Question: What happens when an energetic author-teacher who has not taught a class in five months gets invited back into a classroom?
Answer: Let's just say she causes quite a kerfuffle!
I think that's an accurate description of how things went down last night when I did a writing workshop at North Island College in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island! I haven't had so much fun in a long time!
One of the things that made the evening so special was that my "students" were a really mixed group. There were several young people from the local high school, as well as professors from the college, and a couple who traveled all the way from Nanaimo to hear the talk. Another thing that made the evening special was that it began with a welcome from Irene Robinson, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation. (That's Irene in the left corner of today's pic, wearing a grey top and waving.) Irene welcomed me to the Tseshaht territories and told us about the value the Tseshaht have always placed on stories. "Stories," she said, "are important to our people. Stories are a way to pass on knowledge and to teach."
When I do talks like the one I did last night, one of my goals is to tell the truth about the writing process (well, my writing process anyway). How it's not all la-dee-da, and how I sometimes feel discouraged, and how sheer persistence helped me get published in the first place. The group was great -- lively and responsive, and when I gave them a writing exercise, no one groaned! Grace (she was one of the people who came all the way from Nanaimo) used the exercise to remember a painful moment in her past -- when, at the age of fifteen, she discovered her mare had been abused. That was an example of something else we talked about: how difficult, troubling experiences can fuel stories.
This was my second visit to NIC. I was there in 2006, as part of a Canadian Children's Book Week tour. That's when I met librarian Sherry Kropninski, who helped get me invited back this year. Special thanks to Sherry, and to the English Department's Peter McGuire, who also made it possible for me to return to NIC. And to Sherry's daughter Savanna, for her excellent company -- anf for letting me pick her brain for the new story I am working on. And thanks, too, to the Quebec Writers' Federation for sending me to Vancouver Island in the first place.
I'll be doing four more talks in Victoria last week... but my visit to Port Alberni will always hold a special place in my heart. Thanks to all of you who were there for reminding me why I love to share what I've learned about writing!
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