Author Spotlight

Author spotlight: Michelle Butler Hallett

Michelle Butler Hallett, she/her, is a history nerd and disabled person who writes fiction about violence, evil, love, and grace. The Toronto Star describes her work as “perfectly paced and gracefully wrought,” while Quill and Quire calls it “complex, lyrical, and with a profound sense of a world long passed.” Her short stories are widely anthologized, and her essay “You’re Not ‘Disabled’ Disabled” appears in Land of Many Shores. Her first novel, Double-blind, was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award, and her 2016 novel This Marlowe was longlisted for the Dublin International Literary Award. Her most recent novel, Constant Nobody, won the 2022 Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award. Butler Hallett lives in St. John’s.

Your five novels have taken us back in time to eighteenth and twentieth century Newfoundland, Elizabethan England, and now, with your latest book Constant Nobody, the Spanish Civil War. What is it about these particular places and points in history that made you want to write about them?

First, I should point out that the admittedly feverish plot of Constant Nobody catches fire in northern Spain, but most of the novel is set in 1937 Moscow.

I don’t start out with a moment in time in mind so much as an image or an idea. Sometimes the idea is linked to a setting or a time period. I want to write fiction about universal themes and human experiences which play out in highly specific settings. The more history I encounter (I am a student, no proper historian), the more I find highly specific settings bursting with conflict and huge social forces crying out for a story.

So I guess what draws me to these settings is first the environments – how people live, what they value, what they struggle against – and how one can, as both reader and writer, get lost in another time and place yet find oneself and one’s own deepest concerns playing out.

For my fiction set in Newfoundland: I have two Newfoundlands, the “real” one of our world, and an alternative-historical Newfoundland that votes for responsible (self) government versus confederation with Canada in 1949. The confederation referendums boiled up big questions of identity which remain today.

Elizabethan England? In 1993, reeling from a deep study of Christopher Marlowe’s plays, I checked out an introduction to Thomas Kyd’s play The Spanish Tragedy. It mentioned Kyd’s arrest and imprisonment in Bridewell. The accusation? Kyd was accused of writing a piece of seditious, violent, and hateful doggerel which alluded to several of Marlowe’s plays. Under torture, about which the government papers are quite open and blatant, Kyd identifies some papers mixed up with his as belonging to Marlowe, left over from a time when they shared lodgings. While Kyd is imprisoned, Marlowe dies of a dirty great knife in the eye. So, one or two things going on there. Now, I ask: who can resist that for storytelling?

What sort of balance do you like to strike between historical accuracy and creative licence in the stories you tell?

Yeah, that’s a tricky one. At some point, for me, the history must serve the story, even when we set out to have our story serve the history. Fiction is an art, and one makes aesthetic decisions. Even with that, one can be highly accurate; so much depends on the story and history themselves. Sharon Robert-Johnson would be a good one to ask about that, because she wants her story to serve history, to bring a monstrous injustice out of the whitewashed shed. With my alternative-history Newfoundland, I have a lot of freedom for anything set after 1949, but it still must seem plausible. A relatively independent Newfoundland and Labrador would still have a British Empire hangover.

In This Marlowe, I have Mary (Manna) Marlowe, Kit’s older sister. He adores her and tries to write to her, and she becomes a target of violence as pressure on him. The real Mary Marlowe died when the real Christopher was four, something I didn’t discover til fairly late in the writing. Like, really late – going to press soon. It was a rookie mistake when it comes to accuracy, but I decided I couldn’t and wouldn’t remove Manna as a character, because that would take so much away from my Kit character. So Manna ended up being a lesson in taking good care with my notes and giving long thought to my aesthetic design.

In Constant Nobody, fairy tales from both England and Russia churn the waters, so the novel’s apparent realism, like that of my first novel, Double-blind, is under strain. The Russian Revolution brought so much change, so quickly, and often with such violence, that people must have felt wrenched out of their reality and tossed into a new one. I tried to keep that feverish edge throughout the story, and I made up a station on the early Moscow Metro. Vasilisa Prekrasnaya is plausible, supports my themes and image patterns, and as far as I could see doesn’t cause anyone harm, so I invented it – but it doesn’t exist. It never existed. My story needed it, so I took various strands of history to serve my story.

Constant Nobody recently won the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award. What does this latest recognition of your work mean to you?

It means someone out there is reading and digging my work, which is wonderful. More pragmatically, it means I can continue to write full time. I started doing that in August of 2021 for the first time ever, and it’s been so good. It also means the Raddall family have tremendous love and respect for the first Thomas Raddall and his struggles, and the struggles of any writer.

You were part of a stellar shortlist for the Thomas Raddall Award alongside David Huebert and Sharon Robart-Johnson. How has the Atlantic Canadian writing community influenced your own career?

I’ve made a lot of friends, though before the ABAs I hadn’t met either Sharon or David. Nor had I read their work. It’s easy to feel isolated way out here in Newfoundland and Labrador, even with our rich arts traditions. So I treasure my friendships, both here in NL and beyond. Hearing other writers describe their difficulties can be very reassuring, and it’s so much fun to cheer one another on. I use social media a lot to stay connected.

Your fourth novel This Marlowe features a character, Robin Poley, who is physically disabled. As you’ve pointed out, the name of Robin’s condition, ankylosing spondylitis, is never mentioned in the book itself because “Elizabethans did not understand the condition the way we do.” Can you share a bit more about the process of writing about the experience and social framing of disability from another time period?

I am so glad you’ve asked me this question.

First, I need to make clear that I suffer from ankylosing spondylitis – ank spond for short. It can be agonizing. The fatigue alone disables me. I’m enjoying a really good patch of health right now, not in remission but definitely stronger than I’ve been in years. This could change at any moment. I’d be appalled, but not surprised, to wake up one morning stiff and in pain and exhausted in a bout that could last weeks, months, years …

I thought my experiences with ank spond, labours, miscarriage, kidney stones, and bile duct inflammation would make writing about the pain Tom suffers in Bridewell easy. I thought my shared experiences of agony that can make you pass out would make Tom’s pain more authentic on the page. I was wrong. Language, or English at least, doesn’t leave a lot of room for pain. The best we can do is metaphor: stabbing, burning, boring, shooting. Chastened, I felt like an arrogant failure. Then I saw a solution: show the effects of the pain, show how it breaks Tom, changes his thinking, damages him for the rest of his life. And that, with my limits as a writer, was the best I could do.

So why give Robin Poley ank spond? I was playing with Elizabethan tropes on disability, the famous one being that a person’s character is displayed in their physicality – Shakespeare’s Richard III, for example. This becomes very interesting when we look at the real Sir Robert Cecil, Acting Secretary of the Privy Council and later Lord Salisbury, clearly a capable and powerful man able to navigate court treacheries. Cecil suffered from scoliosis and had a noticeable hump. Did onlookers consider him a potential threat because of his mind, or because of his spine? Then there’s my character Robin, based on the real-life Robert Poley, an agent so well known that later Ben Jonson parodies him in a poem. That led me to thinking that the real Poley might be struggling to find work at that point, if everyone knows he’s an informant and spy, and I also needed a strong motivation for my character Robin in 1593. The real Poley was present at Marlowe’s death, according to the coroner’s report, but it was Ingram Frizer who stabbed Marlowe. I really wanted the death of my character Kit to mean something, so I decided early on that Robin, onetime mentor and friend, would be the one to kill Kit – which meant, in a way, that I was the one to kill Kit, because I had to write the damn thing. So on that level, giving Robin ank spond is a joke with myself. In my fictive world, ank spond makes Robin worry about his future. If he physically can’t move well or move without being noticed, if he’s in severe pain with debilitating fatigue, then he won’t make a very good spy, and he’s unlikely to be trusted with any sort of official desk job. I took a big risk here. It looks like Robin serves the Elizbethan understanding of disability, that is, a crooked body means a crooked mind and soul. In fact, Robin subverts it. Robin does terrible things in response to overwhelming social forces, not because he’s disabled. That he is disabled only makes him more vulnerable to those forces.

Earlier this year you offered a four-week workshop to WFNS members called “The Presence Of The Past: Writing Historical Fiction.” What are some of your top tips for writers who are interested in exploring this genre?

Dig. Dig for the stories. Dig for the details. Study source materials, if they’re available, to get some idea of the world views of people at that time and to consider what the opposing views might be. Deciding to set a story in 1954 may not be enough. Why 1954? Where in 1954? Who in 1954? What is the story, big and small, that’s hauling you into the time period?

In a previous interview with The Miramichi Reader you said “I knew since the age of seven I wanted to write fiction.” What drew you towards storytelling as a child?

I just loved books. I would handle them long before I could read. I love getting lost in a story, love the journey of trying to understand what it might feel like to be someone else, somewhere else. I was scribbling before I could write. I started reading and writing before school. Sesame Street was a big push there. And phonics. Loved me some phonics.

My favourite novels when I was a kid, it turns out, featured a girl as a protagonist, and a flawed girl at that, awkward and mouthy, well-intended, passionate, smart as starlight and stunned as your boot, in a distinctive setting: Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne books, Mary Calhoun’s Katie John books, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby books, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I related to Anne, Katie John, Ramona (and her big sister, Beezus), Harriet, and Meg deeply, and I think you can hear them in my characters Christy Monroe, Claire Furey, Nichole Wright, Matthew Christopher Finn, and Temerity West.

