Writers in Classrooms Bring Canadian Literature to Life

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Guest contributor Thomas Hodd, PhD, who is an assistant professor in Canadian literature at Université de Moncton, recounts his experience of having Canadian authors come into his classrooms and speak with students.

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There's something to be said for inviting Canadian writers into your classroom. Universities across the country have author readings, but it's been my experience that not enough of us go to them. These events are a wonderful gift.

In fact, some of my most rewarding conversations about Canadian literature happened when students were able to talk to an author they've been studying. You get a chance to learn about the writer's craft, her likes and dislikes, her own experiences, what it means to live in this country and create stories.

Such confessions would typically spur all kinds of thoughtful, imaginative and provocative questions from students: what were you trying to do? Why this word and not that one? Did you really have to describe that disgusting dead moose on page 34?  

Authors are slippery, of course: sometimes they would answer, other times evade. But what we all took away from the event was a new understanding of the writer's craft. More importantly, such conversations often enriched our reading of a text tenfold, made it dance in ways we hadn't considered.

I'll never forget the time I invited the Acadian writer, Serge Patrice Thibodeau, to my Atlantic literature class. (A bit of context: I teach in a francophone university, and the majority of the students are Acadian). I thought it would be an excellent opportunity for us to talk to someone who not only understood their unique cultural experience, but who has tried to express it through words. The result was better than I had hoped: I barely had to prompt questions, and not one of the students started texting mid-way through; most remarkable, though, was how many of the students lingered after class was over, hungry to ask him more questions, a few even just to personally thank him.

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Or the time George Elliott Clarke came and talked to us about his novel, George and Rue. He talked at length about the court transcripts he waded through as part of his research, about the history of executions in Canada and the pervasive racial discrimination that plagued the courts in the early part of the 20th century. He spoke so passionately that the students barely had a chance to ask questions. But it didn't matter: you could see they were enthralled. And it was obvious that they felt they understood George and Rue much better after his visit, for many of them wrote about his novel for their final exams. It`s been almost two years, but every time his name comes up students who were there will immediately say, “Remember when he came to our class?”

These types of conversations are taking place in Canadian literature classes all over the country. But more need to happen. So if you want to meet a live Canadian writer, pester your professor. If you're a Canadian literature teacher at the high school level, or teach language arts in middle school or at the elementary level, take advantage of this simple, yet profoundly rewarding educational tool if you haven't done so already.”

Nearly every province in the country has some form of a Writers in Schools Program. I've compiled a list below.

Contact a writer; invite them to your classroom. The study of Canadian literature is not just an exercise in analyzing the written word: it's about celebrating a living, breathing tradition. It's about meeting writers you can reach out and touch—storytellers who not only describe where you live, but who live in your own backyard.

Here are links to several of provincial Writers in Schools Programs:

New Brunswick: http://www.wfnb.ca/writersinschools/about-wisp/

Nova Scotia: http://writers.ns.ca/programs/writers-schools-wits.html

PEI: http://www.peiwritersguild.com/

Québec: http://www.qwf.org/programs/

Ontario : http://www.writersunion.ca/content/writers-schools

Manitoba: http://www.mbwriter.mb.ca/public-readings-grant-programsubventions-de-lectures-publiques/

Saskatchewan: http://www.skwriter.com/programs-and-services/readings-school-and-community

Alberta: http://www.canauthorsalberta.ca/writers-in-schools

The BC Federation of Writers offers an "Off the Page School Program”: contact them at otp@bcwriters.ca

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Thomas Hodd is an assistant professor in Canadian literature at Université de Moncton in New Brunswick. A cultural commentator and scholar, his reviews, columns, and essays on Canadian literature have appeared in a number of regional and national newspapers, such as the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Chronicle Herald and the Telegraph Journal. He also published scholarly work in academic journals such as Canadian Literature, Canadian Poetry, and Studies in Canadian Literature. He can be reached at: tomhodd@gmail.com.

November 22, 2013
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