Andrea Thompson (2010 Cohort)
The other day, someone asked me what it was like to go back to university after being a working artist for over two decades. The word that immediately came to mind was: luxury. There was something very luxurious about declaring that for two years I would immerse myself in the study and craft of writing. My reasons for going back to school were also practical—I wanted to get a graduate degree to boost my teaching credentials, and I wanted to learn how to write a novel. I had made an attempt at a novel a few years before, but had become quickly overwhelmed at the size and scope of the project. I knew I’d benefit from the structure and accountability of a writing program, and decided that an MFA would be my best bet.
Catherine Bush’s plenary turned out to be one of my favorite classes. It caused me to think about the art of writing at a deeper level than I had before, and the essays gave me the opportunity to research and write critically about topics that interested me. In my first year, I studied poetry with Lynn Crosbie, who introduced me to Sonia Sanchez, and sparked my fascination with the relationship between the jazz poets of the Black Arts Movement and the evolution of literary performance in Canada. This led to my writing a paper called “Spoken Word: A Signifying Poetic”, which was revised and presented at the annual Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs Conference, and more recently at the South North Griots’ Summit in Toronto. I also took two fiction workshops, which helped me understand the fundamental elements of the form, and during the summer mentorship, I began working on the first draft of my novel with Jeanette Lynes. I was able to complete the novel as my thesis, instructed by Kathryn Kuitenbrauer, who helped me edit and shape my fractured, chaotic first draft into a coherent whole.
In the end, the experience of working towards a MFA in creative writing was one of the most rewarding journeys of my life. I was not only able to complete and publish my first novel and enrich my spoken word practice, I was also introduced to a new community of colleagues and friends along the way.
Writer and spoken word artist Andrea Thompson has performed her work at venues across North America and overseas for the past twenty years. A pioneer of Slam poetry in Canada, Thompson’s work has been featured on film, radio, and television; and included in magazines, literary journals and anthologies across the country. Thompson’s poetry is hybridist and unique—blending elements of jazz, dub, hip-hop and traditional literary verse. In 2009 she was awarded the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word’s Poet of Honour: For Outstanding Achievement in the Art of Spoken Word, and in 2005, her spoken word CD One, was nominated for a Canadian Urban Music Award. Thompson is the co-editor of the anthology Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out (Inanna, 2010), the author of the novel, Over Our Heads (Inanna, 2014) and the poetry collection Eating the Seed (Ekstasis, 2000). Thompson currently teaches Spoken Word through the Ontario College of Art and Design University’s continuing studies department and Creative Writing through Workman Arts.
Interview: Firelight Interview series with Lauren Carter
Profile: Open Book Toronto