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

Author spotlight: Lezlie Lowe

Lezlie Lowe is a Halifax-based freelance journalist, broadcaster, and author who has an abiding fascination with flipping on the lights above society’s unexamined everyday. She is the author of two books: No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail our Private Needs and The Volunteers: How Halifax Women Won the Second World War. She has been a finalist and multiple winner at the Radio Television Digital News Association Awards, the Atlantic Journalism Awards, the Canadian Association of Journalists Awards, and the Atlantic Book Awards. She has taught journalism at the University of King’s College since 2003. (Photo Credit: Riley Smith)

In the introduction to your latest book, The Volunteers: How Halifax Women Won the Second World War, you say “[n]one” of the folks you interviewed for this book “dared declare the volunteer work they’d done was something important” and that “[n]o one tells these women’s stories.” Why did you want to tell this story?

I like a challenge? I also write a lot in my journalism practice about things that we think of as one thing but that, with a little digging, reveal themselves to be different things entirely. With The Volunteers, it took very little scrutiny to determine that the work of these women made a material difference to Halifax, and, I would argue, the entire Canadian War effort (hence the provocative subtitle: How Halifax Women Won the Second World War). But there was another revelation, for me, too — the parallels between these women’s motivations and work, and their entirely inadequate valuing, and the circumstances of women’s volunteer work today.

The Halifax Municipal Archives earns a special shoutout in your acknowledgements and the book features a number of photos from the Nova Scotia Archives. Archival research may not be very glamorous, but I’m sure it’s quite important for projects like this one. Do you have a particular strategy for combing through old records and materials or do you simply embrace the rabbit trails and see where they take you?

Embrace the rabbit trails! Worst case scenario, as a researcher, you wind up spending an enjoyable afternoon peeling through cool stuff. Best case scenario, you find material that elevates your narrative. And that counts even when nothing concrete from a particular research dive goes into the book. It all informs your work and boosts your authorial knowledge. (A side note: there are so many stories in archives waiting to be ferreted out. You can pick any random box or file and just go at it. Len & Cub: A Queer History is a great recent example of a wonderful book that came to being from an archives inquiry.)

Your first book No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail our Private Needs was published in 2018. As a nonbinary person, I’m acutely aware of the politics surrounding public washrooms, but I’m curious, what was the moment that made you go “Okay, you know what? Someone needs to write a book about this topic, and that someone needs to be me.”

I call public bathrooms the itch I can’t scratch. But that’s not so much about me, it’s about public bathrooms. They are these places in our society that hold representations of so many of our beliefs and neuroses and structures and mores and values. You see all of it coming together in public bathrooms (even, in fact, when public bathroom are not in places where they objectively should be). So, to me, public bathrooms are the perfect topic for a book. I had written about public bathrooms a lot in my journalism practice, so when I decided to complete an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at King’s, No Place to Go became my core project. (There’s so much left, too. Like, I could write an entire other book about public bathrooms.)

No Place to Go and The Volunteers contain a mix of statistics, interviews, historical context, and anecdotes about yourself, your children, and your grandmother Marie. What’s your approach to including personal or family details in your work?

My interest in public bathrooms as a bellwether for equity in cities was sparked for me when I had young children. I recognized that my relationship to my city, Halifax, changed when I was suddenly in charge of navigating parks and busses and downtown streets with my kids, who had different bathroom needs than me. It was like: when did I become a person who carries spare Strawberry Shortcake underwear in her backpack and always knows where the closest public bathroom is?! I used that recognition as a leaping off point for No Place to Go.

With The Volunteers, I hadn’t ever intended to include my grandparents in the book, even though I knew that they had met at a dance at the North End Services Canteen, one of the first volunteer organizations set up and run by women in Halifax during the war. I’m not against weaving in personal detail; I wasn’t going to write about my grandmother Marie as a volunteer because I had no clue if she was a volunteer. But then I realized that absence of understanding hammered home a significant point. Marie was the closest person in my life, and I literally never asked her about her experiences during the war. And that’s because women, I understood implicitly from the ways we, as a society, talk about what it means to contribute to war, didn’t really have war stories.

While both books cover serious subject matter, I frequently found myself chuckling as I read. Could you talk about the role of humour in your writing?

This will be perhaps a deeply dissatisfying answer, but… I try, as much as possible, when I am writing, to match my everyday conversational tone. That includes a significant amount of outrage, in both books, and humour. So, it’s not that I try to be funny in my writing, but I definitely lean in to absurdity and humour in the everyday. Maybe I’m just a funny person…?

In addition to being an author, you’re also an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. What are some articles, interviews, or coverage you’re particularly proud of?

Oooph! That’s tough. I feel like I haven’t written anything journalistically meaty in so long because the last several years have been dedicated to teaching and to writing two books. But I can point to a radio documentary that I created called “The Other Side of the Fist,” and a pair of pieces I wrote for The Coast: “Before the murder and after, the life of Tyler Richards” and “Halifax’s drinking problem” (which might be the basis of a new book; maybe).

In a previous Author Spotlight, I asked Becca Babcock about her decision to engage with real life events through a fictional lens, and I’d like to flip that question around on you. What do you think long-form journalism and creative non-fiction books can do that novels can’t? Why is it important for you to tell factual rather than fictional stories?

I think that the work of writing nonfiction and making it engaging is such highly creative work. You need to employ all the techniques of good fictional narrative — character, dialogue, conflict, voice, tone, scene, setting, structure, plus, you can only pull from what you know is true. It’s challenging. And it’s important because nonfiction tells us about ourselves in some of the same ways that fiction can. I think ultimately fiction and creative nonfiction are sides of the same coin, but I also think this reflection from nonfiction author Elissa Washuta, (brought to my attention in a lecture by King’s Creative Nonfiction MFA director Kim Pittaway) is accurate: fiction is about plot; nonfiction is about insight.

You grew up in Dartmouth and now live in Halifax. How has Nova Scotia shaped your writing career?

I don’t think there’s a direct relationship between my work and my home, except to say that it’s helped me immensely to be in, grow in, and work in such a good place. Like, Nova Scotia is a good place, you know. I don’t mean flawless. I mean fundamentally. People are caring and kind. The ocean is right there. All the time. There it is. I think that’s helped me feel grounded as a writer, and as a human.

As an instructor at King’s working with journalism and creative writing students, what excites you about the next generation of reporters and storytellers?

So many good stories! You know, I teach because I choose to. And I choose to because I get to create relationships with young writers who have energy and creativity and such kick-ass stories to tell.

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

Author spotlight: Alexander MacLeod

Alexander MacLeod is a fiction writer and a professor of English and Atlantic Canada Studies at Saint Mary’s University. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta and The O Henry Prize Stories. His first collection, Light Lifting, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and Lagomorph, his collaboration with Andrew Steeves, recently won the 2021 Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia’s Masterworks Arts Award. In April, he published Animal Person, a new collection of stories.

Your story “Lagomorph” has had quite the journey in the past few years! Originally published in UK literary magazine Granta in 2017, it went on to win a 2019 O. Henry Prize. Gaspereau Press released a standalone handbound letterpress edition of the story in 2020, and that project received the 2021 Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award. Now “Lagomorph” has found its way into your latest book Animal Person. Why do you think so many people connect with this particular story of yours?

It’s so strange the way it all worked with that piece. As you note, it has already lived lots of different lives and, over the years, it has carried me a long way in this chariot pulled exclusively by only one very frail and elderly rabbit.  In its final iteration, I guess “Lagomorph” now anchors, or maybe just introduces this whole collection, and after many false starts, we even decided to draw the title of the book from an almost throw away line at the beginning of that story. Before anything has even happened, the narrator says: “It is important to establish, before this begins, that I never thought of myself as an animal person.”

The story, and then the whole rest of the book, goes on to become an extended meditation on the nature of intimacy itself and the connections we try and forge, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, between our “selves” and “others.” The rabbit’s silence, its big ears, and its albino eye became important touchstones for me, and I kept revisiting that image of the “person” reflected in the “animal’s” eye and the “animal’s” thoughts. I think I saw something tender and brutal in that juxtaposition.  Where is the line between being a self and being an outside thing? And who draws or controls that border?  It sent me tumbling into all kinds of other “reflections” on the nature of relationships, and since all of us are made mostly out of our relationships, that one image provided the book with a common starting point for what eventually became a much broader examination of how “relating” works in many different contexts.

“Lagomorph” was also one of the inaugural titles released for the WFNS Unbound audiobook series. What was it like to work on that recording with the folks at Neptune Theatre?

That was a wonderful experience. As you well know, writing is sometimes a lonely pursuit, so it was unique and special opportunity for me to feel the collaborative energies that came from working with the team at Neptune. We recorded it in the winter, during the peak of the pandemic, when the theatre was almost completely shut down. A lot of the company’s directorial and technical talent was being underutilized, so we slipped into that weird opening, and I think we managed to draw something positive and cool out of conditions that were otherwise very bad.

Jeremy Webb was such an insightful listener and vocal coach, and I just drew on his expertise, and we recorded it in pretty much one take. The sound is very intimate, almost like a monologue, and I know that many listeners liked that feeling of a “live” reading, especially when meeting in person was impossible.

