Get your game on

If you still think video games are mere distractions that don’t really matter, it’s time to get into the 21st century—where gaming is a $2 billion industry in Canada alone, generating $24 million in Victoria. Expand that worldwide and you’re looking at $63 billion in 2013, with projected growth up to $78 billion by 2017.

Participants at UVic’s Games Without Frontiers conference in 2013

According to the recent economic study Getting Our Game On: An Impressive Growth Snapshot of Victoria’s Digital Gaming Industry, Victoria’s gaming sector currently boasts 19 studios, employs 240 people and spent most of that $24 million on research and development—and most of those studios are looking to hire co-op students and graduates.

All of which makes it the perfect time to launch the new Technology & Society course The History of Video Games and Interactive Media. Sponsored by Fine Arts, this summer T&S elective is set to investigate the intersection of technology, society, the entertainment industry and the creative arts through a study of video games and gaming culture. (Technology & Society Director and Writing professor David Leach also organized the extremely popular and successful gaming mini-conference Games Without Frontiers at UVic’s IdeaFest in 2013.)

Remember Pong?

Remember Pong?

Helmed by sessional instructor Ashley Blacquiere, The History of Video Games will look back at not only influential games and designers, evolving genres and technological innovations but will also study the integration of sound, visual art, narrative and interactive game play. Classes will consider emergent sub-cultures and online communities while debating social controversies, media depictions and the internationalization of gaming culture.

“The chronology is the backbone of the course, but we’ll jump off into different topics of game studies—gender representation, violence, things like that,” says Blacquiere.

Set phasers to fun for Space Wars!

Set phasers to fun for Space Wars!

And while most people over the age of 40 probably think of Pong as the earliest video game, Blacquiere can trace it back even further. “Pong was popular in the early ‘70s, but you can step back at least a half-dozen years earlier,” he says. “Space Wars is largely considered the first real video game and was developed on a mainframe computer at MIT by a group of ne’erdowells who thought the computer could better be used to create something fun than for academic purposes.”

Course instructor Ashley Blacquiere

Course instructor Ashley Blacquiere

A life-long gamer, practicing video game designer and educator, Blacquiere holds a B.Sc. in Mathematics from the University of Prince Edward Island and a Masters of Digital Media from Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Digital Media. He has worked on a variety of games, ranging from small experimental/indie games developed solo or with small teams (Big Hadron Games), through mid-sized social games played through Facebook (Gnosis Chinese Checkers, Kingdom of Thrones, Viking Clan), and large AAA productions with major game development studios ([PROTOTYPE 2], Dying Light). He is particularly interested in the design of digitally “enhanced” games played in social spaces, and games that explore social connections.

As such, Blacquiere intends to provide students with more than just a history of the industry. “Hopefully they’ll come away with a better critical understanding of games,” he says. “It’s easy to pick up a game and play it without thinking about it too much, but there’s such a wide variety of media out there these days that don’t fit in the traditional definitions of what a game is.”

While no actual gaming background is required for the course, an open mind is definitely an asset—especially when it comes to the “interactive media” aspect of the course. “If you look at any other medium—a film or novel, for example—it exists in its own world. With a movie, you’re a passive participant in a story and with a novel, you live in the character’s head,” he explains. “But with games, you have an interactive media and can really live the experience. Looking at the history of games lets us think about the different types of experience we can share and, looking forward, imagine new interactive scenarios and opportunities. As games mature, they can provide us with alternative viewpoints and new perspectives.”

Passage takes you through life's journey

Passage takes you through life’s journey

Case in point? The recent “game” Passage, where the player ages—and dies—all in five minutes. “There’s very little ‘game’ in the experience, but the point of death is very poignant,” says Blacquiere. “It’s been able to provide an experience to people who have never had a moment of loss before. There are people who say they truly cried at the end of the game—which, incidentally, is Steven Spielberg’s metric of whether a game has reached the form of ‘high art’.”

Blacquiere points to Passage as a simple example of where the industry is going. “There are all sorts of things out there that are very different from the traditional definition of game; they’re interactive experiences with value, but where do we fit them in the broad gaming sense? That’s what I hope students come away with—a broader perspective.”

Finally, will there be any actual gaming going on in class? “I hope to have one game per class available for students to play, starting with a Java version of Space Wars,” he chuckles. “I’m going to try and match the games to each lecture.”

TS320: The History of Video Games and Interactive Media (CRN: 31555) runs 6:30 to 9:20pm Mondays & Thursdays, May 12 to June 27, 2014 in Room 117 of UVic’s Engineering & Computer Science Building.

School of Music professor earns prestigious Harvard Fellowship

Dr. Dániel Péter Biró, professor of composition and music theory with the School of Music, has received a prestigious Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University for the 2014/15 academic year—a first for UVic’s School of Music.

“They have invited 53 researchers from all disciplines for this next year,” says Biró. “It’s not every day you get something like this.”

The Radcliffe Fellowship is only the latest accolade for Biró, an internationally acclaimed, multiple award-winning composer, co-creator of the SALT New Music Festival and Symposium and co-editor of the Search Journal for New Music and Culture.

Dániel Péter Biró

Dániel Péter Biró

“Dr. Biró’s appointment as a fellow at Radcliffe College is a great achievement,” says Dr. Susan Lewis Hammond, director of the School of Music. “This is a high honour that reflects the status of his work and his international reputation in the fields of composition and new music. It is a mark of the quality of research and teaching happening in the School of Music. Our students will benefit greatly when Dr. Biró returns and transfers the knowledge and experience that he gains from Harvard to his classes.”

Biró’s tenure at Harvard will be spent not teaching but completing a seven-part, three-hour composition cycle he has been creating since 2003. “It’s called Mishpatim, which means ‘laws’. It’s all coming from an archaic Hebrew text, and will involve large ensemble, voice, piano and electronics,” he explains. “There’s also interaction between the live musicians and what’s being processed via computer and then coming out of the speakers to the audience.”

A movement of the Mishpatim cycle was commissioned by the German city of Darmstadt and performed by the ensemble recherche in 2006 while Biró was a featured composer and lecturer at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music.

The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study is defined by a program that provides one-year fellowships for projects in a variety of disciplines in an open intellectual atmosphere. The Radcliffe Institute Fellowship Program has awarded over 650 fellowships since its founding in 1999, and past Fellowship winners include Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Poets Laureate, MacArthur fellows and leading international scientists, theatre directors and visual artists.

