When internships slowed in the pandemic, Sheridan’s Tamara Thompson launched a literary press
Creative Writing & Publishing student wins national award for work-integrated learning
Fear of failure has never deterred Tamara Thompson from taking on a challenge. “A person who has never failed is a person who has never experienced anything,” she says. “Any time that I have failed or haven’t quite achieved my goal, I’ve gained really good experiences that I was able to grow from.”
So when the COVID-19 pandemic made internship opportunities hard to find last summer, the fourth-year student in Sheridan’s Honours Bachelor of Creative Writing & Publishing degree program bravely decided to create her own. Thompson launched Whispering Wick Chapbook Press, a literary publishing collective designed to give new and emerging Canadian writers — especially those from marginalized communities — a platform to share their work.
Whispering Wick not only ended up serving as valuable work-integrated learning experience for Thompson, it provided internship opportunities for five fellow members of the Creative Writing & Publishing program’s first cohort as well. The entrepreneurial initiative also earned Thompson national recognition from Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada (CEWIL Canada), which earlier this month named her as its 2020 College Work-Integrated Learning Student of the Year.
Thompson is the seventh Sheridan student in the last nine years to receive a National Student of the Year Award from CEWIL Canada. She also received an honourable mention from Education at Work Ontario (EWO), which has recognized a Sheridan student with its provincial Co-op Student of the Year Award in six of the past eight years.
“This project involved a lot of responsibility, but I also had a lot of freedom… It was just an amazing experience to apply what I’d learned in such a direct way, which was a reason I joined this program in the first place.” – Sheridan Creative Writing & Publishing student Tamara Thompson
“I’m not sure it’s sunk in yet. I just did this because I thought it would be fun and I could help my classmates and new poets and authors,” Thompson says, crediting Sheridan Co-op Employment Advisor Laura Newman and Creative Writing & Publishing professors Paul Vermeersch and Robyn Read for their mentorship and support. “This project involved a lot of responsibility, but I also had a lot of freedom. I was creating a press identity, deciding what our logo would look like and designing things like promotional materials, book covers and our blog without worrying what a higher-up might think, because I was the higher-up! It was just an amazing experience to apply what I’d learned in such a direct way, which was a reason I joined this program in the first place.”
“Through Whispering Wick, the activity of literary publishing has moved out of the realm of the classroom and theoretical knowledge, and through experiential learning, has become a real, brick-and-mortar, collaborative enterprise,” adds Vermeersch. “Tamara and her team have learned to develop and foster the talent of their authors, create and produce professional literary publications, and bring them to a marketplace where they engage with like-minded colleagues and readers who will enjoy the fruits of their work. This kind of hands-on experience, it seems to me, is the very reason our students engage in work-integrated learning.”
Whispering Wick launched five chapbooks last fall: Marooned on the Shores of Malaise, a collection of poetry primarily based around author Rami Obeid’s experience in low-income neighbourhoods and housing; Bandaid, an experimental fiction by Canadian storyteller Jack Benedict; Senescence, a science fiction by David Stevens, Whispering Wick’s head of production; All the Things That Hide in the Woods, a collection of short fiction by head of design Grace Regan; and Trying to Choose Joy, a poetry collection that offers a peek into head of promotions Rebecca Gruszka’s chaotic mind of invasive thoughts, struggles and hope. Each book can be purchased through Whispering Wick’s online bookstore, with shipping available throughout North America.
“This kind of hands-on experience, it seems to me, is the very reason our students engage in work-integrated learning.” – Sheridan Creative Writing & Publishing professor Paul Vermeersch
Although Whispering Wick is officially on hiatus until the students complete their final semester of studies, Thompson and her team — which also includes chief editor Nate Boulard-Patterson and website content creator Faizal Eidoo — are still producing handmade books (“the production line is my dining room table at the moment,” Thompson says), shipping them, and maintaining a social media presence. Plans are also in the works for a new spring/summer collection, and the team hopes to eventually have its own booth at literary market events.
“It makes me so happy that everybody enjoyed their experience enough and is so proud of the work they’re doing that they want to keep working on Whispering Wick,” says Thompson. “I’m still personally trying to figure out what I’m going to pursue as my career, but any plans I have do include Whispering Wick. Even if it’s not necessarily my full-time job, I hope it’ll always be a part of my life.”
“Sheridan is so proud of Tamara and her exceptional WIL experience as an influential student leader who demonstrated immense initiative and entrepreneurial spirit,” says Joanne Islip, Manager, Work-Integrated and Experiential Learning Services. “Tamara is a trailblazer who reminds us that there are endless opportunities that can result in successful and rewarding WIL experiences.”
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