This whole “Unbounded” thing was yet another result of the excellent work done by Marilyn Smulders and the truly remarkable team at WFNS. As you know, there is nothing she won’t try, and I just think we’re so lucky to have this organization, led by such a caring and dynamic leader, supporting the work of the writers of this province. I was, and always will be, so grateful to the federation for all it does for all of us.

Animal Person’s melancholic undercurrent is quite gripping. I sat down and read the whole book in one go. You really put your characters through the wringer with strained relationships, bloody accidents, murder, and more. Is tragedy the essence of a good short story?

I don’t think so. Like all art, I think the exploration of a recognizable truth is the essence of a good story. Sometimes that truth has to be tragic – life is sometimes tragic – or sometimes it can be comic, or kind of abstract or neutral, sometimes a simultaneous mixture of all three modes: as long as it’s recognizable and true, and as long as it gives the reader something to really chew on, then I think it will work.

It’s funny, but most of the time I feel like it’s the characters or the situations that are putting me through the wringer rather than the other way around. I usually just start with a strange image – the reflection in the rabbit’s eye, or that sinister connecting door between motel rooms – and then I follow wherever that leads. Like trying to build a road through a swamp or around a mountain range, most of my energy just goes into trying to make the thing “function” in a very basic way. In this, I think writing fiction is more like making a painting, or a sculpture or a musical composition. Though there is no blueprint to follow, you’re still just doing all you can to find a strategy that will make it come together and “go” in way that feels right.     

Some readers might assume that all writers of short fiction use the genre as a springboard to a future novel, but you’ve had great success releasing two short story collections. As a writer, what attracts you most to this genre?

So far, it’s been the intensity of the story form that has attracted me. I like the very focused relationship a story sets up between the writer and the reader and the text, and I have tried my best to wring what I can out of that strange exclusivity. Everything you “wind up” in the beginning of a work of short fiction has got to spring loose by the end – the writer and the reader both know this – so I love working on that tension, trying to calibrate it and them time the release in ways that are interesting or compelling. The formal limitations are what produces that enlivening pressure, like an Elizabeth Bishop Sestina or a Villanelle, or one of those perfect three-minute pop songs, so I love pushing right up against the borders to see what comes. I’m not against novels, and I am trying to write one now, but it’s a very different kind of project and I don’t see much formal continuity between the two.

Your first book Light Lifting made the Giller Prize shortlist in 2010 and you later served on the prize’s 2015 jury. How did those two experiences compare?

They were very different. Having my debut collection go straight to the Giller list changed everything for me, and I will always be appreciative to the crazy jurors who selected a little, previously unknown book, and then put it onto the big stage in a spot that might otherwise have been reserved for a more well-known writer. They were taking a risk with Light Lifting, but they did it anyway, and when I was on the jury later on, we followed that example, trusting our collective instincts and working as a team to produce a long list and then a short list and a winner that I’m still proud of today. I didn’t get exactly the outcome I wanted for every title, nobody did, but it was so humbling and instructive to read so much, almost a book a day, for the whole year. We went through nearly every text published in Canada and though it was tons of work, it was also very rewarding to catch a quick glimpse Canadian fiction, paused like that, for just one moment in time.

Earlier this spring you spoke at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program. Your father’s donation established the program in 2001, and since then we have seen nearly 100 mentorship pairings and several dozen new books on Canada’s shelves. How do you think he would have responded to the lasting impact his gift has had on so many Nova Scotian writers? What has it been like to engage with the program yourself as a mentor?

Again, endless thanks and appreciation need to go to WFNS. As I said at that event, there was, and there is, no better way to honour dad than to name a mentorship program after him. He donated the money to establish the program, but since then it has been a living, breathing entity and every year it keeps doing the real work, bringing like minded people together on the page.

This is appropriate because, at his core, dad was first and foremost a teacher of literature and writing. He spent more than 30 years working in that role, and if you added up the hours – the days, weeks, months and years of his life – it’s not even close. He spent ten times as much time helping others as he did advancing his own craft. The idea that writing is a shared pursuit, a thing we all love, was not lost on him and I think we all have many lasting friendships that rose out of this kind of connection. When I worked as a mentor, I was paired with the astounding Sue Murtagh, an artist I know from before. We just picked up where we’d left off, and we’re still going strong now, checking in on new pieces every time they come up. She’s one of the bravest writers I’ve ever encountered and when her book comes out, I think everyone will see that right away.

In a recent Maclean’s article, novelist Georgia Toews says that she and her mother, the critically acclaimed author Miriam Toews, “really don’t talk about writing . . . other than confirming that yes, it’s hard work, and it’s important work.” What kind of writing relationship did you and your dad share?

Probably pretty much the same. “Hard” and “important” are great words to describe any pursuit that’s worth anything and I think most parents just want their kids to be able to find a life’s vocation that is both challenging and rewarding. My mom and dad raised six kids and all of us are creative in our different ways as musicians or writers or scholars of different sorts. Our parents just supported us all the way, but they never once directed our efforts. I liked that about them, and again, I try to follow that example. They understood that creativity was intimate and personal, and though they never gave guidance or “constructive feedback,” they always showed up when we needed them. My dad’s only counsel was to think of the long game when it comes to art and not to be too trendy or contemporary in your focus. The surface conditions are always changing, but as Mr. Keats recognized with his ancient Grecian Urn, a lot of the best art lasts a long time. “Make it to stand the rain,” was Dad’s only axiom.

Literary magazines may not have the biggest budgets or flashiest marketing, but they still play a crucial role in introducing emerging writers to new audiences. What are some of your favourite Canadian journals showcasing short fiction today?

This is a subject close to my heart and I firmly believe there would be no Canadian Literature without the astounding ecosystem of literary magazines this country has produced and supported over the years. If a person reads only one book a year, it should be the Journey Prize Anthology. No single text pulls together so much excellent work or gives you a better idea of the what’s happening in the journals, and who the essential new voices are going to be in a couple of years.  

Here in Atlantic Canada, we’re lucky to have so many excellent, and historically foundational publications located in our community.  Like so many others, I published my first work in The Antigonish Review, and The Fiddlehead and The Dalhousie Review. I also love QWERTY, and Riddle Fence and The Nashawaak Review, as well as the scholarly journals that work the other side of the equation and provide so many excellent reviews and long form essays. Again, no CanLit without the journals based out of our institutions, publications like Studies in Canadian Literature or The Newfoundland Quarterly.

Beyond our borders, Grain and The New Quarterly have been wonderful to me, and I whenever I flip through, I always find something cool in the latest issues of Prism, Malahat, Event, and Prairie Fire.

Although you’ve also lived in Ontario and Quebec, Nova Scotia seems to be a favoured setting for many of your stories. What is it about this place that inspires you to keep returning here in your writing?

I was born in Inverness, and raised mostly in Windsor, Ontario, then travelled a lot during my early adulthood, and spent a decade in Quebec, but in the purest sense, for good or ill, I think Nova Scotia is where I am “from.”  I understand that this notion of “being from” is a loaded term, and, as a scholar, I’ve worked on questions of literary regionalism for many years, but in the end, I think that sometimes there just is a profound connection between an artist and the complicated social geographies that produced them. It’s not just because I’ve spent the last twenty years slogging away here. Nova Scotia’s influential reach extends beyond my own life. My parents grew up in houses that were located three miles apart in Dunvegan, and there are now eight generations of my family, on both sides, that came through Inverness County, so this place is always going to matter to us differently.

It’s not a perfect straight line and, of course; along the way, usually for economic reasons, we all had to move back and forth to other locales for different stretches of time, but we keep returning and this place and its particular mix of peoples and cultures are structurally important to our shared history and my individual identity. It’s oversimplifying the process, but I don’t think I would make up the stories I make up if I, in turn, wasn’t made up by this unique combination of cultural and geographic forces. People often can’t believe that my dad was born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, for example, but then when they think about the Depression and the compromises it required, they begin to understand why my paternal grandfather had to move West for work, and how his son, my father, could “belong” so strongly to a place he was born away from. In this, dad’s early childhood was not unlike the experience of immigrant writers: separate but connected to home in profound ways. Like that, I am never going to be fully separated from Windsor or Montreal or the American and Scottish places I know in different ways, but I feel like Nova Scotia is where my brain lives, and my heart and my imagination too. This province has its serious challenges, of course it does, and its unresolvable mysteries, but at least for me, these are the challenges and mysteries I want to stew in and explore as best I can.

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

Author spotlight: Sharon Robart-Johnson

Sharon Robart-Johnson’s background is comprised of both African and European ancestry. Her European roots reach beyond the Expulsion of the Acadians in 1755, to the arrival of the Black Loyalists in Shelburne in 1783, and to a slave who was brought to Digby County, Nova Scotia in 1798.  Born in Yarmouth, she is a thirteenth generation Nova Scotian.

Sharon is a past member at large of the Board of Directors of the Yarmouth County Historical Society which owns and operates the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives and she has five years of archival experience. 

You recently received the Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction at the inaugural Nova Scotia Book Awards ceremony. What went through your mind when your name was called?

The first thing that went through my mind was a question. “They didn’t just call my name, did they?” I hesitated before I rose because, truthfully, I found it hard to believe. I found the nomination hard to believe. Winning this award, any award, was more than I could have ever dreamed of. It was an honour to be nominated and then to win that award with my first novel.

You mentioned in your acceptance speech that you queried your publisher three times before they accepted Jude and Diana. What made you confident they were the right press for your book? And what encouraged you to keep submitting to them after that initial rejection?

