotions. But in fact, that natural quality was far from spontaneous; it was highly choreographed. Astaire and his choreographer Hermes Pan would plan all the moves and the timing in advance. Astaire and Rogers would rehearse the numbers together, and finally they would film the dance, sometimes doing dozens of takes to get it right.
When audiences watched that performance on the screen, they might think ‘Oh, that looks so easy. I want to go out dancing!’ And many of them did, since it was a normal part of an evening’s entertainment in the ’30s to see a movie and then go out to a nearby dance hall. At the dance hall, though, nobody choreographed their moves in advance. They did what is called social dancing, where both partners, the lead and the follow, know some basic steps beforehand, and then they improvise the dance together based on the swing jazz music that was popular at the time. The dances they did to swing jazz were collectively called swing dancing. It was like the club dancing of the 1930s!”
To bring this old-time dance world to life, Dr. Annett and Mr. Barth demonstrated three kinds of dancing. The first dance was an example of improvised social dancing in the swing style, including moves from the Lindy Hop and the Charleston, set to a lively Big Band tune called “Make Love To Me.” The second dance was an example of a choreography called the “Shim Sham Shimmy,” which uses a set of predetermined moves from solo jazz and tap dance. Finally, the couple demonstrated the more elegant and upright style of ballroom dance used in the Astaire and Rogers’ paired dance scenes, waltzing to Doris Day’s classic “Que Sera, Sera.”
Nothing like those fine dance steps to liven up the winter!
The academic has the strange experience of working alone and in a large group simultaneously. Despite being part of a rhetorical discourse community and a physical departmental community, it is nevertheless easy to feel alone as one reads through endless stacks of books while writing everything from essay comments to book-length treatises. Enter the conference.
The conference is useful in a number of ways: as an opportunity to network, to receive feedback on your research, to meet others in your field with whom you might collaborate, and to get involved in administrative aspects of various academic organizations. But for me, what the recent ACCUTE conference made so clear is that the social aspect of the conference is as important as the professional aspects. Interacting with others is vital to our ability to produce good work, and unfortunately, this is something I think many of us often forget in the whirlwind of deadlines and to-do lists.
I confess that I did not have high expectations for the conference before attending. As I flipped through the initial program in the weeks before the big event, I thought that there were relatively few panels of relevance to my research. Canadianists and Victorianists seemed to be the two largest camps, and, as I am neither, I expected to feel somewhat out of place. But this was not at all the case. The biggest lesson I learned at Congress was to avoid retreating too far into the specificity of my own research.
I heard papers on Medieval, Early Modern, Victorian, and Canadian literature—none of which are really my area—and still found my mind racing excitedly with ideas. From the NAVSA series on “The Uses and Abuses of History” to the debate on “The Modern Academic and Copyright Law” to Faye Hammill’s keynote address on “Sophistication, Modernism, and Entertainment,” to the extremely popular poetry event “Soirée des Refusés,” I felt recharged and reinvigorated with each event I attended. Moreover, I began bumping into other students and professors I knew from various levels of my university education, and even our informal conversations were infected by our excitement about things we had seen and heard.
See, when academics attend a conference, their enthusiasm and excitement becomes contagious. It’s difficult to avoid becoming infected by the energy of thousands of minds and voices coming together in collaboration. Although I arrived expecting to find few connections to my own research, I left with a supply of creative energy that followed me home and made the month of June extremely productive.
Congress 2014 was held at Brock University in St. Catharines, and as I did when Congress 2012 was at WLU, I helped to organize a literary reading, pulling together fourteen poets who were also scholars giving papers at Congress. My colleague at Brock, poet-professor Gregory Betts, found the venue — the fabulous Niagara Artists Centre on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines — and booksellers Noelle Allen of Wolsak and Wynn and Kitty Lewis of Brick Books stepped in to manage book sales. Gregory and I each invited some poets, wrote an ad, got a few organizations on board to advertise, and when the people began to pour in at 7:55 on May 25, it was clear that this event was going to be standing room only.
Gregory and I hosted, working out a classic buddy-comedy style that owed absolutely nothing to Nichols and May. English and Film Studies doctoral student Shannon Maguire kicked off the reading that featured poets as diverse as Nathan Dueck, Eric Schmaltz, Phoebe Wang, Charmaine Cadeau, Natalee Caple, Colin Martin, and Andy Weaver, who ended the night with a fantastic love poem. Gregory was a showstopper reading from his book, This is Importance, a poetry book made up entirely of creative errors about Canadian literature and it pretty much brought the house down. (Note to self: in future readings, read BEFORE Gregory.) Noelle and Kitty reported robust book sales
The fairly new tradition of literary readings at Congress was begun in 2011 in Fredericton, at the University of New Brunswick, when Prof. Ross Leckie called on poets from graduate students to modernist icon Travis Lane (and everyone in between) to do two minutes at the microphone. Walking away from that event, Eleanor Ty said to me, “We should do this at WLU next year.” We did, and Jamie Dopp organized another at the University of Victoria for Congress 2013, and now the only question is, who will champion the Congress poetry reading at University of Ottawa next year?