MFA exhibit engages eyes & intellect

When it comes to advanced academic work, few would expect to spend five minutes examining a graduate student’s work in biochemistry, neuroscience or mechanical engineering and really “get it.” Yet the same rules don’t seem to apply to Visual Arts, where people are often quick to dismiss an MFA student’s work simply because they don’t immediately understand, or appreciate, it.

Art by Visual Arts MFA candidate Neil McClelland

Art by Visual Arts MFA candidate Neil McClelland

Just ask Paul Walde. A professor of painting and media practices in the Department of Visual Arts, Walde is the graduate advisor for UVic’s 11 Visual Arts MFA students. He’s also a very busy intermedia artist on the leading edge of contemporary practice, so he knows well of what he speaks. “If you walk into a play or open a book and just spend five minutes with it, you’re probably not going to have a good sense of what the total accomplishment is,” he says. “That’s the same with visual arts—you have to spend some time with the work, maybe do a little reading around it . . . sometimes the content of the art is such that a level of understanding will have to preface it in some way.”

The MFA exhibit, titled In Your Eyes,will feature work by six graduating MFA candidates: Megan Dyck, Ethan Lester, Neil McClelland, Kaitlynn McQueston, Carley Smith and Jeroen Witvliet. “It’s really like six solo exhibitions,” says Walde. “Six people are taking over the entire facility, and some take up three or four rooms. The amount of work they produce is staggering; you’ll only be seeing a fraction of what they’ve produced in the past two years.”

MFA student Kaitlynn McQueston

MFA student Kaitlynn McQueston

Kaitlynn McQueston, who did her BFA at York University, was attracted by the independent studio focus of the MFA program. “I love the idea of a program that focuses more on practice-based research,” she says. “Graduate students have a little more control over what you read and research . . . most programs are just partial studio, and you spend a lot of time writing papers. This is more independent.”

McQueston describes her own practice as being “site-specific work focusing on the outdoors and architecture . . . I like the idea of artwork that tries to blend into the urban landscape and invites you to touch it in an informal but tangible way. I like breaking down those institutional barriers and engaging the public with art, as well as the landscape.” (In addition to the work on display in the MFA exhibit, McQueston is currently negotiating with local municipalities to install some pieces in public spaces.)

An example of Jeroen Witvliet's work

An example of Jeroen Witvliet’s work

Artists like McQueston, who have fresh approaches and new ideas, are exactly who the MFA program wants to attract. “We’re looking for artists who want to engage with contemporary art dialogue in an environment that really promotes independently driven, rigorous studio investigation in the service of research creation,” says Walde. “It’s definitely a successful program given its size; I shouldn’t be shocked but it’s always surprising—or affirming—when our former students receive awards or gain the recognition they so rightly deserve.” (Case in point: Visual Arts alumnus Kim Adams, who was recently awarded the 2014 Governor General’s Award for Visual & Media Arts.)

One of Carley Smith's pieces

One of Carley Smith’s pieces

But while a perpetual sense of misunderstanding seems to be go hand-in-hand with being a contemporary artist, Walde doesn’t let it rankle him. “Most artists generally don’t want to confound audiences; they’re trying to convey messages in ways that are comprehendible in some form,” he explains. “But people expect it to work like advertising. With advertising, you’re driving by a billboard and you instantly get it, then it’s gone—whereas a good work of art will hopefully engage you and linger longer, more along the lines of a good novel or a good play.”

MFA-show[1]“With all the works in this exhibition, there are lots of opportunities for people to bring their own experiences and histories to bear upon the things that they’re seeing,” he says. “Most artists would agree that whatever you walk away with—whatever experiences you have—are valid interpretations of the art.”

In Your Eyes runs May 2-10 throughout the Visual Arts building. The opening night reception is from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, May 2, with opening remarks beginning at 7 p.m.

 

Mowry Baden wins prestigious Guggenheim fellowship

Well-known contemporary artist and sculptor Mowry Baden, a professor emeritus with the Department of Visual Arts, can now add one of North America’s most prestigious awards to his long list of honours. Baden is one of only two Canadians receiving a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship and is among a diverse group of 178 scholars, artists, and scientists selected from a field of almost 3,000 applicants.

Mowry Baden in his studio, with the start of his Guggenheim-funded sculpture "Trisector"

Mowry Baden in his studio, with the start of his Guggenheim-funded sculpture “Trisector”

Baden is only the sixth UVic scholar to be awarded a Guggenheim and our first creative artist to receive the honour. The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced this year’s recipients on April 10 in its 90th annual competition for the US and Canada.

“I’m very happy,” says Baden of his one-year fellowship worth $55,000 US. “My request was for money to help develop a sculpture that addresses the sense of touch—in art parlance, that’s called haptic. The sculpture will be pretty complex and will, of course, also have a visual component. It is a piece that will be able to be moved from place to place.” His Guggenheim-funded sculpture, titled Trisector (seen here), is already being constructed.

Baden & Meigs' "Revolving Basement" (2013)

Baden & Meigs’ “Revolving Basement” (2013)

Best known locally for his public art sculptures and complex tactile works, Baden is a prolific artist and recipient of numerous grants and awards including a 2006 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. He will also be speaking at the upcoming event Reclaim the Streets: A Symposium on Art and Public Space, running April 25 and 26 at Open Space. Baden also contributed the piece “Revolving Basement” to the recent solo exhibition The Basement Panoramas by fellow Visual Arts faculty member Sandra Meigs.

“The Department of Visual Arts is proud to congratulate Mowry Baden on being awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship,” says department chair Daniel Laskarin. “He was one of two professors who joined UVic in the 1970s and who led the development of our program into what it is today. His students are among the most successful artists across Canada and beyond, and his own artistic work is internationally celebrated.”

Baden's "Upper and Lower Case" (2009)

Baden’s “Upper and Lower Case” (2009)

Notable among Baden’s former students are the likes of Sobie Award winner Christian Giroux, Yale’s director of sculpture Jessica Stockholder, current Visual Arts professor Robert Youds and 2014 Governor General’s Award winner Kim Adams. In his GG interview, Adams mentions the influence Baden had on the development of his work. “When we learned art history, it was through somebody who knew art today—and that was Mowry Baden,” he says. “We started seeing things that were more real—the perception of the colours, the scale and the size, what happens between it and you and that space between. For me, it was the street level, I was trying to pull that into the art.”

