When speaking with three graduates of the King’s MFA in Creative Nonfiction, the comments they share reflect the diversity of the students who are drawn to the program: they represent a variety of ages and backgrounds. The MFA mentors come up, too, with students citing their mentor relationships as a key element of their MFA experience.
“I discovered Ayelet Tsabari and David Hayes a few years ago,” says MFA graduate Gloria Blizzard, referring to two of the program’s many mentors, “and I just kind of followed them around, to courses and lectures, and that eventually led me to King’s.”
Blizzard was impressed with her own two mentors this year, Lorri Neilsen Glenn and Gillian Turnbull, both of whom are respected authors and well-known educators.
“I was lucky to work with Lorri and Gillian, both of whom ‘got’ my voice. They didn’t ask me to change it or adjust it, instead they worked with it and they allowed it to flourish. I feel so fortunate.”
An established writer prior to King’s, Blizzard has published poems and songs. Her articles, reviews and essays have appeared in publications such as the Globe and Mail and THIS Magazine. She also works as a consultant with a specialty in grant-writing, guiding fellow artists through the often complex world of grant proposals.
“I’ve been writing for a long time,” says Blizzard, “I saw the King’s MFA program as a way to bring it all together.”
Blizzard is currently writing a book of essays, Black Cake, Turtle Soup and Other Dilemmas.
“It’s an international diasporic romp,” says Blizzard. “As a Black Canadian woman of mixed heritage, surrounded by European culture, living on the Indigenous lands of the Americas, the work seeks to resolve dislocation in the spaces where art, music, spirit, ecology, race and culture collide.”
In explaining her motivation to attend the MFA program, Robin Pacific, a visual artist and writer who also has a practice as a spiritual guide, says she was involved in a writing group and, while creating lots of content, found she had “nowhere for it to go.” And from her experience as both writer and artist, she came to see how separate the visual arts world is from the literary world.
“I’ve practiced as a visual artist for 25 years,” says Pacific, “I have a following, I know lots of people, but on the literary side, I didn’t really have a clue how to negotiate it or become part of a community.”
Then she saw an ad for the King’s MFA program in the Walrus magazine.
“It leapt right out at me. I remember thinking, ‘That’s exactly what I need.’ And as it turns out, I learned a tremendous amount at King’s. I worked with my two terrific mentors, David Hayes and Lorri Nielsen Glenn, with agents and editors, and, in the process, I have become part of a literary community, which I continue to pursue—and now I’m sending my book out to publishers.”
The title of Pacific’s yet-to-be-published book of personal essays is, Skater Grrl: An Archaeology of the Self, which she says is a collection of reflections and memoir pieces on topics such as art, spirituality and social justice.
Pacific says she had trepidations initially, bringing her personal essays to King’s, as most of the nonfiction projects students were working on were more research-based and factual. These trepidations were put to rest immediately.
“I didn’t know if I’d fit in, when in fact they totally encouraged me. The mentors and faculty and other students, I received such tremendous support from everyone. I can’t say enough good things about all of them.”
John Bell’s long career in the Canadian Foreign Service included time as Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Brazil and Malaysia. Bell was also Canada’s Chief Negotiator at the historic Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
For several years, Bell has been working on his memoirs. It’s a project that he says received a boost thanks to his sister, Robin Pacific (also featured in this article), who told him about the King’s MFA program. They are the first brother and sister to graduate from the program in the same year.
After Pacific attended an information session about the King’s MFA, and knowing that her brother was working on his memoirs, she suggested they both take the program.
“I said, ‘Well, why not?’” says Bell. “And that’s how I came to the MFA program at King’s.”
Bell said he would often procrastinate when it came to working on his memoirs and he wanted to bring discipline and structure to the project. Working with “two great mentors” in Ken McGoogen and David Hayes, Bell found what he was looking for—deadlines. He describes the ongoing process of writing essays to be delivered to his mentors for critique as both helpful and enjoyable.
Bell also appreciated learning about the craft of writing creative nonfiction alongside learning about the business side of writing, the ins and outs of the publishing industry.
In the end, it all seems to have worked out.
“My daughter follows my memoir writing project pretty closely,” says Bell, “and she says I am a much better writer now than I was when I started this program. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I now have to go back and rewrite everything.”
Congratulations to all of the graduates from the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program!
Join us on May 27 to honour and congratulate the Class of 2021! The celebration will be shared on Facebook and YouTube May 27 starting at 3 p.m. AT. Learn more.