I wasn’t confident that they were the right press for my book. All I knew was I wanted a local publisher and I just had a feeling about them. I can’t explain it. I wanted Jude’s story known. I would have re-written and submitted as many times as they allowed until I got it right and they said “Yes”. 

Although your book is a work of historical fiction, Jude and Diana were real people. What was it about their story that compelled you to write about them? How did you go about transforming these two sisters into characters for your novel?

You are correct they were real people, not fictional characters. It was Jude’s story that was the catalyst that compelled me to put pen to paper. Beaten many times because she stole food, the last time so brutally, she died from her wounds. The depositions given by the Coroner, Doctor, and Andrews family members are what determined how far I would take the story when I decided to write it. As for Diana, it was her deposition that said Jude was her sister, whether they were birth sisters really isn’t known. There is no information for Diana whatsoever and that is why her story is totally fiction.

It wasn’t hard transforming them into characters for my novel. For Jude, I wrote her part as though I were in her shoes. Although, I can tell you, I wouldn’t have survived as long as she did – age twenty-eight. As for Diana, it was easy because you imagine how sisters would be and how one would cope with the loss of the other and you go from there.   

Jude and Diana is told in three parts, with the sisters both speaking in first person and Jude’s murder trial covered in third person. As a reader, this made me feel closer to Jude and Diana compared to other characters. Why was it important for you to include multiple points of view in this story?

If you felt closer to Jude and Diana, then I accomplished one thing with my book. I wanted Jude’s and Diana’s stories to be the priority in the book. I wanted the reader to feel their pain, their sadness, their joy, such as that was. I wanted the reader to be angry at the injustice of it all. And I wanted the reader to be outraged that something like that could have happened without those responsible being punished. 

For too long, slaves had no say in their lives. They were told what to do and keep quiet while doing it. Having Jude and Diana tell their stories, in their own words gives them the voices slaves were for too long denied. Any person with an imagination, listening to them “speak”, will be better able to visualize what is happening by having them tell their stories in their own words as opposed to a third person narrating their stories.

The trial is in the third person because I wanted nothing to take the focus off of those two women. It was their stories, not the stories of strangers.

It was important to have multiple points of view, because to ensure that the historical facts were accurate, the points of view of the key players were important. How did others feel about what was going on? Were they for or against – the slaves or the perpetrators of the crime? Those young men would never have gone to trial had Israel Hibbert not gone to the Justice of the Peace, Nathaniel Richards, who in turn called on the services of Sheriff Thomas Crowell. Then Coroner Nehemiah Porter and Doctor Joseph Norman Bond, Surgeon. Everyone who had a point of view adds to the story line.  

Prior to your novel, you released a non-fiction book, Africa’s Children: A History of Blacks in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. What was the research process like for that project?

The research process for Africa’s Children: A History of Blacks in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia was more intense because I had to research a lot more documents as well as interviewing people. That research took me a long time. I began in 1993 and only began writing that book in 2006. A history book cannot be rushed; the facts have to be accurate.

In addition to writing Africa’s Children, you’ve also served as a Board member of the Yarmouth County Historical Society. However, you clarify in the Author’s Note to Jude and Diana you are acting as a storyteller rather than a historian. Can you share a bit more about the distinction you draw between these two roles?

I do not consider myself an historian simply because I do research. A person can be researching anything – how to plant a garden, how to make clothing – that is all research. It doesn’t make them an historian. With me, I began researching my family’s genealogy and just happened to find and decide to compile the information I found that I thought may be useful one day. It was that information that put me on the path to writing a book (Africa’s Children: A History of Blacks in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia). And it was while doing my genealogy that I also uncovered Jude’s story. So, no, I do not consider myself an historian.

I guess you could say that genealogists are historians of sorts, but isn’t doing genealogy keeping the past alive?

Here is the definition of what an historian is: An expert in or student of history, especially that of a particular period, geographical region, or social phenomenon.

I am by no means an expert in Black history and never will be. The past is the past and whether you are focused on one part of that past, or you are trying to find your fifth great-uncle, the research of others can and will impact your own research.

When I was growing up on the Prairies, Black Canadian history was rarely discussed in the classroom. Books I was assigned that featured Black characters—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, In the Heat of the Night—were all written by white authors and left the impression that slavery and anti-Black racism were things that happened in the distant past and only in America. What part do you think books like yours can play in correcting these false narratives in our own country? Would you like to see Jude and Diana taught in Nova Scotian schools?

First, it depends on who believes what. Some people will deny slavery existed in Nova Scotia. Is that because they are ashamed to admit it existed and want to sweep it under the rug like Jude’s information was? Or do they not believe slaves were real. Because they were called “servants” or “indentured servants”, which by the way, is a fancy name for a slave. As in the schools I attended local Black history was not taught. We too had Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird. But the favourite of one of the teachers was a book about a little Black boy named Sambo.

So, would I like to see Jude and Diana taught in Nova Scotian schools? Not this particular book because it is historical fiction. Fiction says it is not real. Teach accurately researched Black history that documents the goings on during the times of slavery. Obviously, that story has to begin in the United States because slaves from there were brought to or escaped to Canada. The story of the Black Loyalists is a must to be told in Nova Scotian schools and make images of the pages in the original Book of Negroes available in the classrooms. Then carry that further to today’s racism and success stories, of which there are many. The stories of The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children and the destruction of Africville are very important stories and must be made part of any school curriculum. And the list goes on and on.  The stories that should never be forgotten are endless.  An entire curriculum could be built around Nova Scotia’s Black history. Jude’s death and the trial that followed are facts that are available in court records. I would like to see her story made a part of Black history studies in schools.   

I know you encountered gaps in recorded history while working on both of your books. That’s something I’ve also dealt with as a queer author. Do you have any advice for other writers engaged in researching and writing about marginalized voices?

If you are writing history, stay with the facts. If someone tells you something and you want to use it in your book or article or whatever, be sure to say that someone told you. Be cautious because everything you are told may not be accurate and you want to be as accurate as possible. Never make things up!    

If you wake up to a day with nothing on the agenda, where do you like to go?

Nowhere! If I have nothing to do on any given day, I want to stay home and relax. Watch my favourite TV show or read a good book.

You’ve walked with Jude and Diana’s story for a number of years now. Looking forward, are there some other stories waiting to be told on your horizon?

There are always stories waiting to be told, whether I will be the person to tell them is still to be seen. I would like to be that person, but we shall see.

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

Author spotlight: Annick MacAskill

Annick MacAskill’s most recent poetry collection is Shadow Blight (Gaspereau Press, 2022). She is also the author of No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018), a finalist for the J.M. Abraham Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and Murmurations (Gaspereau Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared in journals across Canada and abroad, and in the Best Canadian Poetry anthology series. She is currently serving as Arc Poetry Magazine’s poet-in-residence and is a member of Goose Lane’s icehouse poetry board and Room’s editorial collective. A settler of French and Scottish ancestry, she lives in K’jipuktuk (Halifax), on the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.

Your latest poetry collection, Shadow Blight, is hot off the press. How will you be marking its release?

My partner took me to a patio the other day and we toasted the book. I’ll also be reading a few poems from the collection at a friend’s launch later this month. Not many plans beyond that, yet.  

Shadow Blight explores the pain and isolation of pregnancy loss by entwining a poetic narrative rooted in the present with the ancient Greek myth of Niobe. What led you to refract the collection through this particular lens?

After my miscarriages, I struggled to find an articulation of pregnancy loss that resonated with me. And overwhelmingly, what I found was silence. Eventually, I tried to come up with something myself, and a couple of poems in my first collection concern my second miscarriage.

After No Meeting Without Body came out, I realized I had more to say, and started writing the first few poems in Shadow Blight. Quite quickly, I found myself looking to Greco-Roman myth. I’ve long been a fan of ancient literature, and often turn to it to think through a difficult topic. In this instance, it was the story of Niobe, particularly as recounted by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses, that beckoned to me. I had encountered Ovid’s account about ten years before in a Latin class I took during my graduate studies, but now this figure took on new meaning. I started searching through the Metamorphoses for other stories of maternal grief (stories about Ceres, Semele, and Dryope, for example), translating the lines I found most compelling and then using these as jumping-off points for my own writing. One of the things I appreciate now about this practice is how it allowed me to play with scale—I took a taboo subject that tends to be written off as a non-event (despite how painful and even dangerous pregnancy loss can be), and considered it through the gravity and urgency of myth. This better reflects the grief I went through, and still live with, which has been anything but incidental.

All three of your books feature gorgeous, textured covers and pages. It’s very apparent how much craft and care goes into each printing. What’s it been like to collaborate with Andrew Steeves at Gaspereau Press on both the editing and design of these manuscripts?

Andrew is a great editor to work with. He has welcomed all three of my books with enthusiasm. He has a remarkably keen eye (and a terrific vocabulary for anything to do with farming or birding). As for design—that is entirely his domain, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Nature is a prominent motif in much of your work. It made me wonder if you often compose your poems out-of-doors. Can you describe your typical writing routine?

My writing routine varies, depending on my other commitments, but I tend to draft quite quickly—and usually inside. I allow myself time for multiple edits and as much pruning as I can stand. I sometimes revise as I’m walking—in my neighbourhood, through parks, gardens, forests. More and more, I’m aware that my poems come from ongoing preoccupations, including parts of the non-human “natural” world, particularly birds.