You can read more about Baden’s life and artistic legacy in this Canadian Art magazine feature article “The Great One.”

Baden's "Tender Trepanation"

Baden’s “Tender Trepanation” (2005)

“UVic has for many, many years has had a popular and critical sculpture program,” says Baden. “A lot of these people who have done well out in the world are sculptors who have been trained by me, my friend Roland Brener, who passed away, and by Daniel Laskarin . . . it continues to be a very strong program.”

Reflecting on the development of the department under his guidance, Baden feels they created something unique. “I think it’s true that no other department was offering what we could offer—Roland with his uniquely English exposure and me with a Southern California background—that’s kind of a unique combination. I can’t think of another Canadian university or art school that had that kind of blend.”

Opening night of the recent BFA show Split hints at the diversity of the Visual Arts building

Opening night of the recent BFA show Split hints at the diversity of the Visual Arts building

Baden was also instrumental in developing not only the Visual Arts program but the building itself. “When I was the chair of the department in the early ‘90s, we were singularly fortunate in getting a new building, and I had a great deal to do with its design—not that I designed it, but I was the point man for the department,” he recalls.

“A little stroll through the building is important when you want to see how the pedagogy is reinforced by the structure of corridors and studios and shops, the way they are linked and related with one another. It’s not a thousand percent success, you can never achieve that, but I think the building does a great deal to help with practice.”

As mentioned above, Baden will also be participating in Reclaim the Streets: A Symposium on Art and Public Space at Open Space on April 25 and 26. A fascinating and wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium on art in the public space, Reclaim the Streets will bring together artists, scholars, curators, activists, community organizations, and engaged citizens to examine and discuss the goals, perceptions, problems, and possibilities of public art in Victoria. Along with Baden, Fine Arts will be represented by the likes of Visual Arts MFA Kika Thorne and former Department of Theatre alumni and instructor Dr. Will Weigler.

Past Guggenheim fellows from UVic include climatologist Andrew Weaver (2008), astrophysicist Julio Navarro (2003), English professor Anthony Edwards (1988), ocean physicist Chris Garrett (1981) and biologist Job Kuijt (1964).

Often characterized as “midcareer” awards, the Guggenheim Fellowships are intended for men and women who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. Scores of Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and eminent scientists are past Guggenheim fellows, including Henry Kissinger, Linus Pauling and Ansel Adams.

Visual Arts students ready to Split

Undergraduates in the Department of Visual Arts are similar to students in any department at the University of Victoria: they come here to learn, to think, to research and to incubate their ideas. But what makes Visual Arts students different is that they also come here to create—and that creative difference is showcased in the annual Bachelor of Fine Arts graduating exhibit, this year titled Split.

BFA student Marina Eglis installs her piece in the graduating exhibit Split

BFA student Marina Eglis installs her piece in the graduating exhibit Split

No question, the BFA exhibit is one of the most anticipated events of the Visual Arts academic year. This year featuring the work of 36 students, Split runs from April 17-26 and will feature a tremendous amount of painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, video and media art spread throughout the Visual Arts building.

“For many of the students, the BFA exhibition is an opportunity for them to exhibit their work publicly for the first time,” says Visual Arts professor Jennifer Stillwell, who is coordinating Split with fellow professor Robert Youds. “Each graduating student has created a body of work or a major work that speaks to their individual point of view as an artist. The exhibit marks the achievement of their degree and celebrates and highlights the work they have put into it.”

BFA student Abigail Laycock with her sculptures

BFA student Abigail Laycock with her sculptures

More than just displaying their work, however, the students have also organized most aspects of the exhibition itself—from curatorial decisions and building preparation to organizing the opening night event and creating a colour catalogue that will further support the work and ideas of each artist in the show.

“Most BFA students arrive here not really knowing what contemporary art is, then they have to go through the process of figuring it out and engaging with it,” says Visual Arts professor Paul Walde. “Then they have to decide what they want to work on and move forward with that. This final year really is the tipping point where you see massive development in a student’s work. That’s why UVic is such a great incubator for artists: it gives you time and space, and it has great facilities and a great faculty—but when students graduate, it’s really important for them to get off the island and test the strength of their ideas in other contexts.”

VASA president Graham Macaulay

VASA president Graham Macaulay with one of his installations

Split not only offers a glimpse into the future of visual art but also shows the originality of vision that comes with being mentored by some of Canada’s top contemporary artists. “Taking these courses and working with these professors has given me a way of filtering what I’m taking in and providing effective strategies for creating things,” says graduating Visual Arts Student Association president Graham Macaulay. “The strength of this program is the very direct studio practice—you really get into the meat of your artistic practice. I’ve been exposed to a lot of different ideas and people with different practices.”

BFA student Heather Carter with her wall of nudes

BFA student Heather Carter with her wall of nudes

On one level, the exhibit title Split was inspired by a quote by French theorist Roland Barthes,  which appears in the exhibit catalogue: “It would seem that we are condemned for some time yet to always speak excessively about reality. This is probably because ideologism and its opposite are types of behaviours which are still magical, terrorized, blinded and fascinated by the split in the social world. And yet, this is what we must seek: a reconciliation between reality and men, between description and explanation, between object and knowledge.”

Graduating student Chris Savage matches painted plates to paintings

Graduating student Chris Savage matches his painted dishware to paintings

When asked about this, Macaulay chuckles. “It’s kind of tricky naming a grad show—it’s always a bit of the same thing: a lot of people with very disparate practices. You get some meeting places where people work together but the only real connection point is the location—we’re all here, we’re all Visual Arts students,” he says. “But in her catalogue essay, Jennifer Stillwell said, ‘It’s time to split’—which I thought was so funny, it’s been four years and it’s time to split. It’s such a simple thing, and such a contrast with what Barthes has to say.”

SplitBFAGradShow_PosterSplit also carries on the enviable Visual Arts tradition of producing some of Canada’s most notable contemporary artists—such as 2014 Governor General’s Award winner Kim Adams, as well as the likes of Jessica Stockholder, Gwen Curry, Bill Burns, Marla Hlady, Phyllis Serota, Barbara Fischer, Christian Giroux and many, many others.

If you want to brush up on the future of Canadian art, look no further than UVic’s Department of Visual Arts.

Split opens with a 7pm reception on Thursday, April 17. The exhibit runs daily to April 26 throughout UVic’s Visual Arts Building, and is free to attend. Don’t miss our upcoming MFA  graduating exhibit as well, running May 2-10.

