Meet the Authors: Sheridan faculty celebrate book launches
Sheridan Creative Writing and Publishing professors and acclaimed authors Thea Lim and Paul Vermeersch treated the community to a special evening of literary celebration on November 12.
Lim, author of the Giller Prize-nominated novel An Ocean of Minutes, and Vermeersch, poet and author of the recently-published Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy, read from their books and discussed what it means to write about the future, as well as how their writing intersects and informs their teaching. Dozens of Sheridan students and staff filled the room at Sheridan’s Hazel McCallion Campus in Mississauga to hear the discussion, which was followed by an intimate Q&A session and book signing.
Lim is the first Sheridan professor to be shortlisted for the highly coveted Giller Prize, the winner of which will be announced at a ceremony on November 19. Since its debut in June 2018, An Ocean of Minutes has received widespread acclaim, appearing on the ‘Summer 2018 Must Read Lists’ of Maclean’s, CBC Radio, and Flare, and garnering positive reviews by the Toronto Star and the L.A. Times, among others. The book was shortlisted for the Giller Prize on October 1, chosen by a five-member jury panel that reviewed 104 submissions from publishers across Canada. Only five works are selected for the shortlist.
Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy is Vermeersch’s sixth poetry book. Active in the writing and publishing world since the late 1990s, Vermeersch edited and published Susan Perly’s Death Valley, which was longlisted for the Giller Prize in 2016, under his Buckrider Books imprint at Wolsak & Wynn.
Writing inspiration and dystopian elements
Lim discussed her inspiration for her debut novel, which began as she wrestled with the notions of grief and loss: “I was disturbed by the thought that the people we really love will eventually die or disappear from our lives,” she said. “And yet, humans continue to go around loving people recklessly, taking in pets, making new friends. I started wondering, ‘why do we keep doing this?’ As I began exploring the concepts of loss and grief, I discovered that when someone is bereaved, they become stuck in time. So I began to write a time-traveling novel.”
Both Lim and Vermeesch discussed the dystopian elements of their work, as well as their grapples with realism in today’s literary industry where artists strive to depict a true representation of the world.
“I feel very nostalgic for a future that never happened,” said Vermeersch. “I began to think that dystopia, which just means a ‘bad place,’ isn’t just some future abstraction. We’re actually living in one. There’s no more present time – we’re living in the dystopian nightmare that people were frightened of 50 or 60 years ago. So if we’re already living in a dystopia, then we need a survival guide to help us navigate it, which is what my book aims to achieve.”
Lim acknowledged that while some may refer to her book as a dystopian piece, she does not consider it limited to this category. There is no prediction or underlying warning for a future world, which are traits often associated with dystopian novels; in fact, much of the novel is set in the past, meaning readers have the freedom to define its messaging to suit their interests.
“I wanted to offer a de-familiarized way of looking at our current world,” she said. “If my novel has any success, I think it’s because people can interpret it as they wish. Some people can read it as a love story. Some can read it as migration literature. Some can read it as a science fiction novel, while others can read it as a philosophical piece that explores what it means to be a time-bound being.”
Teaching and learning
The two faculty members also expounded on their love of teaching, explaining how their creative craft and academic endeavours perfectly intertwine.
“I feel very lucky that I get to be a teacher, because a teacher is always a learner,” said Vermeersch. “The act of trying to make difficult concepts understandable and accessible to others means that I have to think of these concepts in a deep way that is constantly renewed. Being in a position of sharing this knowledge means that my thought process is constantly being tested, which keeps my creative process new. The demands of being a creative person require one to be adaptable.”
Lim offered students and aspiring writers her number one piece of advice: “Get out of the way of your story.”
“Let the story evolve,” she added. “When you listen to and trust your inner voice, you will develop a story that’s unique. That’s what the marketplace needs: more stories that are unique. Writing is a grind – something you work at every single day, little by little.”
Meet the Authors
The special evening was the first event to celebrate the works of Creative Writing & Publishing faculty, and Sean McNabney, Associate Dean in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, hopes to see many more such events in the future.
“Our faculty form a highly talented and successful group of authors who serve as the foundation of Sheridan’s emerging literary culture,” McNabney said. “They are industry professionals who have authored more than 17 books to date. Events like these are significant because they unite students, faculty, staff and community groups in an interactive, engaging setting where higher education can flourish and where the creative achievements of our faculty are feted.”
About Sheridan’s Honours Bachelor of Creative Writing and Publishing program
The Honours Bachelor of Creative Writing and Publishing program, which was established in September 2017, is a unique program that prepares graduates for a career in the ever-evolving publishing industry by fostering a broad multimedia skill set. Students can pursue their interests in writing, publishing and literary studies, while also pursuing courses in the arts and business that support their individual goals.
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