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Aislinn Hunter, PhD (In-Progress): Instructor of Creative Writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University

June 5, 2013

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 2.A, Idea: Women in Academia (Part One)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Undergraduate Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: June 5, 2013

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2013

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 1,766

ISSN 2369-6885

Aislinn Hunter

1. What positions have you held?  What position do you currently hold?

I am currently a faculty member in the Creative Writing department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, but I tend to teach part-time (in one semester) so that I can write more than four months a year. This has allowed me to take on writer-in-residence positions at other universities (Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland, Lancaster University in England, and Macquarie University in Australia) and to do freelance or contract work that interests me. It’s also afforded me time to undertake a PhD. Before coming to Kwantlen I taught creative writing as a sessional instructor at The University of Victoria and before that I worked on a contract-basis as a broadcaster and producer at CBC Radio and as a researcher at the National Film Board of Canada.

2. In brief, how was your youth? How did you come to this point in your academics? 

My family was above middle-class economically but I didn’t grow up in what I’d now call a ‘culturally rich’ environment. (My friend’s parents owned an art gallery and they used to wake their kids up by blaring classical music – I remember feeling completely envious of their arty world.) My mom, who was a nurse, took a few university classes in psychology and sociology when I was growing up and her excitement and what she brought home from those classes helped cultivate my enthusiasm for learning. When I was old enough to express my leanings she enrolled me in dance classes and supported my interest in theatre. I was an inconsistent high school student (A’s in the arts, D’s in maths and sciences) but an amazing day-dreamer. At sixteen I dropped out of high school (where I was miserable) and at seventeen I moved on my own to Dublin, Ireland and got a job in a pub. A few crucial years followed: in them I had the freedom to discover what excited me – for example, I remember being obsessed with the material residue of the past which seemed to be everywhere in Ireland. At twenty-one I was accepted at the University of Victoria as a ‘mature’ student and I fell in love with art history and creative writing. In second year I unexpectedly received a small bursary, the Patti Barker Award for Writing, and it was a life-changing moment – I’d never been recognized for excellence before. I think that award gave me a new way to identify who I was and what I could do. An MFA in Creative Writing followed and then three book publications and then an MSc in Writing and Cultural Politics, and now I’m almost through my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh. I’ve received a lot of encouragement in the form of academic awards along the way and I’ve worked hard. Still I think any success I’ve had has a lot to do with that old adage: do what you love and the rest will follow.

3. How did you gain interest in Creative Writing?  Where did you acquire your education?

I was involved in theatre until I was 18 or so and had always been a bit of a scribbler, but I didn’t formally arrive at writing until I took an introductory creative writing class at The University of Victoria when I was twenty-one. That year Patrick Lane walked into the classroom, opened a book, read a poem by Gwendolyn MacEwan and made me, in one fell swoop, want to be a poet; made me want to know something the way a poet knows it, and to be able to say that back to others in the same way that MacEwan did. Patrick was around fifty then and a Governor General Award-winning poet with, I believe, a high school education. Still, in one year he taught me more than any other writer or professor about writing and about what it might mean to be a writer in the world. My soon-to-be-husband was like that too: a kind of Renaissance man with no formal post-secondary education, but incredibly, incredibly intelligent. He taught me, mostly by example, how to be a critical thinker. Any success I’ve had in my formal education (an MFA at The University of British Columbia and an MSc at The University of Edinburgh) owes something to these two men and the wonderful mentors inside and outside academia who have followed them.

4. You have written five books.  What form has your creative expression taken over time?

I work in a variety of genres so generally the topic or the material dictates the form – something will generally ‘feel’ like content for a poem or for an essay or fodder for something more involved like a novel. I am obsessed by the past (as both a construct and as a site of historical events) and by how we engage with it (and it with us) and so that is always at the centre of my creative, and I suppose, my academic work.

5. Most recently, you have worked on your PhD at the University of Edinburgh. What is the basis of it?

I’m looking at resonance and beloved objects in Victorian culture, and asking why certain objects appear again and again in Victorian writers’ museum collections. It’s ‘thing theory’ so to speak (I’m asserting that certain ‘things’ are more fit for the task of acting as remembrancers than others) with a narrative through-line in that I am also looking at how, in life-writing and literature, we tend to describe the way an object presences the absent beloved for us. It’s quite a fascinating topic and intersects with some of the themes in my new novel.

6. Since you began in writing, what do you consider the controversial books or poems?  Why do you consider them controversial?

I had to think a lot about this question because I don’t think I’m considered controversial at all (in relation to my work in the Canadian literary landscape). I am quite an earnest writer, a meliorist, and that effects, I suppose, how much I’m willing to discombobulate or challenge the reader. That said I think that there’s a slightly controversial position hovering thematically under a lot of my work (academic and literary) – ideas around how we humans presume too much agency for ourselves when things and events are actively shaping us all the time. I’m also interested in extended mind theory and in how we cognize the world through limiting ontologies (i.e. the depth ontology in Western culture where we forefront the concept of the ‘inner being’). The most deliberately provocative work I’ve done has been in the essay form. I wrote a piece on why writers shouldn’t do reviews for The Quill and Quire (an unpopular position) and a piece on the impossibility of competition amongst poets for Arc Magazine.

7. How do you describe your philosophical understanding of the art of Creative Writing? 

I once said to a second-year creative writing class at The University of Victoria that “to be a writer one needs to procure wisdom, knowledge or wonder.” I said it wanting to be challenged but no one so much as raised an eyebrow or a hand.

8. How has it changed?

Well, given that I sort of believed what I said to that class a decade ago (though I remain open to revision) I’d have to say that my understanding of what is required of a writer or ‘writing’ hasn’t changed: I believe you need something of use to say, or an ability to create a sense of wonder in another, and craft in order to do so in a way that locates and dislocates the reader simultaneously, adds to what they had when they entered into the conversation with your work. But the literary landscape has changed significantly in the last few years, in part because what’s valued drives the market. Information is highly valued now (the kind of ‘information’ that’s arguably different from wisdom or knowledge) as is escapism, and so there’s a commerce in that; digestibility matters too, and that means that what gets written and what sells, what is ‘successful’ changes. I still tend to differentiate between classes of literature which is probably an old-fashioned thing to do in the age of the blog-turned-film-turned-novel.

9. What advice do you have for undergraduate and graduate students in Creative Writing?

Fail, fail better. Take risks. Remember that rejection makes you stronger.

10. Whom do you consider your biggest influences?  Could you recommend any seminal or important books/poems by them?

I think the first time I felt as a reader that I was in the hands of a master writer was reading the Irish writer Dermot Healy. He’s widely considered a writer’s writer because you can marvel at his craft even as you’re set adrift in his narrative or poetic worlds. I especially love A Goat’s Song which is a novel and What The Hammer (poems) but all of his work has taught me something, and he innovates every time when a lot of writers would be content to repeat their successes. Anne Carson, Jan Zwicky and Carolyn Forché (all poets) make me think ‘why bother’ – they’ve already said so much so perfectly – but they also inspire me to keep at it. Alice Munro inspires me on numerous levels. It’s not that I want to write like her but I am in awe of her craft and her tenacity. She makes me aspire to be a better writer, to try to be great at it.

11. What poem has most influenced you?

TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. I don’t actually have an academic’s handling of it, but it sends me off in a new direction with every reading and I think his thinking about time in it is perfectly complex: ‘Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past…’. It’s directly influenced a lot of my work.

License

Creative Commons Licence In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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