I always appreciate the chance to hear poems read aloud by the author, as it allows me to pick up new subtleties and meanings in a text. What are some of your favourite poems to share with an audience?

With Murmurations, I love reading the sonnets—“Magpies,” “Yarmouth County,” and “Pitch,” for example. I’m not sure yet how I’ll feel about the poems in Shadow Blight, though I’ve already shared the first poem in the collection, “Swimming Upwards,” at a few events.

The way your second collection Murmurations explores queer love through seemingly mundane moments—moving a car to avoid a parking ticket, eating takeout in a Comfort Inn, glasses fogging up from a kiss—was so well done. These poems also stretch across the country with mentions of Banff, downtown Toronto, and Yarmouth County. Was this perhaps a commentary on the need to broaden the types of queer stories we see in Canadian literature and the media, since queer love occurs in many different forms and places?

When I wrote Murmurations, my focus was the poems, not making broader commentary on any subject, including that one. That’s not to say the work isn’t political, just that my attention was elsewhere when I wrote the book. But I do agree with you—we always need more queer stories.

June is Pride Month in Canada. Who are some up-and-coming 2SLGBTQ+ poets you’d encourage more folks to read, not just in the coming weeks but all year long?

Brandi Bird, Patrick Grace, A. Light Zachary, Victoria Mbabazi, Yilin Wang, Jane Shi, Samantha Sternberg, and Tiffany Morris all come to mind. Their work is superb.

I know you’re just wrapping up your stint as Arc’s 2021-2022 Poet-in-Residence. What have you most enjoyed about your time in that role?

Although this residency has afforded me some time to work on a book-length poem I’ve been playing with for a few years, the focus of the role is mentorship. Every month, I receive a batch of poetry from about six writers, and send them my feedback via email. There are always a few writers who respond to my comments with excitement, sending more poems or asking questions. It means a lot when I can tell that my response has resonated with a mentee. And the deeper we can go, the more rewarding the experience, for both of us.

You’ve served on editorial boards, been a finalist for several prominent literary contests including the CBC Poetry and Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prizes, and published poems in a number of journals and anthologies. Do you have any advice for emerging poets who are just starting to query their work?

Focus on your craft. Read the literary journals, magazines, and books that speak to you, and try to build up a batch of poems. When you feel ready, submit to the journals and magazines you (actually) enjoy reading, not just the ones you think you should publish in. If possible, try to find another emerging poet or two whose writing you respect to trade work with.

Writers (and publishers!) appear quite split on whether it is too soon to start crafting artistic responses to COVID-19. Some literary journals won’t even look at a submission on that topic. What about you? Have you been writing pandemic poetry, or do you prefer to steer clear of the subject?

I don’t understand restrictions on subject matter. Let poets write what they want. I’m living in the pandemic, as we all are, and yes, it’s crept into my poetry. While I’ve never explicitly sought to write about the pandemic, it finds its way in.

In a previous interview with Sanchari Sur, you talked about your 2017 relocation from Ontario to the East Coast and said “I’m not sure I have enough distance yet to understand exactly how the move to Halifax will affect my writing.” Can we return to that question now in 2022? Do you have a clearer sense of Nova Scotia’s influence on your recent work?

In truth—not really! If there’s an influence, it’s likely from the poets I’ve found to write, workshop, and have a laugh with. Folks like Jaime Forsythe, Nanci Lee, Anna Quon, Alison Smith, Samantha Sternberg, and Nolan Natasha. And I don’t think I’ll ever manage to chase the starlings out of my writing, now that they are such an integral part of my everyday.

—Questions by K.R. Byggdin

Author spotlight: David Huebert

A settler writer, educator, and critic from Kjipuktuk (Halifax), David Huebert (he/him) teaches literature and creative writing at The University of New Brunswick. David’s fiction debut, Peninsula Sinking, won a Dartmouth Book Award and was runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. His latest book is Chemical Valley (Biblioasis 2021), recently shortlisted for the ReLit Short Fiction Award, the Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction, and the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award.   

Congratulations on your recent shortlisting for the 2022 ReLit and Atlantic Book Awards! Can you tell us about your latest short story collection Chemical Valley?

Chemical Valley contains eleven short stories that explore the role of toxicity in the everyday lives of working people. The book is largely set in Sarnia, Ontario, and is titled after the infamous cluster of 62 petrochemical refineries that line the St. Clair River in that area. The characters have a range of backgrounds and careers—from refinery operators to registered nurses to hockey enforcers—and they’re all confronting the question of what it means to live in this ecologically compromised age. Aesthetically, the book is fascinated by the role of oil in our lives—how it saturates us, how it permeates our social, political, and moral lives, how there seems to be no recourse to ways we might live otherwise. Oil is the imagistic backdrop of Chemical Valley, but it’s also a book, first and foremost, about struggling people—guilty people, people in crises, hilarious people, people at turning points, sick people, people seeking help. It’s not all doom and gloom, either: there’s joy and love and humour here. I’d like to think everyone can find parts of themself in one or two of these characters.

Chemical Valley joins a growing list of climate fiction narratives published by Canadian and Indigenous writers in the past few years. What motivated you to cover topics such as pollution and environmental racism in your fiction?

It was in the water. As someone reading and researching in the field of the environmental humanities for my PhD and beyond, and just as a person alive today, I found that I couldn’t set a story in the current moment without confronting this newish layer of our lives and exhausted socio-political structures. My fiction often begins as a way of working through my obsessions, though I usually try to mitigate this tendency as I edit, bringing the stories away from their generative themes and towards more concrete struggles, allowing my characters to take control and dictate the story.

I’m a little ambivalent about the term “climate fiction.” I think all fiction being written today is climate fiction—in various ways, with or without knowing it, we’re all beholden to the Anthropocene. At the same time, story has always been environmental—from Eve in the garden to The Tempest to Moby-Dick. The crisis has shifted, and perhaps it has been amplified, but it’s also just a new take on the story our species has always been telling itself (and, needless to say, not always listening well).

A few commentators have noted that Chemical Valley has an atmosphere that feels nearly speculative or dystopian, which is a response I appreciate. I like writing along that edge, that membrane between the familiar and the para-real. I think of much of what I do as “speculative realism.” I like the idea that a reader might open the book up and say, “Look at this crazy world of refineries and cauldrons and dead pigeons and grave forests.” And then that same reader has to say: “Oh, wait, this is just the contemporary world in which I already live, and I’m doing a massive amount of cognitive labour to convince myself that my lived world is normal and benign and that we live in a ‘civil society.’”

You’ve now published two short story collections and two books of poetry. The poems in Humanimus explore some similar themes to Chemical Valley, and it made me wonder how your creative process might differ when working in these two genres.

Much of Humanimus was also about oil, animals, and toxicity. The themes intersect while the approach differs massively. My poems are formally inventive, linguistically ludic, and philosophical. While I retain these features in my stories, I really try to pare them back in my fiction, relying, instead, on narrative, character, and image patterns. What draws me in is also very different. By now I usually know, very early on, if an idea/premise/impulse wants to emerge as a poem or a story. It took a lot of practice to get there, of course!

When I initially encountered your first collection of stories Peninsula Sinking back in 2017, the piece “How Your Life” was so good—told in second person with a crystal-clear sense of place and a tightly-wound narrative tension you expertly unspooled to hook your reader and pull them in—that I briefly considered abandoning short fiction myself because I felt like my writing just couldn’t compete! Eventually, I decided to try drafting a second person story of my own instead and have enjoyed employing that point-of-view in my work ever since. Are there any writers who have inspired you or spurred you to experiment in similar ways?

I’m so glad you liked “How Your Life,” and I’m so glad it didn’t stop you from writing short fiction! I have had similar barriers, writers at whose feet I have felt very clumsy—Lorrie Moore, George Saunders, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Paige Cooper. I have read these people and then tried too hard to imitate them and produced laughable parodies of their work. Just recently, I was doing this with Alexander MacLeod’s work! Like you, I think the best route for an artist is to internalize the influence—what can they teach you; what does it feel right to pick up on—while also deking away from it to make your own best work. Also: thanks for the encouragement, K.R.! I’m going to try another second person story—been a while!

Another one of your stories in Peninsula Sinking, “Enigma,” won the 2016 CBC Short Story Prize. How did that experience impact your writing career?

That was a very fortunate moment for me—in many ways, it was the biggest thing that has yet happened to me as a writer. Neighbours and people from the community were suddenly coming up and telling me they’d read “Enigma” in enRoute magazine. Shortly after that good fortune, I had the good fortune to be signed by my wonderful agent, Stephanie Sinclair, who promptly got me a book deal for Peninsula Sinking. I remain hugely grateful to the CBC for all the work they do to promote their winners. No one literary career is the same, but if you work long enough and hard enough you will likely find an island of recognition in the fog of rejection and self-doubt. We need to hold on to these moments, to store them away for the gloomy days when we’re called to do the real work before the pale blue glow.   

Literary prizes often make a distinction between emerging and mid-career writers, but I imagine if I asked a dozen different people when that shift occurs, I’d end up with a dozen different answers. How would you describe this present stage of your own creative journey?

