Last Monday I heard about a reading by author David Bezmozgis being held at Massey College and decided to check it out. Stepping through the gated entranceway, past the porter’s lodge, along the stone pathway of the water garden, I was unsure of my expectations. I can say now that I was pleasantly assured, surprised and encouraged by my experience.
If you didn’t know, the University of Toronto is home to the Jack McClelland Writer in Residence program, under the joint sponsorship of the English Department and Massey College. The writer joins the U of T community to work with staff and students in the field of creative writing. Last year they had Joy Kogawa, and this year they are pleased to host David Bezmozgis.
In addition to holding office hours for students, the writer in residence also leads a non-credit creative writing workshop, usually in the spring term. There is a limited enrolment, and it’s very competitive (seems a lot of people out there want to be writers).
Admission to the workshop, however, all depends on the tastes of the resident writer. Maybe he will like your work, maybe he will hate it. Who really knows? If you like creative writing, apply, apply, apply!
If you have never visited Massey College, please do! I often hear people comment on the similarity of U of T to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But Massey College is different. Massey College is more reminiscent of a Buddhist monastery or something.
Tucked, rather nondescriptly, into the west side of Devonshire Place, across from William Graham Library, Massey College can be easily missed (especially in the winter). Inside, however, there are study spaces, a dining hall, and a quaint library. In a way, Massey College feels like a separate oasis within U of T, a secret get-away for those “deeper” meditations. Or just a nice place for a nap!
The Upper Library, where the reading was held, is a small, charming room, lined with books and blue stained glass windows. I had expected a larger turnout, but there was a good mix of workshop members, fans and readers, and academics. It was a casual reading, followed by a reception of coffee and tea and things.
David Bezmozgis, whose latest book sounds like a moral-political thriller, pleasantly debunked the stereotype of the disgruntled, cynical novelist. Well-spoken and approachable, Bezmozgis explained that writing can be a force of enquiry into unknown, disagreeable issues. If you look at the world and see that something is wrong, then write about it!
He spoke also of his process. Three years of research, reading memoirs, travelling, and endlessly talking to people. I found this, most of all, to be a helpful reminder that the skills and habits we learn at university are very useful, and often necessary in later life. Even the free, boundless writer has to do research, readings, and talk to people!
These events and programs are great because they encourage young writers to pursue their passion and their craft. We have the opportunity to meet and mingle with professionals, faculty and other students, who share similar interests and goals. As a professor of creative writing adroitly noted, even ‘old’ writers can benefit from encouragement.
U of T is home to many programs and groups, and events are happening all the time! If you follow your interests, even on a whim, you never know what opportunity will just appear out of the side of a snow covered street. #TryitUofT
‘Til next time. Stay diamond.