This weekend, The New York Times added another article to the ongoing MFA debate. “Why Writers Love to Hate the MFA,” tracks the dramatic rise of the MFA in Creative Writing: more applications, more students, more institutions—more fans and more detractors.
That's a question writers get from time-to-time. Here is part of my answer.
Tonight, my friend Ania Szado is launching her new book. Studio Saint-Ex is a historical novel that sews together WWII fashion design, French ex-pats waiting out the war in New York City, and the famous fighter pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince. It's steamy (love triangle!) and it's smart (what is the difference between creative inspiration and theft?).
Tonight I will be toasting the book's release. But, more importantly, I will be celebrating my dear friend and writing companion. I met Ania when we were both entering the UBC Optional Residency MFA in Creative Writing. I had published no fiction; Ania had already published the acclaimed novel Beginning of Was (recently re-released by Penguin Canada) that wound up being nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. But we both had ambitions to change our commitment to writing and the quality of the stories that we made.
I don’t know if I would have been able to write Sleeping Funny without Ania. She and I did not read each other’s manuscripts before they were accepted for publication, but she helped me tremendously as we worked alongside each other. Sometimes that encouragement was a lot of fun: box wine and walks on the beach at Ania’s cottage. Sometimes it was the prescription for desperation: (Me: I feel like I am going to be locked up, banging my head against the wall; She: It’s OK, the walls are soft and you have me for company). What can I say? She kept me going. Not by making it all look easy – but by showing me that I could push through the parts that were hard. Because she did. Because she was.
So here’s to Ania Szado and to all the great things that are being said about Studio Saint-Ex here in Canada (and that will be said in the United States and several other countries where the book will be released very soon). And here’s to the hard work, the late nights, the hair-tearing and the sweat, that go into making a polished, engaging story. Because none of that effort is revealed in the writing, of course. Writers like Ania are too good to let that show. But it’s there. And for me, that makes the book, and the author, all the more beautiful.
So, when I am not writing, I am reading. And when I am not reading or writing, I am running a charity that I founded called Project Bookmark Canada. Project Bookmark Canada puts text from stories and poems in the exact locations where literary scenes take place. We have 12 Bookmarks around Canada and are working on building a network of hundreds of sites and stories so that we can all read our way right across the country.
It's something I feel passionate about. This month, 30 prominent readers and writers are telling their fans and friends that they love Bookmark too. It's called the Page Turner campaign. Every day in April, one fabulous champion -- from Kate Beaton to Margaret Atwood to Guy Gavriel Kay -- is making the pitch: for $20, less than the cost of the average paperback, you can become a Page Turner and help build this CanLit legacy. Here's a little video about the campaign that I made with my daughter, Beatrice.
Follow along. Join in!
It's often said that authors should lay themselves bare on the page. Now, a couple of young reader/writer types (the energetic Amanda Leduc and Allegra Young) are putting Canadian writers to the test. Twelve of us (yes, I said "us") are participating in the Bare It For the Books 2014 calendar, in support of PEN Canada.
Over the next 10 months while the calendar is being put together, you'll hear much more. There will be Twittering and also tittering, I am sure. And though my dear friend since-university-days Emma Waverman suggested that my willingness to doff my dress was somewhat predictable, I am sure that I will be doing a fair bit of blushing at my own photo shoot for the May page. (Blushes, and other things, can be fixed with PhotoShop -- right?)
But I love a good idea and a good cause. And sometimes the sillier and crazier, the better. Check out the bods of the Bare It For the Books brain trust in this National Post article. And please visit the site on IndieGogo.