 

Rotating and protecting UVic’s art collection

With 2,200 works of art currently on display—out of more than 20,000 pieces in the university’s overall art collection—UVic has more art on view in public, non-museum spaces than at any other university in Canada. Managing the collection responsibly through the Legacy Art Galleries’ Art on Campus program has also meant that a number of pieces previously on display in public spaces have been deemed to be at risk—and are in the process of being replaced with thematically similar works.

Mary Jo Hughes at the 2013 Legacy exhibit Paradox (photo: Don Denton)

Mary Jo Hughes at the 2013 Legacy exhibit Paradox (photo: Don Denton)

“The Department of Canadian Heritage designate some of our works to be of outstanding national significance,” explains Legacy Art Galleries director Mary Jo Hughes, “so they require we only show and store these pieces in places with ‘Category A’ museum standards—which we unfortunately don’t have in the public spaces and offices on campus.”

The risks that Legacy must be concerned about are more than just the possibility of theft. “Art can be damaged from light, temperature, humidity, airborne contaminants, pests and vandalism,” she says.

Canadian Heritage requires nearly 1,000 nationally significant artworks in UVic’s collection to be protected for the benefit and education of both present and future generations. Consider, for example, Legacy’s precious William Morris tapestries. “They are so valuable and so vulnerable to light that we only bring them out for short-term display, and for examination and research,” says Hughes. “We always have to balance preservation with the desire for long-term display; if we were to put them out, they would be so faded after a couple of years that they ‘d be worthless for future generations.”

Legacy curator Caroline Riedel, History in Art Professor Dr. Erin Campbell and History in Art student Holly Cecil (photo by Gary McKinstry)

Legacy curator Caroline Riedel, History in Art Professor Dr. Erin Campbell and History in Art student Holly Cecil (photo by Gary McKinstry)

But while this curatorial shuffle means you’ll no longer find Myfanwy Pavelic’s paintings in the McPherson Library or Robert Davidson’s prints in the Fraser Building, you will now find equally strong and relevant pieces in their place. Pavelic’s portrait of famed conductor Yehudi Menuhin that previously hung outside the library’s Music and Media department has been replaced with alumna Eva Campbell’s portrait of filmmaker Kemi Craig. “Legacy is attempting to match pieces that will continue to speak those messages,” explains Hughes. “Maintaining First Nations prints in the Law faculty, for example, speaks to their respect for and interest in indigenous approaches to law.”

Even though Legacy Art Gallery Downtown and the Legacy Maltwood in the Mearns Centre for Learning are the only “Category A” spaces available, that doesn’t mean the campus will be short on art to display. “We have the most art on public display of any university in Canada,” Hughes says. (By way of comparison, the much larger University of Toronto campus only has 800 pieces on view.) “The Art on Campus program makes a valuable contribution to the educational environment at UVic. It reinforces an interdisciplinary approach in how people work, teach and learnon campus, and recognizes art as a vital part of everybody’s life; it provides invigoration and stimulation wherever it is.”

UVic's Legacy Gallery Downtown

UVic’s Legacy Gallery Downtown

Hughes also points out what our art collection says about the university as a whole. “It reinforces key messages about UVic, about our values, about our culture,” she says. “Think about the remarkable amount of First Nations art we have campus: that speaks to our connection with the Coast Salish people, with being grateful for being on their territory, with recognizing their culture as a vital part of our world right now. That’s very important to UVic, across disciplines. We don’t want to just pigeonhole art in the Fine Arts or Visual Arts buildings.”

Though some key works have been moved out of offices where they were well-loved, protecting the art will create opportunities to share the pieces with a wider audience through the gallery—in our own era and in the decades to come.

Maxwell Bates' "Circus People" (1969) will be seen in Legacy's upcoming Epiphany exhibit

Maxwell Bates’ “Circus People” (1969) will be seen in Legacy’s upcoming Epiphany exhibit

The program is also providing new opportunities for community engagement, as seen in Legacy’s upcoming exhibit Epiphany:Highlights from the Legacy Permanent Collection opening May 1. Featuring artists of national significance like Norval Morrisseau, Lawren Harris, Frederick Varley, Robert Davidson, Emily Carr, Myfanwy Pavelic, Robert Rauschenberg, Jack Shadbolt and Jean-Paul Riopelle, among others, Epiphany will showcase art that may previously have had limited exposure. “This will enable a lot of people to see some of the cultural properties that have been taken off-campus,” she explains. “A piece may have been hanging in someone’s office or a hallway the general public couldn’t get to before. We’re trying to give access to these key pieces in exhibitions like this.”

Hughes also feels it’s important to remember that community engagement is only part of the role of UVic’s art collection—with the other part being experiential learning. “We cater to faculties whenever they want to have artwork as part of their teaching. We offer art for teaching in classes on campus or at Legacy and we provide study access to reseachers . . . what we do is very much linked to the academic mandate, and real-life experience of working with art. ”

“We’re still dedicated to providing access to all our pieces,” Hughes concludes, “through temporary exhibits, research, classroom visits, and through our database. We have to balance the protection of the artwork with access for scholarship, research and exhibition purposes.”

 

Art on the horizon

With classes ending and the semester wrapping up, it’s a good time to pause and take a breather—and what better time to check out some art? There’s a fresh batch of exhibits coming up this and next month, all of which showcase the work of both UVic artists and art historians.

Pub Crawl (2)First up is the PUB(lic) Crawl happening Saturday, April 12. Part walking tour and part film screening and discussion, the PUB(lic) Crawl offers an active, participatory tour of several interarts projects in the public sphere. Led by Art Gallery of Greater Victoria educators, Open Space and visiting artists—including Jackson 2Bears, the current Audain Professor for the Department of Visual Arts, who will be screening a new multimedia work at the end of the tour. This freewheeling appraisal of public space runs rain or shine. Meet outside the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (1040 Moss) at 3pm for the two-hour walking tour, which will reach the Garrick’s Head Pub (1140 Government) at 5pm, where the screening and discussion will continue till 7pm. Admission is by donation.

The Pub(lic) Crawl is just one of the many exciting events leading up to the April 25-26 event Reclaim the Streets: A Symposium on Art and Public Space.

