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A Coast Lines conversation

A Q&A with Memorial's book club featured author Shelly Kawaja

Campus and Community

By Janet Harron

Memorial University alumna and author Shelly Kawaja (BA’02, MA’04) received the 2022 BMO Winterset Award for her debut novel, The Raw Light of Morning.

Her work can also be found in Riddlefence, Horseshoe Literary Magazine, the Humber Literary Review and the Dalhousie Review.

She was longlisted for the Bridge Prize and the Fresh Fish Award and won the GritLIT 2020 short fiction contest. Ms. Kawaja is the non-fiction reviews editor at the Artisanal Writer and is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s master of fine arts program, the Humber School for Writers and Memorial University. She lives in Corner Brook with her family.

The Raw Light of Morning is a powerful debut novel about women and children finding humour and love in the aftermath of domestic violence and is the current Coast Lines Book Club selection for November-December 2023.

JH: Where did your interest in writing come from/when did it begin?

Shelly Kawaja, a white woman in her mid 40s, smiles and looks off camera against a grey backdrop.
Shelly Kawaja
Photo: Submitted

SK: I’ve always been a reader and a writer, since I was old enough to do it.

As a kid, books were my best friends and writing, now, feels like going home.

Like a return to childhood in a way. Not that I write for children, or anything close to that.

For years I didn’t write at all.

I was too busy following different paths, I thought I wanted to be an academic, then I thought I was an administrator.

I went through several different careers before I finally found my way back to writing.

In order to write honestly, you need to take a hard look at yourself and sit quietly with your own thoughts and ideas.

I don’t think I was ready to do that any earlier in my life.

JH: How did your education at Memorial inform your perspective and worldview?

SK: I studied English and history at Memorial. I did my undergrad, a double major, at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook and I did my master of arts in history in St. John’s.

Years later, I started a PhD in history, but I didn’t finish it. I decided academia wasn’t the right fit for me.

I didn’t love history, or the study of it, the way I love writing. But it still helped me.

I think history lends itself well to writing; it’s a writing discipline.

Knowing how to craft a thesis and write a story around it that can convince an audience — and there are no tougher audiences than historians! — has served me well.

JH: What takeaway do you hope stays with readers of The Raw Light of Morning?

I hope people enjoy the story. They’re free to take whatever they want from it!

JH: What is your Newfoundland and Labrador hidden gem?

SK: That’s an unfair question. There are too many places.

If I had to pick one right now, it would be the Rotary Arts Center in Corner Brook.

I recently did a reading at a new literary festival on the West Coast called Horseshoe Literary Festival, and the whole event was really special.

Really cool. There’s something happening there all the time, a lot of Newfoundland and Labrador artists being showcased, as well as artists from further away.

I love that it’s a 10-minute walk down the road from where I live.

Coast Lines Book Club

Shelly Kawaja will appear with Holly Hogan (B.Sc.’87, M.Sc.’97, author of Message in a Bottle) at Coast Lines and Coffee on Sunday, Dec. 10, at the Emera Innovation Exchange, Signal Hill Campus, in a panel discussion moderated by Angela Antle (BA’91, PhD candidate).

The event will be live-streamed on the Office of Alumni Engagement’s YouTube channel for anyone who cannot attend in person.

To register for this special event, please visit here.

Copies of The Raw Light of Morning are available through the Memorial University Bookstore.

Established in 2020, the Coast Lines Book Club encourages the university community and friends to connect through a common love of reading and interest in the Newfoundland and Labrador literary landscape.

All of the book club’s featured books are either written by alumni and/or faculty or have a strong connection to Memorial University.

Visit the website for more information on Coast Lines and how to join.

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