Author blows up literary scene
Zsuzsi Gartner ignites creative writing on campus
Creative writing is not one of those things where you can attend a few theory classes and be great. It takes practice and commitment; exposure to new ideas and people in the discipline doesn’t hurt either.
Enter the writer-in-residence program at Mount Royal University, which in recent years saw authors such as Canadian storyteller Ivan Coyote, as well as author and visual artist Michael Nicholl Yahgulanaas.
The English department hosts a visiting author on campus each year, allowing students the opportunity to meet with and learn from an established author from outside of the classroom community. Most recently they welcomed author Zsuzsi Gartner to MRU as the writer-in-residence for the 2012/2013 academic year.
During the week of Jan. 21 to 25, Gartner was busy visiting creative writing classes at Mount Royal University, giving lectures on topics such as point-of-view or structuring a story.
“What’s been interesting for me is that I usually work with older writers or quite young kids,” Gartner said, “It’s a challenge (because these students) are a generation that’s incredibly savvy about so many things, and there’s so many things about writing that’s so, in a way, old fashioned.”
“It’s a bit nerve-wracking to walk into a classroom of (19-to-20)-year-olds and kind of think, ‘Okay, are they eager?’”
Gartner, known for her satiric humor and sharp wit, is the author of two short story collections, All the Anxious Girls in the World, and Scotiabank Giller Award finalist, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives. She is also the editor of Darwin’s Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow.
She is currently working as an instructor for the University of British Columbia’s optional residency masters of fine arts in creative writing, and has frequently been involved with the Banff Centre’s literary arts programs.
Gartner also offered creative writing students the chance to set up appointments to meet with her one-on-one to discuss their writing and the craft.
“A lot of people signed up to come talk to me,” she said. “I’ve been reading an incredible variety of stuff — fiction and non-fiction — and I’m actually very impressed.
“There’s some really good writing happening, so that’s cool, because I had no idea what to expect. I really didn’t.”
On Jan. 23, Gartner gave a public reading of an excerpt of her short story Once, We Were Swedes, found in Better Living Through Plastic Explosives. Throughout the evening, Gartner discussed her inspirations, and her personal experiment wherein she disconnected from personal electronics, even writing stories by typewriter.
Gartner finished the evening by holding an informal contest, awarding audience members who recognized the highest number of references in her short story Say the Names, composed of only titles of Canadian fiction, poetry, and music.
When asked the highlight of her stay, Gartner told the story of a student from a class immediately following one of her lectures: “As Beth Everest and I were leaving the classroom, this young woman with textbooks wide open — you know, could’ve been economics or business or something — she says, ‘What class is in here before us?’ and Beth said, ‘Creative writing,’ and she said, ‘Oh, because it seems so —’ and I think she’s going to say like ‘fun,’ or ‘interesting,’ or ‘Where do I sign up?’ and she said, ‘— touchy-feely.’ And we both went, ‘What?’ So that was pretty hilarious.”
“You don’t know how absolutely electric it can be,” Gartner continued. “You know, when you’re involved in something like this where you really, really care. That anecdote, I think, is a highlight for that reason, and it’s kind of funny.”