Monthly Archives: July 2022

BWS 07.13.22 report: Which Creative Writing Program and Why?: One Writer’s Perspective on MFAs, Continuing Education Certificates, and Private Workshops

Anna Lee-Popham is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph, and a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Education Creative Writing Certificate, where she received the Janice Colbert Poetry Award. Anna co-hosts the Emerging Writers Reading Series.

Which Creative Writing Program and Why?: One Writer’s Perspective on MFAs, Continuing Education Certificates, and Private Workshops 

By Anna Lee-Popham 

Have you ever wondered about the difference between creative writing programs? You’re in the right place! I recently presented at the Brockton Writers Series about MFAs, continuing education certificate programs, and private workshops – and I’ve outlined what I shared in that presentation here.  

To start, there are many different ways to approach learning creative writing. Many writers don’t engage in organized courses or programs and focus instead on a self-directed approach. I’m certainly of the belief that whatever gets you writing is the approach to take. In this very insightful conversation between Dionne Brand and Harryette Mullen, they were asked what advice they would give to aspiring poets and writers in the context of protest and rebellion. Dionne Brand said:  

“Write, write. And read, read the tradition you are in. Read everything and just write it. It’s important and it’s urgent. … Write till four in the morning, until six in the morning. …  Do whatever kind of work you need to do so you do that work. We need that work. We need this production of our life.” 

Harryette Mullen replied: 

“I would add: You don’t need permission. You give yourself permission…. Your voice has value.” 

So most importantly: follow their advice. 

If you do decide to engage in a formal education program geared to creative writing, think about why you want to do so, what your goals are, and so which program might best suit you. It might be helpful to glance at this table outlining three different approaches: 

There are many other reasons you might want to get involved in a creative writing program. Think about what your reasons are and which program best aligns with your goals. Also, while the MFA is the only option that will get you a degree, not all university institutions require a degree to teach creative writing.  

I decided to pursue an MFA because I felt it would assist me in the work I wanted to do, the community I wanted to build, and the confidence I wanted to develop. In regard to work: I am interested in teaching creative writing and it would give me the opportunity to learn from teachers I respected and whose writerly and pedagogical approaches I was interested in. This would also help me in my role as an editor, as I could watch writers in the role of teaching others about writing. I was also interested in working with writers I respect in terms of what they think writing is doing politically. In regard to community, you certainly don’t need to do an MFA to develop a writing community – at all! I was interested in the opportunity to write actively with a cohort of writers over a multi-year period. The MFA did that – and gave me access to writers approaching the written word in many different ways. Doing the MFA also prompted me to take my writing seriously. But again there are many, many, many other ways to do that.  

The University of Guelph MFA program is a two-year program that allows students to focus on a number of different genres: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, or drama. In addition to the workshops, students take two plenary (reading-based) courses called Writers on Writing and Writers in the World. There is a 3-month mentorship which matches students with a professional writer. The thesis writing period occurs from January-June of the final year and students defend their written work in the summer of their final year. The deadline for applications December 5, 2022. Interested in more information? Check out the links below: 

• General info on the program: https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa

• Want to apply?: https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa/apply 

• Info about funding and awards: https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa/financial/funding/ 

• Tuition fees: https://www.uoguelph.ca/registrar/studentfinance/fees/guelph_gr 

A few general suggestions 

When you are looking at a program – whether it’s an MFA, continuing education certification program or individual workshops – try to think about which program will best help you work towards your goals, in a format that works for you. You might also want to consider if you’ll get access to instructors whose work you appreciate, are interested in, and find challenges you and your writing in some way. 

If you decide to apply to the University of Guelph MFA program: this program is mostly interested in your writing sample, so I’d suggest you think through what you are doing with the writing that you submit, why are you submitting it, and what it is doing with language. 

Lastly, if you are an emerging writer looking for a place to read your writing, the Emerging Writers Reading Series (where I am a cohost) has an upcoming call for submissions: https://linktr.ee/ewreadingseries 

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BWS 13.07:22: In case you missed it!

Click here to see the recorded live stream of our July 13th event featuring Wayne Ng, Joelle Barron, Elizabeth Allua Vaah, Sheilah Madonna Mortel Salvador, and guest speaker Anna Lee-Popham, who spoke to us about her experience in a Creative Writing MFA, titled “Which Creative Writing Program and Why?: One Writer’s Perspective on MFAs, Continuing Education Certificates, and Private Workshops.”

Links from Anna’s talk:

https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa

https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa/apply

https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa/financial/funding/

https://www.uoguelph.ca/registrar/studentfinance/fees/guelph_gr

https://linktr.ee/ewreadingseries

Stay tuned for our next event on Wednesday, September 14th at 6:30pm!

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Brockton Writers Series 13.07.22: Elizabeth Allua Vaah

Elizabeth Allua Vaah, author of Maame, grew up in Bakanta, Western Ghana and moved to Canada in 2010. Allua calls herself a Maternal Health Migrant. She is co-founder of a Maternal Health advocacy group, an advocate of girl-child education and a strong environmentalist. She lives in Brampton with her family.

A Conversation with Allua Vaah on Maame

Tell us about the book and why did you decided to write. 

I loved reading and writing growing up. As one of the few who could read the local Nzema language in elementary school, I read at church and at events. I competed in easy competitions and wrote letters to the editor in high school. As I moved to the city, and later outside my home country Ghana, I felt the need to tell the stories of the incredible women of my village, especially as my grandmothers and even my mothers’ generations have started to die off and things are beginning to change. 

In fact, I would have done it earlier but as we say, life got in the way.  So, about five years ago, my GO Train home was delayed and we were stuck on the train tracks somewhere between Weston and Etobicoke in the GTA. That was when I opened the notes app on my phone and started writing.   