A while back, I listened to a WFMA podcast about “surviving creative adolescence” and it resonated. So maybe that’s where I am—I do write a lot about teenagers! But I think most artists think of themselves less in terms of a settled “stage” and more in terms of trying to push towards the next thing. I feel that I need to be always developing, trusting what I’ve learned and what I do well, but never just doing the same thing over again. That would bore me and atrophy the work.   

You’ve led workshops for WFNS and taught classes at King’s, Dal, UNB, and Western. What lessons have you tried to impart on your creative writing students, and what lessons have they imparted on you?

I’ve been astonished, many times now, by the way my students lift one another up. Their generosity and sensitivity as readers of one another has been persistently baffling and encouraging. I try to teach writers to take risks, to trust their instincts, to read widely, generously, and carefully. I lean a lot on ecological writing and ecological metaphors, and one of my favourite piece to teach is Ursula K. Le Guin’s short essay, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.” I can’t recommend that enough—it’s fascinating how the Darwinian “struggle for existence” approach to fiction writing dominates the classroom, and how beholden we are to the ideologies embedded in that. Recently, I’ve also loved Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses—an excellent teaching tool I’ve been leaning on. I always emphasize fun and play in the classroom. I think that if we lose that, we’re lost.

You’ve set a number of your published stories and poems in Halifax or the East Coast even as you’ve moved all around the country over the past decade. What keeps drawing you back to this region in your writing?

I have an increasingly complicated relationship to my home here in Mi’kma’ki. I’ve been returning to this place in my recent work in progress. I’m still thinking through it, and I guess I always will be. It’s a kind of sickness in many writers, I think, being drawn back over and over to the banal experiences of your youth, the way those experiences smelled and tasted and the particular, panting density of the air. This is a place with unique problems, unique history. It’s a place of war and violence, land theft and colonization, and it’s a place I want to keep learning about, writing about, and living better within.  

As the weather warms up, I’ve been reacquainting myself with the outside world by reading on the porch, strolling past the blooming yards in my neighbourhood, and enjoying some ice cream on the Halifax waterfront. What are some of your favourite Nova Scotian summertime activities?

This sure is a good place to be outside. I had the good fortune to hike Cape Split last week with my mother. Mostly, these days, you can catch me on the playground circuit with my two little girls or racing them on scooters. If we’re lucky, we get to the lake—we all love swimming. Last week, my four-year-old convinced me that rolling down Citadel Hill is super fun, which induced an ornery bout of nausea. I learned to love sledding in my-thirties. Hill-rolling, not so much.

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

Author spotlight: Shauntay Grant

Shauntay Grant is a spoken word artist, poet, children’s writer, playwright, musician and choir director. Everything she does is centred on African Nova Scotian history and experience. Everything she does is done with passion and purpose.

For example, her first children’s book, Up Home (Nimbus Publishing, 2008) was written as a thank you to the Black community of North Preston, where Grant spent many happy years of her childhood. Africville (Groundwood Books, 2018), nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s Literature, is a joyful exploration of historic Africville from a child’s perspective. The delightful board book My Hair is Beautiful (Nimbus Publishing, 2019) carries an “empowering message for families and children of colour, for whom wearing natural hair is both culturally significant and vital to forming a positive sense of self.” (Quill & Quire). There are more children’s books to come, proving that Grant continues to be an author to watch.

In recent years, Grant has turned her attention to drama. Her first play The Bridge (Playwrights Canada Press, 2021) was completed while Grant did a residency with 2b Theatre Company. The play is set in a rural Black Nova Scotia community and explores the complex relationship between two brothers strained over 20 years of secrecy, sin, and shame. It debuted at Neptune Theatre in early 2019 and received 11 2020 Robert Merritt Award nominations, winning four, including Outstanding New Play by a Nova Scotian.

Grant has two new plays in progress. Reunited with 2b Theatre, she is working on Maridzambira, set in modern day Halifax and ripe with notes of African Nova Scotian and Zimbabwean music and culture. The play is a collaboration with Zimbabwe’s musical treasure, Hope Masike. As well, Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) has commissioned Grant to write Identity: a Song Cycle for baritone Elliot Madore; Grant will collaborate this time with composer Dinuk Wijeratne.

I was lucky enough to catch a performance of your play, The Bridge, at Neptune Theatre back in 2019. What was it like to see your play move from script to stage production?

It was really interesting to see the production. To see words that were written for performance come alive onstage. To hear the music of the play woven into the fabric of the spoken text.

In addition to being a playwright, you’re also an accomplished poet, spoken word artist, musician, and picture book author. How does the way you tell a story shift between these different genres? 

The root of all my writing is poetry. My spoken word performance pieces are essentially poems spoken out loud. Almost all of my picture books have poetic text. And my plays have strong poetic elements. The Bridge, for example, adapts the lyrical poetry of The Song of Solomon as a conversation between a preacher and his lover. And there’s also the gospel and blues song lyrics that are, in a way, folk poems set to music. So with poetry as my grounding place, the shift happens when deciding which audience I’m writing for, or in which genre I want to write. If it’s a picture book, I’ll often lean on repetition or rhyme or other playful devices. With playwriting and spoken word I’ll often invite musical elements to explore the interplay between music and text. And with prose I’ll usually go for succinct, rhythmic lines that feel like poetry.

Speaking of your award-winning children’s books, do any interactions with young readers of your work stand out for you?

I remember sharing Africville with a group of third graders in Toronto shortly after the book’s release. The school was located near several residential buildings, one of which had recently suffered a fire that left hundreds of people without a home. In my visit with the students we explored themes of community and displacement. And when I shared with them how Africville was razed in the ’60s, a young boy raised his hand and said, “This sounds a lot like what happened to First Nations people in this country.” And I so appreciated how—at just 8 years old—he and his classmates were already having meaningful discussion around these challenging parts of our history as Canadians.

 You served as Halifax’s third Poet Laureate from 2009-2011. What was your personal approach to taking on this role?

I really wanted to create spaces for conversation between poets and other creatives. Part of that was collaborating with the Halifax Jazz Festival and other venues to create spaces for poets to collaborate with musicians in a performance setting. I also organized a national gathering of Canadian poets laureate—a first for the country at the time. And of course creating poems rooted in my experiences living on the east coast; for example my second children’s book The City Speaks In Drums is about two kids exploring the sights and sounds of Halifax, and it was published during my term as poet laureate.

You’ve had many students as a professor at Dalhousie and WFNS workshop instructor. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing to emerging voices?

I love those moments when a new writer starts to really own their story, and to trust their voice as an artist.

You’ve mentioned before that site-based writing is an important part of your creative process. What was it like do this for Africville, a site that looks very different today from the vibrant and deeply rooted African Nova Scotian community that the City of Halifax demolished in the 1960s?

For me, site-based writing is about deep listening on the physical land. The spaces I visit are often visually different from the historical moment I’m trying to access. But the land has stayed. And sometimes just planting my feet in the soil and trying to remember (or to imagine, or dream) is all it takes to begin to access that moment, and for stories to coming rushing in.

Can you talk about the importance of telling this story through the eyes of a young Black protagonist from the present day, rather than as a purely historical narrative?

Research is a key part of my creative process and while I love learning about history, I think it’s important for readers to encounter Black characters and Black culture in present-day contexts. Approaching this story from the perspective of a young Africville descendant taking in the annual reunion festival and reflecting on the community’s history was a way of honoring Africville’s past while also emphasizing that the community is still very much alive today.

A French edition of Africville was released last year with Moncton-based publisher Bouton d’or Acadie. What kinds of discussions did you have with translator Josephine Watson as she brought this latest iteration of the project to life?

Josephine and I didn’t interact during the development of the translated text, but I was in touch with the publisher at the time, and pleased with the translation. I had the privilege of giving a virtual author reading alongside Josephine during Black History Month this year, and was pleased to learn that she also has a background in poetry and spoken word. It definitely shines through her translation work—she did a great job.

Would it be fair to say collaboration is a cornerstone of your overall creative practice? In your experience, what are some of the hallmarks of a strong artistic partnership?

I’d say collaboration is pretty important. Right now I’m writing the poetry for a song cycle that Against The Grain Theatre will premiere in 2022—a collaboration with composer Dinuk Wijeratne and baritone Elliot Madore. In book publishing I’ve worked with illustrators and editors. In theatre I work with actors, musicians, directors, producers. With collaboration, I think having respect for what each person brings to the table is key. We may not always agree with each other—or even have conflicting visions for the project—but the respect for each other’s work is what keeps the collaboration strong, and helps guide us through those moments where we may have creative differences.

What achievement are you most proud of in your writing career thus far?

I’m not sure I could name one thing that I’m ‘most’ proud of but you wouldn’t believe my excitement when I saw Africville among the books listed in a Scholastic Reading Club flyer. I lived for those flyers when I was in elementary school and regularly pestered my parents to order new books every time the flyer came out. And it never occurred to me at the time that some day I’d have a book listed there. So I was pretty excited about the reading club edition of Africville making its way into the world.

How would you define a “successful” day of writing for yourself these days?

Any day that I get to write feels satisfying. Whether it’s just jotting down a few lines here and there, editing a work-in-progress, digging into research materials, listening and observing on the land… it’s all part of the process. And no matter how big or small the activity, it’s helping me to develop as a writer. So I’m grateful for any time—no matter how big or small—that I get to write.

