Writing grad Kyeren Regehr embraces her mother tongue

Kyeren Regehr

Kyeren Regehr in her Malahat Review office

Never let it be said that children are a distraction from academic studies. Just ask Writing grad Kyeren Regehr, who picked up this year’s Victoria Medal for highest GPA in the Faculty of Fine Arts—despite being the mother of two. Teetering on the edge of 39, the Australia-born Regehr’s kids are now 14 and 4—which, when you add in the fact she did her BA in five years, means she was not only a mom coming in but also gave birth right at the start of her undergrad. What’s the secret to her academic success? “I’ve got one of those devoted, understanding, ultra-supportive super-husbands every woman dreams of marrying,” she says with a characteristically quick laugh. “He’s amazing, and has been the backbone of my degree.”

That may be true, but this double-major in poetry and fiction still had to do the work herself—and she did it well enough to get accepted into a poetry MFA for the fall semester, with recent Craigdarroch Award winner and Royal Society fellow Lorna Crozier as her advisor. “I’m so thrilled and fortunate to be doing it,” says Regehr. “It’s such a hard department to get into—they only take one person per genre for a Master’s, so I’m very, very lucky.”

One of the advantages of being a mature student, says Regehr, is that she came into the Department of Writing with both a strong background and a proven work ethic. “I had a career in performing arts already and I have taught extensively, so this is like my second career,” she explains, adding that being a parent actually helped her study. “When you have so little time, it makes you really focus on every spare minute. Good grades equal good funding, so I had incentive to work.”

She even managed to find time to volunteer as the poetry board intern for The Malahat Review, screening exactly the same kind of poetry submissions she’s been sending out herself to other literary publications. “I’ve spent hours labouring over submissions, making sure i’m being fair, finding what needs to be passed on.” she says. But does Regehr have any concerns about the reality of “making it” in such a less-than-lucrative literary world? “Poetry always prevails, even if it’s just read by other poets,” she sighs. “It’s like philosophy, right? You have to write what you have to write. Poetry is like an archive of the consciousness of the time; even if it’s not widely read, it’s like a blueprint for where we are in our minds.”

Does that make the fiction part of her studies the more, uh, financially viable venture? “Certainly, genre fiction is more lucrative—I always thought i’d be writing fantasy when i was younger—but now i’ve swung toward writing literary fiction,” says Regehr, citing the influence of fiction profs Bill Gaston, John Gould and Steven Price. “I’m about 50 pages into writing a novel and I’m really happy with it; it’s lovely to work on something that can stretch into the future, something you can get your teeth into over a long period of time. Hopefully my Master’s will produce a decent manuscript of poetry, but I would like to teach writing. I’ve always loved teaching.”

Ironically, her summation of what it takes to make it as a writer could also describe her life as a parent. “You have to have a thick skin, faith in your work and a healthy helping of determination.” Clearly, Kyeren Regehr has all three.

Freshman’s Win

UVic’s Department of Writing can now add the words “award-winning” to the description of its acclaimed web series, Freshman’s Wharf. The 10-episode, student-created, online comedic show beat out four other entries to win Best Web Series award at the 12th annual Leo Awards on June 11.

The Freshman’s Wharf team at the 2011 Leo Awards

“In some ways, producing Freshman’s Wharf was painstakingly challenging,” says co-producer Julia Dillon-Davis. “We were a group of students trying to film a web series that required a sailboat, an airplane, a tandem bike and half-naked professors dancing around a bonfire. The success of the series is really just indicative of our collective desire to create art.”

Originally created as a class project, Freshman’s Wharf evolved into a for-credit directed studies Writing course with 10 episodes being created, performed and shot by a mix of UVic students and alumni. Written by Rachel Warden, and mentored by Writing associate professor Maureen Bradley and digital media staffer Daniel Hogg, Freshman’s Wharf offered a light-hearted look at first-year student life at UVic.

“It’s a perfect fusion of research and teaching, a creative production engaging with the next generation—and that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing,” says Bradley, an award-winning filmmaker herself. “Our goal is to create innovative new media that’s Vancouver Island-based, and to engage students in our research creation, so it really was perfect.”

“I’ve had more fun on Freshman’s Wharf than any other student initiative,” says Eliza Robertson, who played the female lead, and was recently shortlisted for the Journey Prize for an unrelated writing project. “That might be why none of us expected to win: we’ve all enjoyed the experience so much that any concrete success is just whipped cream and cherries on top.”

Writer Warden, as well as Bradley, Hogg, Dillon-Davis and Robertson, were all in attendance at the gala Leo event, which was hosted by award-winning humorist and CBC personality Bill Richardson at Vancouver’s Fairmont Hotel.

The Leo Awards are an annual project of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foundation of British Columbia and celebrate excellence in artistic achievement in B.C.’s film and television industry.