From Chris Lindsay's "I like the wind"

From Chris Lindsay’s “I like the wind”

Already open is Chris Lindsay‘s latest exhibit,  I like the wind at Xchanges Gallery. A recent Visual Arts MFA alumnus and the current workshops technician for the Department of Visual Arts, Lindsay presents new work exploring the non-conventional mark-making possibilities of the rust process. The inventive attitude of the artist and the dynamic physical character of the rust process are captured, reflecting our connection to the world outside of our selves and our relationship to that which we imagine and bring physically into this world.

Curious about how rust influences the artistic process? Don’t miss Lindsay’s artist talk at 2pm Sunday, April 27. I like the wind continues to April 27 at Xchanges Gallery, 6E-2333 Government St. The gallery is open Saturdays & Sundays noon to 4pm.

SplitBFAGradShow_PosterThe Visual Arts BFA graduation exhibit is always one of the most anticipated events of the Fine Arts academic year. This year’s exhibit is titled Split and will feature the diverse work of 36 graduating BFAs—including painting, photography, sculpture, drawing, installation and extended media works. Split not only offers a glimpse into the future of visual art but also shows the originality of vision that comes with being mentored by some of Canada’s top contemporary artists. Supervised by Visual Arts professors Jennifer Stillwell and Robert Youds Split will fill the entire Visual Arts building and also offer an exhibit catalogue created by the students themselves.

Owen Mathieson's paintings can be seen in "Split"

Owen Mathieson’s paintings can be seen in “Split”

Split also carries on Visual Arts’ enviable tradition of producing some of Canada’s most notable contemporary artists—such as 2014 Governor General’s Award winner Kim Adams, as well as the likes of Jessica Stockholder, Gwen Curry, Bill Burns, Marla Hlady, Phyllis Serota, Barbara Fischer, Christian Giroux and many, many others. If you want to brush up on the future of Canadian art, look no further than the Department of Visual Arts.

Split opens with a 7pm reception on Thursday, April 17, and continues 10am to 6pm daily to April 26 in the Visual Arts Building.

Just in time for Easter weekend is Windows Into Heaven: Religious Icons from the Permanent Collection. Opening April 23 at the Legacy Downtown, this exhibition is curated by History in Art graduate student Regan Shrumm as the result of a directed studies course under the supervision of History in Art professor and exhibit co-curator Dr. Evanthia Baboula.

Windows Into HeavenThese 18th and 19th century icons—created from egg tempera, enamel and silver metalwork—are from the eastern Christian tradition and show how religious imagery maintained a central role in orthodox Christianity. Icons were venerated in churches, private homes or during a journey to provide protection to body and spirit. Images of saints, Christ and the Virgin that date back to the Byzantine tradition, the medieval empire of Constantinople, are also a concrete remnant of how the religious communities of imperial Russia built on these traditions to create a recognizable, yet distinctive and lively art. “The icons in this exhibition are similar in age and importance to others found in major galleries and museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum, and the Ashmolean,” says Baboula.

Learn more about the historical and cultural significance of these icons with the curator’s talk and tour at 7pm Thursday, April 24. The exhibit runs to August 9 at the Legacy Art Gallery Downtown, 630 Yates. Admission is free and the gallery is open 9am to 4pm Wednesday to Saturday.

The button blanket receiving its inaugural dance at UVic's First Peoples House (Photo Services)

The button blanket receiving its inaugural dance at UVic’s First Peoples House (Photo Services)

It’s also worth noting that your last chance to see the Legacy exhibit Adasla: The Movement of Hands is coming up fast—the exhibit must close on Friday, April 25. Featuring the world’s biggest button blanket, Adasla is the culmination of work done by History in Art professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer, HIA sessional instructor Peter Morin and their fall 2013 class. Find out more about the project here, and be sure to see the exhibit before it closes.

Also of note on the Legacy Galleries front are two upcoming on-campus exhibits: Honoris Causa: University of Victoria First Nations Artist Honorands, which runs to the end of May at First Peoples House, and Margaret Peterson: A Search In Rhythm which runs to August 9.

Kwagiulth Chief and Frog, Henry Hunt, 1980

Kwagiulth Chief and Frog, Henry Hunt, 1980

Honoris Causa features the work of First Nations artists who have received honorary degrees from the university. Twice yearly at convocation, UVic awards honorary degrees to those who have demonstrated distinguished and extraordinary achievements—and, during its 50-year history, UVic has granted honours to seven First Nations artists who have contributed not only to the arts but also to the community at large as leaders, activists, visionaries, role models, and groundbreakers. Honoris Causa features works from UVic’s art collection and an excerpt from the citation that was read at the occasion of granting the degree. It continues to May 9 at First Peoples House.

Meanwhile, A Search In Rhythm features the artworks and personal papers of  groundbreaking mid-20th century abstract painter, Margaret Peterson. Peterson had a big vision: to search for the spiritual realm, in rhythm with the artistic aims of Indigenous peoples across the world. Peterson’s main medium was egg tempera on plywood panels—striking in size, colour, and form.

Portrait of Margaret Peterson by Curtis Lantinga, 1978

Portrait of Margaret Peterson by Curtis Lantinga, 1978

This is the first in an upcoming series of exhibitions presenting UVic’s Artist Archives and Legacy Art Galleries joint holdings which demonstrates the rich research potential of this recently acquired material. This exhibit runs April 11 to August 9 in the Legacy Maltwood at the Mearns Centre in the McPherson Library.

There will also be a lively panel discussion of the artists’ archives and this exhibit at 2pm Tuesday, May 13, in room A003 of the Mearns Centre. Titled “Working with Artists’ Archives at the University of Victoria,” it will feature UVic archivist Lara Wilson, local art writer Robert Amos,  art historian Nick Tuellie and exhibit curator Justine Drummond.

Work by MFA candidate Neil McClelland

Work by MFA candidate Neil McClelland

Finally, we have the much-anticipated MFA Graduating Exhibit in the Department of Visual Arts. Featuring the work of six graduate students in the Master of Fine Arts program, the exhibit—this year titled In Your Eyes—offers contemporary art in a wide variety of disciplines.

In Your Eyes essentially offers six separate solo exhibits in one, as each graduating student—Megan Dyck, Ethan Lester, Neil McClelland, Kaitlynn McQueston, Carley Smith and Jeroen Witvliet—has their own exhibition space in the Visual Arts building. “We look for artists who want to engage with contemporary art dialogue in an environment that really promotes independently driven, rigorous studio investigation in the service of research creation,” says Visual Arts professor and graduate advisor Paul Walde about the MFA students.