It was like I never left. The characters started pouring out.  

Was it a challenge to write? 

Not really. There was a lot of nostalgia to some extent. It felt like I was going down memory lane both from what my grandmother told me and what I saw growing up with those generations of women. I have a lot of fond memories of my childhood in my village. The carefreeness, community, belonging. 

The village where the book is set – why did you choose it? 

I grew up in paradise, although it will take me years of living away from home to realize it. Aakonu is beside the sea (Gulf of Guinea, off the Atlantic Ocean) and the river Amanzule. A shimmering beach on one side and rich, beautiful, green mangroves and the fresh river on the other. For the formative years of my life, it was all I knew. Even now most of the time when I fall asleep that is where I find myself.  

It was bound to be the right setting for a book about rural women. 

The characters, what are they about?  

Each of the Characters in Maame I chose to celebrate and reflect the strength and resilience of the women of Aakonu, and by extrapolation the women of rural West Africa. 

Nana 

Represents strength & sacrifice. She steps in to care for her deceased sister’s children and she does it without hesitation, becoming a pillar of strength for them even in their adulthood. 

Ahu 

 A young, widowed mother. She pulls herself together when she had had enough and drives her children to go for more than she could. Even then, her focus wasn’t just them, but how they can impact her community as well. Ahu represents the many women in rural West African communities who wouldn’t hesitate to sell the cloth on their backs to see their children get educat[ed], something many never had. 

Ebela 

Ebela’s character reflects the dilemma of many young women everywhere, especially in close-knit, community-oriented settings: should she follow her heart or should she be a good daughter and marry her family’s choice of man? 

Aso 

Aso is a hardworking, enterprising woman, but how does she navigate a superstitious system that does not favour women with no children, and a husband bent on doing whatever he wants? 

Bomo 

Bomo represents those from these communities who become the first in their families to leave the safety of the community in order to seek education and a better life. They don’t only have to navigate the unfamiliar, and they also have to continually fend off the pressure to come home and get married.   

In addition, there are powerful women in special roles that make them revered by everyone, even the men.  

Women like Priestess Yaba, Queenmother Ekeleba and Traditional Birth Attendants like Mozuma. These women transcend gender barriers and are revered by both men and women. 

What excites you about the book? 

My publisher will tell you how emotional I was when I first held Maame in my hands. I am excited to share these stories of strength, resilience, heartache, and triumph seeped in Nzema culture with the world. I want people to get to know this place and [be able to] picture it. I want them to learn the songs and some of the proverbs in there as well.  

Why did you choose the title Maame? 

Maame is an endearing word for mother. It is used by most Akan people in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. This is a book about women and motherhood, which makes it an apt name for it. I had considered the unique Nzema word for mother, ɔmɔ. However, I had to abandon it due to the special characters in it. 

What is your vision for the book? 

Schools: I see Maame in the hands of every high school student in West Africa, Canada, US, and Europe. I see this book on the shelves of libraries and as supplementary reader for gender and women’s studies programs. 

For travellers and those involved in humanitarian activities in rural West Africa. 

For people generally interested in learning about other people, and for a mosaic-like place like Canada where the world is virtually here, I’ll say it’s worth a read.  

I am glad to say that Brampton Library carried Maame as one of the books for its 2021 Local Author Showcase collection. 

I see documentaries made with the stories in Maame. Even a movie. Heck, why not?  

For first generation Ghanaian immigrants like myself, whose Canadian children may not understand why certain demands are made of them from home, it is a good conversation starter between us and our kids. 

What do you want people to take away from the book? 

 I want readers to get to know the rural African woman. A picture of resilience, sacrifice, and strength. Her loves, laughs, her culture, and her aspirations. She is versatile, adaptable, nurturing, and she makes it work no matter what. 

Where can someone buy the book? 

In Brampton – Knowledge Bookstore, and major book retailers. Online: Mawenzi House website, Amazon, Indigo Chapters websites. 

Reach me: 

elizabeth@alluavaah.com; lizvaah@yahoo.com 

Social media: @lizvaah; @alluaVaah 

www.alluavaah.com 

First discussed during the launch of Maame at this link: Maame Book Launch 

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Brockton Writers Series 13.07.22: Joelle Barron

Joelle Barron is a poet who lives on the Traditional Territory of the Anishinaabeg of Treaty 3 and the Métis people (Fort Frances, ON). Their first poetry collection, Ritual Lights, was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. In 2019, Barron was a finalist for the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for Emerging LGBTQ Writers. 

I’ve written a lot of poetry about tragedy, grief, and injustice, and the ability to write about those things has kept me alive. At this point in my life, I’m interested in learning what it means to write about joy, love, and pleasure. I’ve been working on a book of poems about queer love and how it was often purposely hidden away throughout history. I’ve also been writing poems about love as it manifests in my own life, as someone who is queer and autistic, and just generally has a lot of feelings. This is one such poem.  

CHANGELINGS 

Fixed Hierophant, you don’t have to ask; obedience 

is already leaving my body, entering yours  

/

like smoke. You point to the mountain, its peak  

shedding trapped cloud like shards of cotton, mutable  

/

godstuff. I see clearly your ability to become. Pull me 

to you, untangle slick frogs from my hair who made  

/

a home there when I stood with one foot in the next  

world. I know you because you are coated with that same  

/

dust, and when I mirror you, I am still myself,  

this particular kind of human. Your knife makes  

/

its subtle rip through delicate strings of life and the meat  

that bears them; you know how it really is to be the body 

/

and the blood. Fatal misunderstandings of our childhood 

religion have led us here, made us holy in ways 

/

undreamed of. Like how you are both the river  

and the low branch bisecting it, so I can wade into you.  

/

I can hold on.  

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