Loving what you teach and teaching what you love
By Christian Kindrachuk, Contributor
Publishing a work of art is something that can be hard for some authors, but for MRU’s Natalie Meisner, it has been quite a year after getting four works published and a play set to debut this April.
While it is uncommon for any writer to publish that much in that time span, Meisner has stayed humble about having that opportunity for her work. She has found value incorporating her own life stories into her work.
“I never used to try to write true stories. I always thought other people are more fascinating than me,” Meisner says. “I thought, ‘I’m just this … young person from a small town. Who would care about my story?’”
This is noticeable in her work called Double Pregnant: Two Lesbians Make a Family, which is based on the crazy things that happened to Meisner as she and her partner were trying to have a family, she says.
Her recent publications include a collection of poems titled Baddie One Shoe, a children’s book called My Mommy, My Mama, My Brother & Me, three plays called Legislating Love: The Everett Klippert Story, Speed Dating For Sperm Donors and another that is set to be performed at the end of April titled Boom Baby.
Meisner is originally from Nova Scotia and says there wasn’t much art and culture around growing up, but there was a bookmobile that helped open her eyes up to the literary world. After her studies had started in Halifax she gained a strong appreciation for the power of literature.
“[I] became really passionate about the world of ideas, world literature [and] how stories can change the world,” Meisner says.
While being a published author, Meisner is also a professor. She was offered to teach at the University of Calgary while completing her PhD, which she accepted.
With a background in theatre, Meisner brings a collaborative nature to teaching that shows in her classroom. This is seen by a former student who has taken one of Meisner’s creative writing classes.
“[She is] super personalized, and she knew the students,” says Tia Christoffersen, a former student who has worked closely with Meisner. “I had known her from taking several classes with her beforehand, and she knows how to bring out people’s voices.”
Meisner opts for a unique type of teaching that is aimed at helping students in their own way. She calls it the “co- teaching model,” which is an effort to help students to be comfortable in asking their questions and asserting their opinions.
“So that they can say, ‘No I didn’t agree, I see it another way’ and that is the moment that I always love because we all lean in closer,” Meisner says. “We all learn from each other at that moment, it becomes super dynamic and super exciting.”
While this might be an approach that might not come naturally for some, it seems to be who Meisner is as a person, according to a fellow colleague at MRU.
“I remember her being warm as a new colleague,” says Sarah Banting, a fellow teacher in the English department. “She’s always happy to make connections, and to reach out to people and involve them in the things she’s thinking about. I remember the warmth of her welcome to the department.”
Now being in Alberta for 15 years, Meisner is balancing a perspective that is not always heard from in the west — an eastern perspective.
“I really appreciate being an easterner, but understanding the west. It’s given me this cool perspective on Canadian culture,” she says.
With her unique perspective on culture, she has been able to develop her own style towards topics that might otherwise be hard to pull off for another writer. That being a very human approach to things that can be serious with a touch of humor, Banting says.
“I feel like her work tends to be pretty humane, like pretty generous in spirit, especially to the lives of people who are marginalized in some communities… There’s that generosity of spirit.”
Meisner has been able to keep the balance of taking what she has learned herself in the field of writing and bringing it back to the classroom. This has also allowed her to keep her teaching career and writing career simultaneously.
“It’s always been like you’re in the world and you’re also learning at the same time. I have loved the classroom from the very first day, but this is one of my homes. This is one of the places I feel alive,” Meisner says.