Work by MFA student Carley Smith

Work by MFA candidate Carley Smith

The key to contemporary art, says Walde, is to spend some time with the work. “If you walk into a play or open a book and just spend five minutes with it, you’re probably not going to have a good sense of what the total accomplishment is,” he says. “That’s the same with visual arts—you have to spend some time with the work, maybe do a little reading around it . . . sometimes the content of the art is such that a level of understanding will have to preface it in some way.”

The opening reception for In Your Eyes begins at 6pm, Friday May 2, with opening remarks at 7pm. The exhibit runs 10am to 5pm daily (except Sundays) to May 10 throughout UVic’s Visual Arts Building.

Books, books, books

Spring has sprung and there’s no better way to mark the return of the leaves than with some exciting book news from Department of Writing graduates. (Get it? Books, leaves, pages . . . ah, never mind.)

Arleen Pare

Arleen Paré

First up is news that recent MFA Arleen Paré is launching her second book of poetry this month. Lake of Two Mountains. Published by Brick Books, Lake of Two Mountains is described as “a portrait of a lake, of a relationship to a lake, of a network of relationships around a lake. It maps, probes and applauds the riparian region of central Canadian geography that lies between the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence Rivers.”

Paré’s first book, Paper Trail, won the 2008 Victoria Butler Book Prize and was shortlisted for the 2010 Dorothy Livesay BC Book Prize in Poetry. She’ll be launching Lake of Two Mountains alongside authors Jane Munro, Joanna Lilley and Karen Enns at 8pm Tuesday April 29 at Open Space (510 Fort Street). The event will be hosted by Kitty Lewis, with a  Q&A  session will be facilitated by Sara Cassidy.

Martens

Garth Martens

The first book of poetry by Garth Martens was also recently released. His Prologue for the Age of Consequence (House of Anansi) offers an elemental world both beautiful and severe, where characters assume a collective status both emphatically human and radically mythic. While his Prologue is about Alberta’s tar sands industrial project, and the men who work in them, these are poems of great philosophical ambition with a startling ethical and psychological reach.

Wigmore

Gillian Wigmore

Better still, Martens will be launching his book alongside fellow Writing alum Gillian Wigmore, who will whose debut book Grayling is described by no less than retired Writing professor Jack Hodgins as “a spirited journey story I found as irresistible as the powerful river that carries us through the beautiful and treacherous northern landscape.” Grayling is released through the venerable Mother Tongue press.

Join both Martens and Wigmore for their launch celebration at 7:30pm Thursday, April 3, at Russell’s Books (734 Fort Street).

Shepard

Aaron Shepard

Also on deck for his debut novel is MFA alum Aaron Shepard. He’ll be launching When Is A Man on April 8. Described by publishers Brindle & Glass as “an original debut novel that is meditative, raw, and exuberant in tone, Shepard’s When is a Man offers a fresh perspective on landscape and masculinity.” You can read our full interview with Shepard here before joining him to celebrate the release of When is a Man at the reading and launch party from 7-9pm Tuesday, April 8 at the Copper Owl, 1900 Douglas Street in Victoria. The event will be hosted by Writing professor David Leach. Shepard will also be participating in the At the Mike: Fiction Night! (alongside guest authors M.A.C. Farrant and Margaret Thompson) at 7pm Tuesday, April 15, at Russell’s Books, 734 Fort.

celona

Marjorie Celona

Congratulations go out to Writing grad Marjorie Celona for making the prestigious Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award shortlist—which is the richest story prize in the world! Celona is up against five other writers—including two Pulitzer Prize winners—for this hefty £30,000 prize. (But the runners-up will receive £1,000 each, so that’s okay too.) The winner will be announced on April 4. For those keeping track, Celona’s first novel Y was heralded as a stunning debut back in 2012.

wilson

D.W. Wilson

Further congratulations to Writing grad and novelist-on-the-rise D.W. Wilson for making the Amazon First Novel Award shortlist with his Ballistics (Hamish Hamilton Canada). Wilson has continued to earn fans and critical acclaim alike since the publication of his short story collection Once You Break A Knuckle—which includes the “The Dead Roads”, the story that earned him the 2011 BBC National Short Story prize. Alongside Marjorie Celona, Wilson was also selected for 2013′s prestigious Waterstones Eleven list in the UK.

More prize-winning news from the Department of Writing: MFA candidate and filmmaker Connor Gaston just won “Best College Short” at the 2014 Phoenix Film Festival in April for directing the 2013 Writing 420 class project, ’Til Death. This is the fourth prize for ’Til Death, which continues to attract attention wherever it screens.  

BooksWriting grads are well represented among the nominees for the forthcoming 2014 BC Book Prizes. Two alum are both nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize: Arno Kopecky made the shortlist for The Oil Man and the Sea, as did Jane Silcott for Everything Rustles. Meanwhile, Ashley Little has been named in two different categories: the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for her novel Anatomy of a Girl Gang and the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize for The New Normal. Finally, Catherine Greenwood is up for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for The Lost Letters. (Also noted in the fine print were faculty member Lynne Van Luven and instructor and alumnus Steven Price as judges in the non-fiction and fiction categories, respectively.) The winners will be announced at the 30th Annual Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala on Saturday, May 3, at the Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside Hotel. British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Judith Guichon, OBC, will be in attendance.

Melanie Siebert

Melanie Siebert

Acclaimed Deepwater Vee poet, MFA grad and occasional Department of Writing instructor Melanie Siebert was announced as the winner in April of the inaugural poetry prize from the online Lemon Hound with her poem “Thereafter.” Noted poet and prize judge Rae Armantrout had this to say about Siebert’s poem: “Every sentence in ‘Thereafter’ is interesting . . . . It’s as if we’re listening to the voices of the damned (‘Dante’s goddamn mike was open’) and they’re our voices, just skewed enough that we notice what we’ve been saying all along . . . . In this poem our own language comes back to bite us. If only we could wake up.” Visit Lemon Hound to read Siebert’s poem.

While we’re talking about literary prizes, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention 355830d4d1f1585da36e273359cb2e78that our Writing grads are all over the 2014 PRISM International Poetry & Fiction Contest winners list.
The first place Fiction winner is Cathy Kozak and the first place Poetry winner is Jordan Mounteer. First runner-up in Poetry went to alum Kyeren Regehr and the Fiction runner-up went to Leah Jane Esau. And second runner-up in the annual PRISM Creative Non-fiction Contest went to Writing grad Jenny Boychuk for her piece, “Notes on Breath”. (Judge and Can-lit biggie Timothy Taylor described Boychuk’s piece as “A difficult set of family relationships is unwoven and revealed in the process of an episodic meditation on breathing.”)

