Whether the subject matter is Joey Smallwood, the Ocean Ranger, the complexities of outport life, Innu traditions or anything in between, literature in Newfoundland and Labrador is as unpredictable and discussion-worthy as the weather.
The number of world-renowned authors from this province is marveled at and celebrated. Many of those authors are alumni or have strong connections with Memorial.
As such, the Alumni Engagement office is launching Coast Lines, a book club encouraging alumni and friends to connect through a common love of reading and literature that sparks discussion about the changing landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Creative writing at Memorial
Assistant professor and renowned author Lisa Moore has been teaching in the Department of English’s hugely successful creative writing program since 2007. She describes her teaching experience as “a thrill.”
“There’s so much imagination, humour, energy and creativity in the classroom,” she said.
“Students are really supportive of each other’s work. There’s a willingness to experiment and it’s inspiring. We’re often quite a raucous crowd, because the stories people bring are often hilarious, or deeply felt, and people get excited.”
Many students and graduates working with faculty in the creative writing diploma program, master of arts creative thesis program or through writing courses have become published authors in literary journals, anthologies and books or published stage plays.
“Sharon Bala, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Susan Sinnott, Bridget Canning (BA’98, B.Ed.’09, MA’19), Melissa Barbeau (B.Mus.Ed.’01, BA’14, MA’18), Terry Doyle – that’s just a few names of people who have gone on to be published writers,” she said. “There’s a slew of others who are on the brink of publishing. All these rich and beautifully crafted novels, these wild and rambunctious short stories and poems and plays.”
The SPARKS Literary Festival – an intensive one-day event held each January and created by professor and St. John’s poet laureate Mary Dalton (MA’75) – was born from Memorial’s creative writing courses and has been a staple of the local literary landscape since 2009.
The department’s Writer-in-Residence Program began in 1991, and has offered students the opportunity to work with celebrated authors such as Kevin Major (B.Sc.’73, Hon.D.Litt.’00), Wayne Johnston (BA’79, Hon.D.Litt.’07), Michael Winter (BA’86), Robert Chafe (BA’86, Hon.D.Litt.’18), Michael Crummey (BA’87) and more.
Michael Crummey launches program
The Innocents follows an orphaned brother and sister in an isolated cove on Newfoundland’s northern coastline in the 18th century. Circled by the ocean, the children are forced to fend for themselves in an unforgiving landscape after the sudden death of their parents.
A finalist for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Governor General’s Literary Award and Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and winner of the 2020 Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, The Innocents was named one of the best books of 2019 by the Globe and Mail, CBC, the Toronto Star and Maclean’s.
When asked to share memories of his time as a student at Memorial, Mr. Crummey says he lacked direction but knew writing was his future.
“I was just a kid, really. Sixteen, turning 17. I certainly had no notion of wanting to be a writer before my first year at MUN, when I decided I wanted to be a poet, and that was linked directly to studying poetry in English lit, and spending hours leafing through the poetry anthology that was the text for the class,” he said. “I didn’t really know what it meant to be a poet, but I had a pretty deep-seated conviction that whatever it was, that’s what I wanted.”
When asked if he feels the literary landscape in Newfoundland and Labrador has changed since he began writing, he says there is “just no comparison.”
“When I was first thinking about wanting to write, there was no sense of Newfoundland literature as an independent body of work with its own life in the wider world. People were still arguing about whether there was such a thing as a distinct Canadian literature back then. Even the Newfoundlanders who were writing and publishing at the time seemed to have no audience beyond the province and not much of one here.”
In the almost 40 years since he first registered at Memorial, the situation has changed completely.
“Newfoundland authors are regularly published by big mainland houses, reviewed nationally and internationally, and appear on national prize and best-of-the-year lists. And the local publishing scene has come of age, as well. There is a real appetite here for stories about the place we come from.”
Author event, Dec. 15
Readers do not have to be Memorial University alumni in order to join Coast Lines.
An in-person and virtual hybrid event featuring an author reading and Q&A period with Michael Crummey will take place on Dec. 15 at Signal Hill Campus. The event will be streamed on Facebook Live. Follow the Office of Alumni Engagement on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for further details.