Spring Writes: A Celebration of Creative Writing was held at Veritas Café on Thursday, March 15th. Hosted by 2018 Edna Staebler Writer in Residence Emily Urquhart, the evening began with an expert panel on the art and ethics of creative non-fiction with Kitchener author Tasneem Jamal, Susan Scott, editor of The New Quarterly, and Emily Urquhart, who also publishes work in this burgeoning literary form. The three panelists engaged in a lively discussion about how to define creative nonfiction – for instance, as ‘true stories told slant’ or as a ‘true novel’ – as well as how to delineate creative nonfiction from straight-up journalistic reporting. Both Jamal and Urquhart trained as journalists, so they had much to say on the latter topic. The panelists also talked about the ethics of writing about family members or other identity groups, and walking the line between telling personal stories and addressing larger social questions. Susan observed that creative nonfiction has the potential to encourage diverse voices who don’t necessarily feel they have a place in Canadian publishing, and offered the hopeful suggestion that these newer stories have the capacity to renew the English language. The panel was timely as the Dept. of English and Film Studies prepares to launch a new course in creative nonfiction next year.
After a short break and some draws for door prizes, attendees were treated to a showcase of Laurier writers curated by WIR Emily Urquhart and Blueprint Magazine. The talent on display ably illustrated the diversity of genres and voices currently represented by Creative Writing at Laurier. Readers included Jenna Hazzard, Katie McGarry, Amy Neufeld, James Lao, Yeli Cruz, and Stephanie Silva. Thank you to these readers for sharing their considerable talents, to Emily for her work as a literary mentor this term, and to all who attended!
On November 2, 2017, Veritas Café was packed with faculty, students, and members of the community for the launch of Professor Mariam Pirbhai’s collection of short stories, Outside People and Other Stories, published by Inanna Publications in Toronto.
Two student writers opened the evening’s festivities. Jenna Hazzard, whose short story was recently a runner-up in Elle magazine’s national writing competition, read a humorous episode from the opening pages of her novella-in-progress, set in a library just after New Year’s Eve. Jenna’s reading prompted one longtime library employee to say that she hit the mark with all her details. Kyleen McGragh performed two of her poems, “”Exhale” and “Parasite.” Both poems were recently published in FreeLit magazine, and Kyleen gave a riveting and bold recitation.
Professor Pirbhai graciously thanked her colleagues, students, and especially, her Latin American friends for their support. Her stories, she noted, were about the invisible rather than the “visible” minorities in Canada. They are not just about immigrants, but about the domestic worker, temporary migrant labourers, those who are left behind and whose families are fractured because of globalization.
She began by reading an excerpt from “Air Raids,” featuring a modern Muslim woman’s would-be sexual encounter with an airline steward during his stopover in Montreal. Set against the backdrop of a protest against a Quebec bill banning religious symbols, the story is rich with the voices of English, French, Pakistani, Jewish, and Arabic people.
Her second excerpt, “Chicken Catchers,” was based on the horrific car accident which killed ten migrant workers and the truck driver near Stratford in the winter of 2012. The victims were from Peru, five who had only recently arrived. Pirbhai’s story focuses on the inter-ethnic friendship between a Peruvian and a Jamaican worker, and may lead us to question Canadian habits of consuming chicken, particularly our preference for chicken breasts.
She ended with a funny story, “Crossing Over,” about a woman from Mumbai’s consternation about having to perform inelegant and unfeminine manoeuvers in the family car in order to attend a dinner party in Halifax in winter.
Outside People has been praised as a “stunning debut.”
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.