This year, Canadian novelist Michael Winter is serving as the Jack McClelland Writer-in-Residence. You may be familiar with his fiction like The Big Why and This All Happened, or maybe you’ve seen him around campus as he has worked as the Acting Director of the M.A. Creative Writing Program for the Department of English. I write seen him on campus because Winter cuts a striking figure, he’s incredibly tall, a distinctive feature that makes him recognizable if you’ve ever watched fancy literary award broadcasts like the Gillers.
My own interaction with Winter is limited to once standing in the same mirrored elevator as him in the Jackman Humanities Building (we all know those elevators, it’s like they have delayed reactions to every button you push and sulk as they drag themselves to whatever floor you want to get to) where I overheard him talking to someone about soft foods like mashed potatoes being associated with old people (I feel like denchers were mentioned at some point). Although eavesdropping on a conversation about mashed potatoes and senior citizens in a prolonged elevator ride sounds torturous, Winter actually made everything sound incredibly hilarious and entertaining because he’s a storyteller. In fact, he would probably be a really good person to get stuck in an elevator with.
For U of T students who want to practice their own storytelling and fiction writing skills, I would suggest they apply for the creative writing seminar Winter will be running next semester. The seminar is limited to 15 students and will take place during the “S’ term, on Wednesdays from 6-8 pm. The wonderful part about this environment is that students will not be under pressure to get an “A” as the course is non-credit. The reward is not a mark but is based on how much effort you put into the seminar and what you take away from the learning experience.
Winter was kind enough to tell me what he will be looking for in student applications and also what he hopes participants will get out of the course.
Q: The application process calls for a two-page sample of fiction. What are you looking for in those two pages?
Winter: Life, heart, style, a concrete image, drama, dialogue, something I can’t quite understand and yet isn’t abstract, humour, pathos, a voice.
Winter: An examination of what makes good fiction, and an analysis of their own work.
Winter: If they rely on their private, deep-down voice — about what they see as true in the world — something good will occur on the page.
Winter: I have asked Barbara Gowdy to explain how the fireplace works.
Winter: It was mainly dull with about six courses by four teachers that blew me away. I’d say that’s about average.
Winter: I have a limited range of skills so I’m going to choose students I think I can help, to encourage a better story out of them. There will be many students who are very talented whose work I might have to struggle with to comment on because they are working in a form that I am not skillful at. Their work is beyond my ability to critique. So they are better off without me. Anyone who doesn’t get in the class should feel this way.
Students who are interested in applying must submit a print copy of a two-page sample of fiction with a return U of T e-mail to Professor Nick Mount at the address below by Friday December 2, 2011. No cover letter is necessary.
Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Department of English
Jackman Humanities Building
University of Toronto
170 St. George Street
Toronto, ON M5R 2M8
If you decide to apply, good luck with your application! And remember, this should be a pleasurable, non-stressful experience (unlike other application processes). Don’t overanalyze what you submit, just be proud of your writing and yourself for trying.