On Writing Programs, with Meaghan Strimas
Have you ever taken or considered taking a course in creative writing? Now you have more options than ever in the GTA: Open Book is pleased to announce the launch of a brand new writing program — Creative Writing at Guelph, offered through the University of Guelph's Continuing Education program.
Meaghan Strimas is the Academic Coordinator of Creative Writing at Guelph. Herself a writer, Meaghan is also the author of the poetry collections A Good Time Had by All and Junkman's Daughter (both published by Exile Editions).
She talks with Open Book today about what the new program means for emerging writers and the dialogue around writing programs in general.
Tell us about the University of Guelph's new Creative Writing at Guelph program and how it came about.
The University of Guelph is very excited to introduce Creative Writing at Guelph, a new program of writing courses in a variety of genres open to anyone interested in taking a writing course. We are delighted to announce that registration for fall 2012 is now open Courses begin in late September.
The program of study can result in a certificate in creative writing; however, students are welcome to enroll in courses without completing the certificate program in its entirety. Creative Writing at Guelph is a partnership of the University of Guelph’s Creative Writing MFA, the School of English and Theatre Studies and the university’s Centre for Open Learning and Educational Support. All courses in the program will be developed and taught by students and alumni and associates of the U of G’s nationally regarded Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts program.
The original idea for the program came from Marjory Gouette, the university’s manager of program development at the Centre for Open Learning and Educational Support. She saw the need for continuing education courses in Creative Writing in the Guelph and southwestern Ontario area, since there was a demand that wasn’t being met. Marjory approached Alan Filewod, director of SETS, who then brought Catherine Bush, coordinator of the Creative Writing MFA, on board. When I asked Catherine about how Creative Writing at Guelph came to be, she said, “We had been looking for opportunities to create TA-ships for our MFA students and there was also an opportunity and need for continuing education courses in creative writing at the university and in the wider community. Given the prominence of creative writing at the graduate level at Guelph, we decided it made good sense to expand the creative writing offerings associated with the university and use the expertise that we had gathered through our instructors and alumni and students while also reaching out to the Guelph community and beyond.” So here we are…
There's plenty of debate between writers who feel workshops are helpful and writers who feel an author ought to work in isolation. Where do you weigh in on those issues?
Even those writers who shun the idea of a workshop seek out camaraderie and support from other artists. A writing workshop is a place where a person can come together with other individuals who share a similar interest. I’ve been working as an administrator for the University of Guelph’s Creative Writing MFA program since its first year, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing, talented people. I’ve also been lucky enough to bear witness to the blossoming of so many friendships between students.
The support these students offer each other is overwhelming. I also think that a workshop can be a place where students gain new insights, are introduced to new authors, and are presented with new challenges. A certain kind of healthy competition emerges in the group, and students find themselves trying new things. Writing is a lonely craft, and beginning writers have long benefitted from the guidance of more experienced writers.
Tell us a bit about some of the courses offered in this new program.
Currently Creative Writing at Guelph will be offering ten courses on the University of Guelph campus: Introduction to Creative Writing, Creative Writing through Reading, a Short Story workshop, a Writing for Screen and Stage workshop, a Novel workshop, a Creative Nonfiction workshop, a Poetry workshop, a Children’s and Young Adult Writing workshop, a Writing Mystery workshop, and the Final Capstone Writing Project
We’ll be launching two new courses this fall: an Introduction to Creative Writing course, which will be taught by Zoe Whittall, and a short story workshop, which will be led by Kilby Smith-McGregor. Zoe and Kilby are graduates of the U of G’s Creative Writing MFA program and we know they will be exceptional instructors. Zoe’s Intro course begins September 25 and runs until November 13, 2012. The course will be held on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. Kilby's short story workshop will start the week of October 15th and will end the first week in December. We’ll roll out three more courses in the winter of 2013: Creative Writing through Reading (Intructor: Ayelet Tsabari), a Poetry workshop (Instructor: Paul Vermeersch), and a Novel workshop (Instructor: TBA).
What unique opportunities do you find Guelph offers for writing students?
I think the main draw of this program will be its instructors. I know Zoe, Kilby, Paul, Ayelet personally: they are all brilliant and talented writers and I know they will offer a warm and friendly atmosphere to all incoming students. Also we really believe in classes that combine writing, offering students feedback on their writing and the reading of published work.
How would you recommend prospective students prepare for the workshop environment?
If students come to class with an open mind and an eagerness to learn, I think they will flourish. Also, get ready to be introduced to some very fine works of literature.
What's up next for the Creative Writing at Guelph program?
At the moment, we are trying to spread the word about the program. We’d really like to see Creative Writing at Guelph flourish. We are so excited about this program and we think many emerging writers will benefit from its presence. We’ll also be recruiting new instructors for the summer courses: a Mystery Writing workshop and Children and Young Adult Writing workshop.