Friday, March 7, 2014

Creative Writing Turns 50 At University of British Columbia

Gotta love this caricature by Chloe Cushman, one of several that turns up in Saturday's National Post. The article, put together by Mark Medley, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Creative Writing Program at University of British Columbia. Contributors include Andreas Schroeder, Leo McKay, Nancy Lee, Charlotte Gill, Madeleine Thien, and Andrew Westoll, among others. Our Hero's offering goes like this . . . .
Forty years ago, when I flew west to write a novel while earning an MFA, I brought a portable typewriter and two dozen books. Having graduated top of my journalism class at Ryerson and worked as a reporter at the Toronto Star, I was stunned when, at my first novel-writing workshop, instead of hailing my genius, the other grad students kicked me to the curb with faint praise. I spent the next two years discovering how little I knew about storytelling. Cortazar, Marquez, Butor, Lessing, Achebe, Calvino. Where had these magicians been hiding? My mentor was novelist Robert Harlow, who had recently published Scann. After flying as a bomber pilot in the Second World War, Harlow had become the first Canadian to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Back home in B.C., he had helped run CBC Radio before moving to UBC at the invitation of Earle Birney. Both men battled to keep the creative writing department separate from the English department. With Harlow looking over my shoulder, I completed a novel that served as my thesis. Years later, after rewrites, it emerged via Pottersfield Press as my second book, Visions of Kerouac: A Novel. The rest, as Harlow used to say, is persiflage.

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