Carol Lyn Morgan

Cara-Lyn Morgan

Speaking of Writing MFA alum Kyeren Regher, she has also been selected as the only Canadian represented in the U.S.-based collection Best New Poets 2013. (Of course she’s one the best—she came from UVic!) Other first books for Writing grads: Cara-Lyn Morgan just released her book of poetry What Became of My Grieving Ceremony with Thistledown Press, and Colin Fulton‘s book of poetry Life Experience Coolant was recently published by BookThug.

Finally, current Writing undergrad Sheldon Seigel has been named as one of the 10 finalists for the infamous 3-Day Novel Contest organized by Geist magazine and Anvil Press. Siegel is among the five Canadian finalists for the 2013 prize—and he was also profiled as a contestant on CBC’s Canada Writes site, where he shared some humourous insights in both his entrance and exit interviews.

Sheldon Seigel

We’re sure Sheldon Seigel is just hiding his bloodshot eyes as a result of writing a novel in 3 days

As Canada Writes reports, “the last time we spoke with Sheldon was in early September when he had just finished his first writing marathon. Sheldon was zonked, but happy. He called the experience ‘horrendous, spectacular, cathartic, shocking, and enlightening.’ We thought we would ask him now, with time and some perspective, how he feels about being shortlisted: ‘… I’m still shocked that I survived the contest weekend. I have since read my story and found it to be surprising. Perhaps that is because I don’t remember writing half of it! It was indeed a wonderful and horrible experience, one that paid incredible dividends in terms of literary growth and a stronger bond with my dog.’”

You can also hear an interview with Seigel on this episode of CBC’s All Points West.

The winner of the 3-Day Novel Contest will be announced later this week.

Fine Arts announces name change

In light of recent concerns about post-graduation employment and the continuing societal denigration of the importance of the arts, the Faculty of Fine Arts has announced it will be changing its name. Effective April 1, 2014, Fine Arts will now be known as the Faculty of Experiential Learning, Lateral Thinking, Job Creation and Really Innovative Innovations.

"We all love the new faculty name!" says Guy White, Minister of  Positive Diversity Representation

“We all love the new faculty name!” says Guy Whyte, Minister of Excessive Grants. “Could you use a million-dollar grant?”

While some critics charge that simply changing the faculty’s name won’t make any difference, sources inside the government appear to think differently.

“Whoa, that sounds like a really important faculty!” says Guy Whyte, Minister of Excessive Grants. “How much funding would you like? We’ve got a few million dollars kicking around that we trimmed from various arts budgets over the past 13 years.”

Acting E.L.L.T.J.C.R.I.I. Dean Sahara Whiterock admits that while the new faculty name may seem cumbersome, it was actually carefully chosen by a hand-picked panel of experts who have absolutely no experience with the arts. “We looked at the various criteria of the top funding sources over the past decade and strategically implemented their key points,” says Whiterock. “After all, no one really reads more than the first page of these funding applications, so we thought we’d put all the important stuff up top.”

Graduating  ELLTJCII student & new BC Ferries exec Ineda Jobb

Graduating ELLTJCRII student & new BC Ferries exec Ineda Jobb

While the Faculty is expecting some outcry from Fine Arts alumni, who are understandably proud of their degrees, the reaction from graduating students has so far been overwhelmingly positive.

“My parents are absolutely thrilled that I’m graduating with a Masters in Experiential Learning, Lateral Thinking, Job Creation and Really Innovative Innovations,” says Ineda Jobb. “And despite having no experience whatsoever, I’ve already been hired into an executive position with BC Ferries. Free ferry fares, here I come!”

The news of the shift in faculty designation comes on the heels of the Times Colonist reporting UVic’s proposed name change to the University of SOB (Saanich/Oak Bay). Strangely enough, both names changes were announced on April 1. Hmmm . . .

Stand by your Man

Chalk up another achievement for Department of Writing MFA graduates: this month, Aaron Shepard is releasing his debut novel, When Is A Man.

Writing MFA Aaron Shepard

Writing MFA Aaron Shepard

Shepard, who picked up his MFA back in 2010, is only the latest in a string of Writing MFAs—including Anne Marie Bennett, Frances Backhouse, Devon Krukoff, Garth Martens, Arleen Paré, Kevin Paul, Melanie Siebert and Yasuko Thanh—to publish. (Expand that to include BFAs and the list grows even further, thanks to the likes of Esi Edugyan, Marjorie Celona, D.W. Wilson and many more than can be listed here.)

But while this may be his first novel, Aaron Shepard has already written some award-winning short fiction, served on the fiction board of The Malahat Review and has been published in a number of Canadian literary journals, including The Fiddlehead and PRISM International. His personal essay “Edge of the Herd” appears in the 2009 anthology Nobody’s Father: Life Without Kids (Touchwood).

When is a ManDescribed by publishers Brindle & Glass as “an original debut novel that is meditative, raw, and exuberant in tone, Shepard’s When is a Man offers a fresh perspective on landscape and masculinity.” In a nutshell, the novel follows Paul Rasmussen—a young ethnographer and academic recovering from prostate cancer—who retreats to the remote forests and towns of BC’s fictional Immitoin Valley, where a drowned man and a series of encounters with the locals force him to confront the valley’s troubled past and his own uncertain future. As Rasmussen turns his attention to the families displaced 40 years earlier by the flooding of the valley to create a hydroelectric dam, his desire to reinvent himself runs up against the bitter emotions and mysterious connections that linger in the community in the aftermath of the flood.

  • Join Aaron Shepard in celebrating the release of When is a Man at the reading and launch party from 7-9pm Tuesday, April 8 at the Copper Owl, 1900 Douglas Street in Victoria. The event will be hosted by Writing professor David Leach.

Calling it “an intimate and affecting exploration of screw-tight landscapes of the Interior,” Canadian novelist Mark Anthony Jarman praises Aaron Shepard’s freshman effort. “Shepard paints scenes in smoke and snow and light and dark, and the crack language and iron settings of river, mountain and forest put me in mind of the best of Ken Kesey the merry prankster,” he writes. “When is a Man is complex and stubborn and a serious joy.”

