Friday, January 31, 2014

When We Were King’s (an MFA res recap)

I may pride myself on my hermit-writer status most days, but after spending 65% of January on the road I feel like I conquered all kinds of writerly stereotypes. I mean, I left the house a lot, folks. I mingled. I held business hours. And… um… I showered in a timely fashion.

After an amazing time at the Wilkes University low-residency MFA program where I help people navigate and connect with social media, after a series of fun sessions at the Arcadia University low-residency MFA program, and after a few unexpected stops in North Carolina, I had but a few days before heading to Toronto. I’m one of the mentors in the University of King’s College (Halifax) creative nonfiction MFA program and, while August residencies take place at the gorgeous historic campus, January residencies alternate between the publishing hotspots of Toronto and New York City.

The opening mixer saw students mingling with MFA Advisory Board members like Shelley Ambrose, co-publisher of The Walrus, and Anne Collins, publisher at Knopf Random House Canada. This event, like most activities throughout the week, took place at One King West, in the heart of downtown, where we also crashed after jam-packed days. Opening night was also my chance to reconnect with my CNF mentees! Here we are, seen L-R in the photo: Deirdre, Pauline, yours truly, Britt, Star, and Gina.

Under the guidance of our fearless leaders Don Sedgwick (Executive Director) and Stephen Kimber (Interim Director), students met with more than half a dozen literary agents, pitched projects to folks like the senior editor of Knopf Random House Publishing Group, and heard all kinds of insight from industry pros. Phyllis
Don Sedgwick & Phyllis Bruce
Bruce, of Phyllis Bruce Books and Simon & Schuster Canada, offered tips on working with editors; Jack David, publisher of ECW Press, discussed the evolution of publishing and the rise of e-books; Matt Williams, vice-president of House of Anansi, spoke about contracts; and, from Penguin Random House Canada, Scott Richardson discussed book design, while Adria Iwasutiak covered author publicity and promotion.

Editors at HarperCollins
Not everything took place in the hotel conference rooms, though. Toronto is the Canadian publishing capital, after all, and that meant field trips were on the agenda! On the business side of things, students visited the Kobo and Access Copyright offices. One of the highlights for students and faculty alike was the visit to the HarperCollins Canada offices where publisher Iris Tupholme and the entire crew of nonfiction editors offered wine, cheese, and great conversation.

Photo: David Hayes
It sounds like everything was all business all the time, but that’s not entirely the case. My colleague David Hayes hosted a casual gathering for the mentors and directors of the MFA program and what a treat that was. David is as talented a chef as he is a writer. It was a great night to catch up with my aforementioned colleagues, including Lorri Neilsen Glenn and David Swick. Thanks for opening your home to us, David!

Overall, the residency was a huge success and it was great to see students get such a boost from the camaraderie and community in and outside of residency activities. It takes a lot of guts to share your project pitch with others, but nerves are so much easier to handle in a supportive environment like this. So, kudos to all the students for making it through unscathed. It only goes up from here.

In my own little world, I also used the Toronto visit as an opportunity to connect with old-time friends, revisit the World’s Biggest Bookstore (which is sadly closing in early March), and meet up with writer pals like Molly Peacock. Oh, and thanks for the lunch, Tightrope Books!

It was also my pleasure to hang out with the Toronto Wordsmiths writing group at the Parkdale branch of the Toronto Public Library. As their guest, I shared stories about my early days as a writer living in Toronto, how I organize my time now and get the words down on paper, and of course I opened up the floor to all kinds of questions. After a brief reading from my new poetry book, Square Feet, I listened to these amazing young writers discuss their own ambitions and was happy to share resources for their various pursuits. 

My nine days in Toronto flew by. I barely unpacked before it was time to pack up again. As I waited on my flight home from Pearson International, and caught up on some Canadian magazines, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate I am to jetset all over North America, connect with inspiring writers both emerging and established, and call this writing thing a living. I don’t know exactly how this all came to be, apart from patience, persistence, and perseverance, but I sure am grateful for it all. And to my young writer friends of Toronto Wordsmiths, I say: keep at it. It’s your story to write.


  1. The gift of community and connection - that's one of the many you give to others. Bravo Lori.