While it’s not unusual for a Department of Writing student to get their first publishing credit while still an undergraduate, it is rare when their story gains national attention and a shot at a $10,000 prize. But as an emerging poet and short-story writer, there’s no question Kai Conradi offers a fresh voice to Canada’s literary scene.
Despite having just completed their degree, Conradi’s work has already appeared in The Malahat Review,Poetry, Grain and PRISM magazines, and has been nominated for the Journey Prize, the Pushcart Prize and the National Magazine Awards.
Their first published story—“Every True Artist”, which also appeared in Best Canadian Stories 2019—earned them national recognition and a trip to a Toronto literary gala as one of three shortlisted finalists (all UVic alumni) in the 2019 Journey Prize.
“I was really nervous, mostly because if you win, you have to give a speech—and I really didn’t want to give a speech,” laughs Conradi about their shortlist experience.
“It was weird to step into that Toronto literary world—it was very fancy and I very felt out of place; it’s a different writing atmosphere out there.” (When asked if any literary big-wigs slipped them a card, Conradi just chuckles: “Everyone said that was going to happen to me . . . but then it didn’t happen at all.”)
Creating a literary identity
Toronto’s literary scene would be different indeed for a kid raised in small-town Cumberland, who then moved to Comox as a teenager before coming to UVic to pursue their writing degree.
“Working on a line level is what excites me the most—words, and how they fit together,” says Conradi of their writing process. “In that sense, I feel really excited by poetry, but I like that it can be applied to fiction as well. My work tends to be quite narrative, so there’s a lot of crossover.”
As a queer and trans writer, Conradi admits to struggling with issues of representation . . . and the obligations that come with it.
“It seems like there are a lot more diverse voices writing about identity than ever before, which excites me—I think about what I wish I’d been reading when I was younger, so it’s important for me to be one of those voices for other people.”
But that doesn’t mean Conradi only wants to be known for their gender identity.
“It’s overwhelming at times—especially when it comes to writing about trans people or queer people—because there’s not that much out there, so I feel a lot of responsibility to get it right. It’s important to be open and visible to a certain extent . . . but it’s also important to write about all the things I care about, and not just one facet of my personality.”
Already enrolled in Writing’s MFA program with a poetry focus, Conradi’s first poetry chapbook is due out this fall: Notes From The Ranch is being published by Vancouver-based Rahila’s Ghost press (run by fellow Writing alum Mallory Tater).
“I go back and forth between writing poetry and fiction: right now I’m working on a mix of both,” they note.
And, with the literary bar raised fairly high so early in their writing career, are there any concerns about living up to expectations?
“I still tend to feel like they made a mistake, but any kind of publication or recognition is affirming,” Conradi says. “It gives me a little more energy to keep doing it.”
Practice, praise, publication, prizes, parties and poetry: it seems Conradi made the right decision in applying to the Writing department.
“I do feel quite lucky I ended up here,” they conclude.