In This Issue
Urquhart Returns to Guelph as Writer-in-Residence
Novelist shares her expertise, passion for writing at her alma mater
BY RACHELLE COOPER
|Writer-in-residence Jane Urquhart will read from her most recent novel, A Map of Glass, Oct. 11 at 5 p.m. in the George Luscombe Theatre. The event is free and open to the public. Photo by Martin Schwalbe|
U of G graduate and award-winning novelist Jane Urquhart is obviously best known around the world for her writing. But during her time on campus as this semester's writer-in-residence, she will put her writing aside and focus on reading as many Canadian short stories as possible, so she can compile the Penguin Anthology of Canadian Short Stories.
“In a synchronicity kind of way, this is the perfect moment for me to come back to campus since I have access to such a wonderful library and an office in which to concentrate on this very important work,” says Urquhart, who earned a BA in English literature from Guelph in 1971 and studied art history here a few years later.
It's not only McLaughlin Library that she's excited to once again be a stone's throw from in her Massey Hall office, but it's also U of G's faculty.
“The University of Guelph has within its community a number of very interesting writers, so I hope to be able to communicate with them and find out if they have any favourite writers of short fiction that they would like to bring to my attention.”
As for the writing she won't be able to do until the anthology is complete, “there's nothing like limited access to the thing you do most often to make it seem more magical and mysterious and wonderful and desirable,” she says.
The bestselling author of five internationally acclaimed novels, Urquhart won a 1997 Governor General's Award for her fourth novel, The Underpainter, and was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2005.
Her novel Away remained on the Globe and Mail's national bestseller list for 132 weeks — the longest of any Canadian book — and won the 1994 Trillium Book Award. Away was also shortlisted for the world's largest literary prize for a single work of fiction, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her first novel, The Whirlpool, received the Best Foreign Book Award in France. And her 2001 novel, The Stone Carvers, was a finalist for the Giller Prize and a Governor General's Award.
In addition to her novels, she has published three books of poetry and a collection of short fiction.
Urquhart began writing in high school and says the very thing that has made her an award-winning writer — her vivid imagination — is also what made her a mediocre student. Bored and frustrated with school, she convinced her parents to let her attend a junior college in Vancouver rather than struggle through Grade 13. But she was too young to be so far from home, she says, and she didn't return to the college after Christmas.
She had heard that U of G offered early admission in the spring semester to Grade 13 students, and even though she had completed only one semester at the junior college, then dean of arts Murdo MacKinnon agreed to meet with her.
“I remember that we had a wonderful hour-long conversation about modern poetry and that, when it was over, he made it possible for me to enrol in the spring term.”
After completing her first degree, Urquhart says she was drawn to return to U of G after her husband, Paul Keele, an artist and printmaker, died in a car accident in 1973.
“I wanted to study art history, partly to honour him and partly to be near a number of friends we had made while we lived in and around Guelph.”
Making the transition from student to published author came gradually for Urquhart. In 1976 she married artist and University of Waterloo professor Tony Urquhart, who had full custody of two daughters and partial custody of two sons.
“There was so much domestic work to be done that it seemed necessary for me to stay home for a year or two rather than pursue a career,” she says.
During those early years of marriage, Jane Urquhart never stopped writing and says being home alone during the day gave her time to focus more completely on her work. “It was only after I had a baby that I felt confident and grown-up enough to begin sending material off to literary magazines.”
This is the second time she has been formally invited back to her alma mater. In 1999, she was presented with an honorary doctorate of letters at U of G's summer convocation.
“I always loved this campus, so there's something exciting about coming back,” she says. “I don't really feel that I've changed that much since I was here as a student 30 years ago, and that's an odd thing because a lot has happened to me in the intervening years.”
Urquhart has also been a writer-in-residence at the University of Ottawa and Memorial University and held the presidential writer-in-residence fellowship at the University of Toronto.
Working with emerging writers who have a desire to write regardless of what might happen to the material they produce is exciting, she says.
“I think the most important thing that anyone who's into writing can do is to continue to read extensively. I'm an obsessed reader, I'm a compulsive reader, I'm an escape reader, I'm every kind of reader you can imagine.”
Urquhart will be on campus Mondays and Fridays until the end of the semester to consult with U of G students, staff and faculty, as well as members of the local community. To book an appointment, contact Michael Boterman at Ext. 53147 or email@example.com. Urquhart's campus e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.