Three Humber School for Writers alumni – Vincent Lam, Cathy Ostlere and Lisa Pasold – have been nominated for Governor General’s Literary Awards.
As all three wait for the winners to be announced on November 13, Humber Today asked them about the role of teachers and mentors in the writing process.
Vincent Lam’s debut novel, The Headmaster’s Wager, is a “robust, richly-embroidered” story set in Vietnam before the fall of Saigon, and is nominated in the fiction category. Lam, pictured above, who won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize for Bloodletting and Other Cures, says the great value of mentors, teachers and editors is to encourage writers to do the hard, solitary work that good writing entails.
“A mentor, teacher or editor points out gaps, blind spots, and problems, helping the writer gain critical perspective, to raise their sights on what the slogging should fix, and what it should aim towards,” he says. “The lonely slogging is underrated in our culture, but it is the key.”
Cathy Ostlere’s one-woman play Lost: A Memoir is nominated in the drama category. The play, which was originally a book-length memoir, recounts the author’s efforts to discover what happened to her brother and his girlfriend after they and their yacht went missing in 1995.
Ostlere explains that she enrolled at Humber as she was working on turning her essays about her brother into a full-length book manuscript.
“I knew that I needed support as I did that work,” she says. “My mentor at Humber was the wise and sensitive Karen Connelly. Working with her made all the difference – it let me I wasn’t alone with this difficult material, and she pushed me to explore more themes than just the obvious boat-lost-at-sea. The book deepened because of her edits.”
Lisa Pasold, whose collection Any Bright Horse is nominated for a poetry award, also emphasizes the need for a supportive mentor.
“At Humber, I was incredibly lucky to work with Wayson Choy, who is an amazing writer and teacher,” she says. “Wayson gave us each such faith in our own creative voice. A balance of encouragement and strong critical discussion is essential to growing as a writer. I’ve kept the notecard Wayson wrote to me for encouragement – it’s been a good talisman for me when I feel discouraged about the writing process.”