Can a literary girl steeped in Romanticism (Romantic poetry to be exact) find happiness in King’s Master of Journalism program? Sylvia D. Hamilton Award recipient Avery Stewart says yes. “With literature you’re in your own little bubble,” the first year MJ student explains. “I needed to get out of my comfort zone and I thought this program would help me develop both my communications and writing skills.” So far, five months in and in spite of the fact that her classes have temporarily moved online due to Covid, Stewart is more than pleased. Though still unsure where the program might take her, she has no doubt that she is going to write.
Stewart’s King’s experience is checking all the boxes. “I love the small classes and I loved being on campus. And everyone is so accessible, always ready to hear what you have to say and answer any questions.” She liked the program’s introductory “boot camp” intensive, where she learned the basics of current journalism’s many aspects, and the news writing workshops, and she’s particularly excited about the research side of things. “There are so many amazing research tools and ways of accessing information,” she enthuses. For Stewart, it’s all fodder for her dream—to somehow, in some form, write. And she’s well on her way; her poetry and short stories have been published in a number of online literary journals.
If journalistic writing seems out of character for a writer of poetry, Stewart assures that’s not the case. “When I think about journalism and writing I think, for example, about the work of Truman Capote,” she says. “Concise, conversational writing is often overlooked in literature. It’s a style to which I aspire.” As for the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award, she’s delighted. “I remember getting the email,” she says. I immediately screenshot it and sent it to my parents. I didn’t pursue scholarships during my undergrad so this is a new and exciting experience.”
Growing up in Nairobi, Valerie Chelangat was drawn to writing—specifically journalism. However, seeing stories on the news about the danger journalists so often face, she realized it wasn’t for her and she put her writing dreams on hold. Moving to Canada, she joined her mother in Winnipeg where she earned degrees in Business Administration and one in communications. But the desire to write remained. Now Chelangat is enrolled in the King’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction, and she’s one of the 2021 Sylvia D. Hamilton Award recipients.
Core to the King’s MFA is the development and writing of a book, and Chelangat is passionate about her concept. “It’s a book about intentional reading, an approach to reading that is gathering momentum,” she says. “It’s reading selectively and widely, reading books by different kinds of authors to diversify your experience. If you love thrillers, for example, it’s moving beyond the white, male, heterosexual writer whose work you may love and reading thrillers by people from marginalized groups…a writer with a disability, or perhaps an LGBTQ+ writer. You’ll end up with a richer, deeper reading experience and new kinds of knowledge. My book will talk about different intentional reading categories and how to create a reading path.”
Writing a book may be a new experience for Chelangat, but the subject is not. She’s the proprietor of Tusome Books, an online book shop that celebrates African, Asian and Canadian Indigenous authors as well as writers with disabilities, chronic illnesses and LGBTQ+. “Even though I grew up in Kenya I spent most of my life reading white male authors,” she explains. “I made the decision to expand the scope of my own reading and then, I thought, I can’t be the only person who feels limited in what they’re reading. So I started Tusome Books.”
Receiving the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award has been a huge help. “I’m a single woman, I live by myself. The award is going a long way to make the MFA possible and it gives me peace of mind. When I got the email I was so happy.”
Sylvia D. Hamilton Award recipient Jayden Nordin has a maxim he lives by: “You can learn from everything and everyone.” As point guard on the King’s Blue Devils basketball team, he’s the team’s coach on the floor, a leader, but he’s still learning; he’s gaining coaching experience that’s core to his strategic plan. In the third year of his Bachelor of Arts, next year Jayden will transition to Social Work at Dalhousie, and then on to a career that he’s shaping in his own way.
Raised in a Halifax public housing community, Nordin has witnessed a lot. “I’ve seen hardships and tragedies,” he says. “I see kids who don’t know where they’re going or even what’s available to them. They don’t know what they can be.” He found his own way around the problems of his community with the help of a loving family—and basketball. “I had basketball to guide me through life. A lot of kids don’t have that opportunity and they don’t know what sports can do for them. I want to help kids with a similar background to mine and show them there are things they can do, things they can be a part of.”
Hence the plan: with the help of a couple of friends, Nordin is going to found and coach a basketball team for teen-aged boys from his community and, when he’s finished school, be a social worker with young people in need of guidance and opportunities. And then there’s his other dream. Since he was a boy, Nordin has wanted to be a fire fighter and, at time of writing, he’s in a pool for fire fighter selection. “To be a social worker four days a week and a fire fighter for three…I’d love to make that happen.”
With a four-year-old son and two part time jobs, Nordin has had little time to explore life at King’s beyond the gym. “But the energy at King’s is uplifting,” he says. “It’s welcoming.” He was in the Dominican Republic vacationing with friends when he got the email telling him he was a recipient of the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award. “It made for a very good day.”
Inglis Professor Sylvia D. Hamilton retired from King’s in 2020. A celebrated writer, poet, filmmaker, visual artist and educator, Hamilton has devoted her career to the places, people and voices that make up the Nova Scotia Black experience, an experience Hamilton has traced back to her own ancestors coming to Nova Scotia in the years following the War of 1812. The Sylvia D. Hamilton Award is open to African Canadian students, with a focus on African Nova Scotians, and is open to students in all degree options at King’s, with a preference for students in journalism and the King’s/Dalhousie MFA in Creative Non-Fiction.