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

 

Author spotlight: John Graham-Pole

John Graham-Pole graduated from University of London College of Medicine in 1966 and was a clinician, teacher, and researcher in the field of childhood cancer and palliative care for forty years. He co-founded the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine in the 1970s. In 2007, he moved to Antigonish after marrying Dorothy Lander, a professor of adult education at StFX. In 2018, John and Dorothy co-founded HARP: The People’s Press, dedicated to publications on art and health. You can find many of HARP’s books at The Curious Cat bookstore and teashop on Antigonish’s Main Street. John has written eleven books of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, and you can learn more about his work by visiting his website.

After living and working in cities across the UK and US for many decades, what drew you to the Antigonish area?

I fell in love with a Canadian woman, Dorothy Lander. She’s lived in Antigonish for 35 years and was attending a course on arts and healing I was helping to run at University of Florida, where I was working. We share many interests and we were both approaching what’s laughingly called retirement age, she as a prof of adult education at StFX and I as a prof of pediatric oncology and palliative care at UF. So we got married here in our kitchen fifteen years ago, and I’ve been blissed out ever since.  

You’ve released two YA novels over the past few years, Blood Work and A Boy and His Soul, that feature young protagonists with cancer. Why did you want to explore this topic through a fictional lens?

(And I’m just wrapping up my third – Songlines – this time about two Dalhousie students, told from the viewpoint of the girlfriend of a senior who develops a brain cancer.)

I’ve written a large number of articles, both academic and non-academic, about young people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. And I’ve also written two medical memoirs, one to be published soon, and the other – “Journeys with a Thousand Heroes” – published in 2018 by Wising Up Press. Both these books are full of stories of my patients, and it struck me that to write novels inspired by those “thousand heroes” was a much more appealing way to attract – and to educate – readers among young people and that huge population of grown-ups who also read YA novels. And I think writing good fiction is mostly more challenging than writing non-fiction.

Blood Work and A Boy and His Soul were both released through your company HARP Publishing. What led you to found HARP and share your work with readers in this way?

Both Dorothy and I have a long time interest in the healing arts, and we realized there was a niche that ought to be filled. HARP Publishing, The People’s Press is a multi-media publisher focusing on the healing arts and the arts for health equity. Our focus is a popular readership of caregivers and care receivers (which means all of us!), in both electronic and print media. The acronym, HARP, stands for Healing Arts, Reconciling People. Our name represents both art and cooperation amongst all communities for our greater personal and collective health. We were drawn from the start to the harp’s healing symbolism in creating a publisher with a particular stress on the healing power of art, especially through telling stories. 

What has it been like to set up shop as a small press in Nova Scotia?

The steepest learning curve I’ve been on since medical school – and that was almost 60 years ago! If we’d realized what we were getting into at the age of 76 and 71 respectively I suspect we’d never have embarked on this journey. We started out in 2018 planning to publish mostly our own writing, starting out with The People’s Photo Album, a pictorial genealogy of the Antigonish Movement. We launched it on Parliament Hill with three senators present. Then word got out and our own books had to quickly take a backseat to publishing authors from all over Canada and America with compelling work that fit right into our niche and we felt needed to be published. Among our 14 publications so far are three focused on healing from war and genocide (Indigenous, Guatemalan, Armenian), three books of poetry, and a book and online audio flipbook for young ones—Hmmm – M the Humdinger—about difference (the heroine communicates only by humming).

You’ve also looked back over your career through poetry, essays, and memoir. Do you have a favourite mode of creative expression?

Play in all forms. I happened to go to primary school with John Cleese and to medical school with Graham Chapman (both Monty Python luminaries), and later became friendly with Patch Adams. So I became aware of the healing power of laughter very early on and used to do a lot of what I called “playshops” with adult colleagues. Children of course know the value of play instinctively, but sadly this gets suppressed somewhere along with the emergence of adolescent angst.

Overall, what role do you think art and creativity have to play in the healthcare system?

There’s been so much written in the past thirty years since we started our Arts in Medicine program and the Center for Arts in Medicine back in the seventies. Patch Adams wrote a foreword to the book I wrote in 2000 entitled Illness and the Art of Creative Self-Expression. His opening lines were: “Art is an essential nutrient for human culture. Every society has used art to create a social glue, to express its faith and ideas, and to interpret the world…Our current economic system has disconnected art from the general public…The consequence of this social disconnection from the arts is the malaise we physicians see as so pervasive in our society.” I certainly couldn’t say it better, but I’ll just add that I spent almost my whole 40-year career hanging out with children. Children don’t lurch—the way we adults so often do from past regret to future anxiety, totally missing the bit in the middle: our precious gift of the present. They are artists in life—so let them be our leaders and our teachers.

Are there other writers with a medical background that you admire?

Another tough question—there are so many. Here’s a short alphabetical list:

Rafael Campo, Larry Dossey, Atul Gawande, Jerome Groopman, Paul Kalanthi, Perri Klas, Vincent Lam, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Jock Murray, Sherwin Nuland, Danielle Ofri, Oliver Sachs, Richard Selzer, Lewis Thomas, and Abraham Verghese. And that’s not even to mention all those wonderful nurse-writers, and…and…and…

During the summer months, how do you enjoy spending your time when not writing?

When I read that question to Dorothy, she burst out laughing—something to do with the ridiculous and probably unhealthy time we spent at our computers all year round… But we do have a wonderful 1.8 acres of land in which we grow lots of fruits and veggies, as well as planting many new trees every year. We have no lawn to mow, because we are doing our best to attract all the pollinators. We have some important daily, rituals—walking our “forest”, reading aloud to each other, riding our e-bikes, weekend trips around the province, yoga, vegetarian cooking…

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

Author spotlight: Louise Michalos

Born in Musquodoboit Harbour and raised in Halifax, Louise Michalos brings an authentic voice to Marilla Cuthbert’s story. The second youngest of a family of nine, whose mother was raised in a lighthouse and whose father was raised in a home that housed the post office, Louise’s life was infused with the stories of love and loss that are held within small communities throughout Atlantic Canada. Louise currently lives in Bedford with her husband, Trifon. Marilla Before Anne is her first novel. (Photo Credit: Nicola Davison)

Out of all the characters in fiction, why Marilla?

I was looking for an east coast story and a character that people would be familiar with. Many people know the story of Anne Shirley but there wasn’t much written about Marilla Cuthbert, the woman who adopts her. As a woman, a mother and grandmother, I wanted to know more about her life and what brought her to that decision at age 52.

What clues in the Anne books did you have to work from in fleshing out the younger Marilla?

When Anne first arrives at Green Gables, and as much as Marilla remains stern and practical in her approach to the perceived mistake of her not being a boy, there are moments when she is described as mellow. “Something like a reluctant smile, rather rusty from long disuse, mellowed Marilla’s grim expression.” Snippets of these types of reactions by Marilla throughout the Anne of Green Gables novel show a warmth that existed within her but had little opportunity to surface. I wanted to explore why.

What were some challenges / favorite things of writing historical fiction?

 The challenge was in making sure that the actions taken by the characters (for example, a train ride, ferry boat to Halifax, graduation from Veterinary College) could actually happen in that time period. And to make sure the timelines of all the characters from three different novels all lined up, including the birth dates of Marilla (from Marilla before Anne) Bertha (from Before Green Gables) and Anne and Gilbert Blythe (from Anne of Green Gables). 

One of my favourite things is immersing myself in the time period and hearing the various voices, dialects and expressions come to life.

I know that you’ve taken writing workshops and participated in Nova Writes … would you recommend things like these for a writer getting started?

Absolutely! One of the first things I did was join WFNS. I kept up to date on events and workshops and contests that were being promoted or announced. I attended the Word on the Street author readings and “Pitch to the publisher” events, I attended author book launches at the Dartmouth and Central library. I attended workshops conducted by Donna Morrissey and most recently by Carol Bruneau. I participated in the first Sherbrooke Village writer’s camp in 2018. I entered the Nova Writes competition and various other short story and poetry competitions.

What other pieces of advice would you have for a writer getting published for the first time?

Follow manuscript submission instructions for each specific publisher and present yourself (and your manuscript) as professional and as polished as possible. Help the publisher understand the audience you’re trying to reach and suggestions on how to reach them.

Fiction inspired by other earlier works of fiction – I’m thinking of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and Longbourn by Jo Baker – come with a built-in audience. What are the advantages and disadvantages of that?

The advantage, especially for an unknown author, is to have the book noticed on the book shelf, not for the author’s name but for the character that readers already know. The disadvantage is that readers can’t or won’t accept your version of the story you’ve created around their beloved character.

Were you ever able to speak to Budge Wilson, who also did a book inspired by Anne of Green Gables, Before Green Gables?

No. Unfortunately I didn’t. I had hoped to have a copy of my book sent to her and meet her once the book was released. When she passed away I was so upset. She inspired me as a writer because she wrote Before Green Gables when she was 80 years old, which made my idea, that starting writing at 60 was way too late, seem silly. 

What kind of reaction have you got from Anne fans so far?

I’ve only had two or three negative reviews from Anne fans. They simply can’t accept my version. Other reviewers expressed that they really enjoyed the story and welcomed the opportunity to get to know Marilla better…which warms my heart.

Did you need to get permission from LM Montgomery’s heirs?

