2012 Excellence in Teaching award, Creative Writing, University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.
Since 1994 I have taught in what is now the Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto. My course is entitled “True to Life: writing your own story.”
Since 2007 I have taught “Life Stories” at the University of Toronto.
Both courses explore the kind of writing I love: creative non-fiction, specifically memoir and personal essay.
Students have ranged from a young man of 19 with many piercings and a dense poetic style, to a grandmother in a power wheelchair writing about life in a German village during World War 2. Some have never written a single “creative” word, a few have been published but are now stuck, and most are somewhere in between – they have always wanted to write or wrote when younger but stopped, and they need structure, encouragement, and practical feedback.
It is my job to help them find the stories they want to tell, the courage and discipline to get the stories down, and the technique to make their narratives compelling for others to read.
Although, for me, students have achieved success when they find satisfaction, fulfilment and comfort in their writing work, here’s another kind of success story that makes me very proud: Laurel Croza had never done any creative writing before arriving in my class. On her website Laurelcroza.com, she writes that she dreamed for years about becoming a writer:
It was fun and it was easy, dreaming, until one morning I woke up and said, “I have to do this. Now.” I enrolled in ‘True to Life: Writing Your Own Story’ at Ryerson in the fall of 2003. I had absolutely no idea what Creative Non-Fiction was. It didn’t matter. It was a writing class … It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
The very first writing exercise for the course triggered memories of her childhood, which she continued to work on after the term ended. The result was the book “I know here,” published in 2010 by Groundwood Books, which received rave reviews in the “New York Times” and the “Globe and Mail.”
Laurel’s book went on to win the prestigious 2010 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature: Picture Book. It also won the 2011 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award in Canada, and and the 2011 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award.
Below are some stories by a cross-section of former students who
have continued working with me. These writers and I have come to know
each other so well that we are almost like family. (Each story is copyrighted
by the author and cannot be reproduced without the author’s permission.)
A Letter Never Sent by Pat
Pat Broms has a delightful voice – quirky and utterly herself.
Sick by R. S. Croft
R.S. Croft is a pseudonym for a writer who today lives drug-free, supports
herself as a stripper, and sends powerful bulletins from a world
we rarely encounter in prose.
The Bad Day by Kate Gallant
That Kate Gallant is a gifted comic actress shows in her writing, which
begs to be read out loud. In fact, she is now working on a
series of monologues to turn into a one-woman show.
Hating Your Thighs & Brunch
#1: Arrivals and Departures by Jessica Harris
Jessica Harris, whose essay in the anthology “Wedding Dresses” was
singled out for praise, here explores heartache with her usual wry
On Becoming 40 by Gillian
Gillian Kerr’s story “Tiny Tomatoes,” written for
her class at Ryerson, was chosen for the third “Dropped Threads” anthology. She
writes with rare transparency and candor.
Inside 229 by Sylvia Knight
Sylvia Knight has written a funny and moving memoir of her entire life,
from a very early memory of her childhood home in Toronto’s
Beach neighborhood, printed here, to now, in her seventies.
Pat by Elizabeth Marsh
Elizabeth Marsh writes with unsentimental precision and grace about
her family homestead in the Ottawa valley, then and now.
Adrian’s Bucket by Gerry
Gerry Withey is both a busy visual artist and a perceptive, original
and lucid writer.