Shepard FocusFocus magazine book columnist Amy Reiswig is also clearly a fan. Writing in the April 2014 issue, she notes, “Shepard blends his great love for and experience of rural BC communities with the freedom of fiction, resulting in a book that deals head-on with specific BC issues but isn’t bound by specific BC history. Rather, Shepard creatively combines his own personal concerns with knowledge and research from a variety of very real events.” Reiswig also describes how Shepard’s “raw, honest look at male sexuality and constructed ideas of masculinity will encourage conversation about prostate cancer and about self-acceptance, patience and respect—another set of powerful unseens—that we could do well to extend to one another and ourselves.”

Shepard, who works by day as a writer for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (“Way too much desk time,” he admits), took some time to discuss the origin and intention of When Is A Man recently. Explaining that he had “essentially mapped out the novel before I started the MFA program—a much more surreal version than what I ended up with,” Shepard says he only wrote the first third as his MFA thesis. “After I graduated, I wrote the rest. Once I had a rough draft of the whole novel, the revision process—which is basically glorified problem-solving—took me in unexpected directions because now I was focusing on character development, which tends to disregard things like chapter outlines.”

His inspiration came from living and working in the West Kootenays, where he spent a few summers in his twenties building hiking trails beside rivers and doing some fisheries work. “River imagery took over a lot of my writing,” he explains. “I’ve always been interested in water issues, whether it’s the pros and cons of run-of-river dams, fracking, and so on. I was also inspired by the notion of time and events repeating themselves. One of the characters in the book embodies that idea: he keeps encountering the bodies of drowned men until he loses all sense of time . . . . As I wrote, these ideas somehow led me to thinking about the parallels between an altered landscape and an altered body.”

nobody's fatherWhile it’s been a couple of decades now since Robert Bly brought men’s issues to the forefront, both When Is A Man and his essay in the Nobody’s Father collection both touch on issues of masculinity. Does Shepard feel the representation of men and men’s concerns is somewhat ho-hum in literature right now?

“I often feel like the conversation about masculinity in literature is one-sided, that we expect our male characters to grapple with the so-called ‘crisis in masculinity’ through the familiar tropes of drinking, fighting and fucking,” he says. “Those are presented as the only ways to confront any type of emasculating force—like economic hardships, divorce or boredom. Any kind of weakness, like Paul’s impotence and incontinence, is usually reserved for satire or parody—that’s how we mock or punish characters.”

“As I developed Paul’s character, I thought, ‘What if things like impotence could be seen as a type of opportunity for an alternative take on manhood?’ I liked the idea of someone trying to avoid the questions of sexuality and gender role as they re-examine their identity,” he continues. “Paul learns it’s not a simple matter of choosing a monk-like seclusion or a ‘life of the mind.’ So the questions can never be entirely avoided, but there’s value in the searching. In that regard, I was influenced by [international novelist] A.S. Byatt, which sounds odd, but her female characters are often looking for a way of life that’s not strictly tied up in sex and gender roles —they want to be free just ‘to think.’”

  • Shepard will also be participating in the At the Mike: Fiction Night! alongside guest authors M.A.C. Farrant and Margaret Thompson. That kicks off at 7pm Tuesday, April 15, at Russell’s Books, 734 Fort Street in Victoria.
Lorna Jackson (Photo by Diana Nethercott)

Lorna Jackson (Photo by Diana Nethercott)

Before she became his MFA advisor, Department of Writing professor and acclaimed short story writer Lorna Jackson taught Shepard as an undergrad. “I thought he had a ton of promise,” she recalls. “He had a great attitude, his writing was original and well-crafted.” When they started working together toward his MFA, Jackson was even more impressed. “I really found his preoccupation with masculinity and landscape interesting and appealing, as well as his resistance to writing it as a romance, staying really strong in the idea of who the character was and what he wanted to accomplish. Aaron was really open to suggestions about what the story might need—especially to do with the body—but he’d always take an idea, really develop it and make it his own. That was the pleasure of working with him: seeing what he would do with a suggestion.”

“We had long discussions about the philosophical elements of the book—or, rather, why I want to tell this particular story in this particular way,” Shepard recalls of working with Jackson. “We studied a lot of writing about landscape/body, essays on watching and playing sports, things that helped refine certain ideas and lend a more focused approach to my writing.”

Shepard

An author’s favourite kind of selfie

While he admits that setting his book in the interior of British Columbia was “a bit risky in terms of broad appeal” when it came to landing it with an agent, Shepard proudly stands by his Man. “I suspect many agents felt the book was too ‘regional’ or ‘local.’ For When is a Man—and this is also true for the novel I’m currently drafting—I’ve been wrestling with my own ideas for too long to worry about what’s selling, or what’s popular with agents and publishers, etcetera. Maybe down the road, if I start with a blank canvas, I’ll be more strategic. But I doubt it. Then again, my next novel does deal a bit with climate change, so maybe my interests and the publishing world’s interests will intersect. In the meantime, I’m grateful to Brindle and Glass for believing in the story as is.”

But when it comes to placing that first novel, Lorna Jackson doesn’t feel bigger is always better. “I’m sure he wanted a great big publisher to get all excited, but it’s a different kind of novel than that,” she says of Shepard’s debut. “I think it’s great he’s found a smaller press to release it—I’m all about the small press. They’re so interesting and so not commercial, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure we’d all love a rousing commercial success, but it doesn’t always serve the art. Aaron’s a pretty arty guy—he’s a deep thinker and a deep feeler, and sometimes that doesn’t translate into massive sales.”

Current Department of Writing faculty

Current Department of Writing faculty

Finally, Shepard credits the MFA program for being “hugely influential in shaping and refining the starting ideas,” and praises other Department of Writing faculty members, notably Bill Gaston (“He’s a great ‘big picture’ person—he had a lot of good advice for thinking about the book as a whole, which came in handy after I finished the program and still had two-thirds of a novel to write”), Tim Lilburn (“his class on nature writing was, for obvious reasons, extremely useful and inspirational”), David Leach (“his class on travel writing helped improve my sense of pace”) and retired professor and novelist Jack Hodgins. “Three years later, funnily enough, John Gould—another instructor—was chosen by Brindle and Glass to work with me on the final edits after they’d accepted the manuscript.”

What’s up next now that first novel hurdle has been leaped? “I’m working on the next novel, just in the rough draft stages,” he says. “It’s slow going, and I’m bad at multi-tasking, so that’s the only project on the go right now.”