I wrote and asked for permission, but it was not required. Because the characters of Marilla (and Matthew and others) belong within the public domain of Canada, LM Montgomery Inc. doesn’t have the authority to impede the freedom of expression of authors wanting to use those characters in their creative pursuits. They of course want it made clear that they have not provided an endorsement or approval of any kind but wished me well with my work.

If there were other characters in the Anne canon to flesh out, who would they be?

I think I’d like to know more about Violet, the love interest of Matthew. There’s a whole story behind that story and I think I’d like to know more!

What’s your position on puff sleeves?

Well Marilla wouldn’t be caught dead in them, but being a bit of a fashion buff, if they go back in style I just might have to try them! After all we did the padded shoulders in the ’80s, so why not?

What’s next for you?

I want to revise my original manuscript for Out of the Ashes, which is a love story set between 1917 and 1945 and describes the connection between Boston and Halifax during and post Halifax Explosion. I want to get it as polished as I can (it’s the one I cut my teeth on!) and then submit, first to Nimbus of course, but also publishers in Boston who may be interested as well. Aside from historical fiction, I started a third novel set in Halifax in present day which is either a murder mystery or a psychological thriller. I’ll know better when I get back into it. Needless to say my retirement hobby has now turned into real work… and I love it!

Questions by Marilyn Smulders

Author spotlight: Angela Bowden

TEDx speaker, writer, and activist, Angela Bowden is a descendent of the stolen Africans sold through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Angela’s roots were preserved through the Black Loyalists arriving in Birchtown, migrating to Guysborough County, and later moving to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, where she was born and raised.

In the introduction to UnSpoken Truth, you say that “[t]he pieces contained in this book are intended to identify and acknowledge the generational trauma and pain of Black people living in the African Diaspora and create an understanding of the trauma suffered.” As a poet and a journalist, there are several ways you could have approached this important project. What drew you to poetry in particular?

When I began writing UnSpoken Truth I originally set out to write a combination of short stories and poems but somewhere along the way it became clear to me how deeply the poetry was working in this project alone. I would create a piece and it didn’t matter the length or structure, it was doing some pretty powerful work in a way that seemed natural and moving. The poetry travelled like water, filling in some of the historical trauma crevices and seeping past the walls of opposition landing in a place that I refer to as innerstanding; the place where pain resonates and motivates us to do something. Poetry that is created deliberately and consciously moves energy much like music. Each poem became a lesson filled with lived experience and created an atmosphere that moved readers beyond the words and into the trauma. Capturing this topic via poetry provided a necessary break for the reader; there is an in and an out of this daunting material. When engaging with traumatic material like UnSpoken Truth that’s important. Each poem provides bite size pieces of these complex trauma stories without losing meaning or momentum. Poetry is personal. Each reader receives it and is able to have an intimate conversation with themselves privately over what each piece is conveying. There’s no room for argument in poetry. I chose poetry because it evokes emotions that are easier to penetrate past the mind and into the heart. That part, the innerstanding, I hope motivates individuals alone and in family and peer circles to examine our histories and change.

You also mention in the book that storytelling played an important role in your family while growing up in New Glasgow. How has that influenced your writing career?

Storytelling is a cultural and historical part of the African community’s identity; we preserve our stories, history and other events and pass them down orally intergenerationally. As a young girl I enjoyed the stories told in my family and community and now I have the maturity and wisdom to process and analyze them. I pass these stories on in the art of storytelling, spoken word, poetry and nonfiction works. I think it’s critically important that some of these stories be captured in the art and story form in an effort to document our historical and ongoing experiences and existence in the diaspora. I have learned the bulk of my education through this wisdom and storytelling and I never wanted our rich cultural histories and legacies to be forgotten. This has had a profound effect on my writing and is the reason I listen and carefully store these memory archives that later translate into poetry or spoken word. Our survival has been one of a tragedy inside a tragedy, so much substance and beauty intertwined in our histories, coping and pain.

What has your family’s response been to UnSpoken Truth?

Complete pride. From my mother to my sons, aunties, siblings, cousins and friends the feedback has been complete pride. Much like the elder response, UnSpoken Truth has opened another door and gives permission for us as individuals, families and communities to validate and engage in some of the deep conversations we were never permitted to acknowledge let alone speak about. Unspoken Truth validates these experiences and gives permission to acknowledge, speak, feel and heal; the experiences contained in the book resonate beyond my family.

When writing about topics that require a lot of emotional labour, do you follow any self-care rituals?

Oh absolutely! These topics require pre care and after care. It is critical to my own survival and thrival to invest in me first before I travel to those tough spaces and use deep energy. I spend a lot of time outside in nature or beside water, connecting, smudging and pouring libations to ground me in my purpose and provide me with support. After I write from and in these trauma spaces I face physical and emotional consequences, which lend a hand to more good writing.

I find my center again by going back outside and tuning in to me, with nature and my soul, reminding myself of who I am and giving myself permission to release and rest. Breathing, observing, grounding and being grateful and mindful of the little things keeps me in the present, this is so important. Spending time with my family and friends reminiscing and laughing, bubble baths, music and dancing is also part of my follow up care but connecting with children and the elderly offers a healing unparalleled. Basking in pure love, vulnerability, good energy and counting my blessings is the key to continuing this journey I am on.

In a recent CBC article, you spoke about how the title of this book reflects your efforts to unmute the voices and stories of your elders. You’ve also dedicated the collection in part to Black youth. Who are some young Black voices that excite you today?

Yes, it is important the youth understand their location in all of this as they lead us to change. There are so many public and behind the scene youth voices that excite me provincially, too many to name and I would not want to leave any voices out!

Personally, I’d have to say the voices of my sons Roger and Roemyn excite me the most, especially as a Black mother because we dialogue regularly about these complex topics. They have a profound understanding of the issues we are facing and use their gifts, experiences, trauma and healing to generate solutions. From researching, developing and sharing financial literacy and investment information and support to the psychological understandings and experiences of Black trauma and mental health they put in the work both academically and personally. As young Black men with complex lived experiences and perspectives, I am excited to see what contributions they will both continue to make in the development of and as Black men as well as in the literary and academia world. It’s exciting to envision where our youth and their critical thinking will lead them as they venture into their individual journeys, rejecting Black Toxic Masculinity and perhaps engaging in future joint projects.

When it comes to the voices of the youth in this province, let me assert that they are speaking up and out in many different ways in every crevice of rural and urban Nova Scotia. From articles, public speaking, activism, poetry, spoken word, music, art, peer conversations and modelling, personal growth and self investment, these youth are making a difference. They are the change and it is incumbent upon all of us to continue to be the steady shoulders they stand on.

How did your manuscript evolve from the earliest drafts in 2018 to your time in the Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program in 2020 and its publication this year?

The evolution of UnSpoken Truth went from inspiration to perspiration. The beginning stages in 2018 were driven by inspiration but that was not going to be enough to complete the project. Writing requires discipline and that is what the Alistair MacLeod Mentorship program provided me with – discipline. Through the program I learned to sweat a little when I write, this was a new discipline for me, writing from perspiration. And as I began to settle into the ebb and flow of writer’s block and woes I learned valuable insight regarding the writing process; I learned that both chaos and the clarity inform the writing process so I let my guard down and accepted whatever thoughts, words or stories entered my space. As publication drew near I had evolved so much as a writer through the entire process that the manuscript that I thought was finished became a working and open document again that saw multiple edits and additions which eventually led to the finish line; the evolution and completion of UnSpoken Truth: Unmuted and Unfiltered.

Do you enjoy writing anywhere, or is there a particular space or set-up that works best for you?

I love writing anywhere and everywhere as each location creates its own writing atmosphere and encourages diverse angles and parallels. I can be writing in my room and not even be in my room writing as I am present in the story, not the location. I love writing outside in the sun and at evening time. I also enjoy writing while travelling because my mind is constantly analyzing, processing and filtering new content in new spaces. I can return to write in those spaces when I return back to my home as well because I was present in those stories ans spaces mindfully so I can recreate them in my mind and spirit when I write. Whether I am capturing experiences from Ghana, the Dominican, Jamaica or the US I can literally feel my way back into those places I experienced to write. For me, the message meets me where I am and transcends all moods.

I understand there’s now an UnSpoken Truth audio book in the works. How do the publishing and recording processes compare for this project?

Well everything has been delayed because of COVID, but I suspect the audio for UnSpoken Truth will be more impactful based on the feedback I receive after a reading or presentation. The project will be more emotional labour and more intensive self care as there is something about speaking the trauma out loud and hearing it that triggers deeper for everyone including the author. I am also excited to be offering an alternate format that is more accessible to our elders, visually impaired and persons struggling with literacy.

Speaking of recording, there’s a great video available on YouTube in which you perform two poems from your time in the WFNS mentorship program. As a seasoned spoken word artist and public speaker, do you have any advice for writers who might be nervous about sharing their own words in public?

Yes! Dear beautiful talented writers, poets and speakers YOU got this, you had it all along! Dig deep and then deeper. You are on this journey for a reason and the good news is you have all of the answers you seek tucked deep inside of you. Have fun with your gift. Unwrap it, play with it, and discover your power! Stand tall and proud in your gifts and talents and turn up your volume and you will naturally present and feel a righteous responsibility to share your gift with confidence and grace unapologetically once you remember who YOU are. Don’t question it. Accept that the gifts you’ve been given are for you to use; it is protected and abundant so hop to it.

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

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