Writer in Residence helps others ‘respond creatively to the world’

Adela Talbot // Western News

As Gary Barwin sees it, this world needs writers as much as it needs the bees.

In a relatively large universe, both are small, often obscured. Both work in the background, buzzing about, noticed only by those who feel their sting.

“Writing may not seem big – but it’s vital that it happens and that it can happen, that we have writers who can explore different areas in life, and sometimes those small and insignificant things that are actually huge,” Barwin said.

“Like bees, they don’t seem to be so important. But in the grand scheme of things, they’re very important. Without bees, the (environmental) effect would be huge, even though bees are these small, little things we don’t view as very important. I think writers are somehow like that,” he continued.

“I don’t think I’m immensely important, but I do think writing is part of a healthy diversity and that’s critical for civilization and for humankind.”

Barwin, a writer, composer and multimedia artist, is the author of 17 books of poetry and fiction for readers of all ages. He’s also Western’s newest Writer in Residence in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, having started his term this month. While he lives in Hamilton, Barwin will commute to London and hold office hours twice a week on campus, splitting his time here between the university and the London Public Library.

Born in Northern Ireland, Barwin moved to Canada as a child with an ever-increasing interest in the arts. He attended a fine arts school in Grades 11 and 12, and followed that with a BA in English, BFA in music and BEd, all from York University, as well as a PhD in music composition from the State University of New York (SUNY).

His work has been performed, broadcast, anthologized and published nationally and internationally. His latest book of poetry is Moon Baboon Canoe and recently completed a novel, Yiddish for Pirates. Barwin has also taught writing at McMaster University and Mohawk College, as well as to street-involved youth.

“In teaching and in writing, my aim is to have people feel they are creative. Being a person means being able to respond creatively to the world. Our imagination is our most important evolutionary application,” Barwin said.

“For adults, or for any kind of writing, it’s about validating, exploring and reflecting the imagination. I do lots of making up stories with kids, in some cases, with adults. They’re a creative person, too, so the writing comes from sharing ideas with kids, and facilitating their delight, and taking them to places their imagination lets them. I hope I do this with adult work as well,” he continued.

“I do work with street youth and it’s the same thing. I value their imagination, and I value their voice. To understand their creativity and sense of the world is as exciting and as engaging and worthwhile as mine or anyone else’s. I really believe that.”

Part of the mandate of Western’s Writer in Residence position is an involvement in the community. Barwin hopes not only to be a resource for writers in London, but also work with at-risk and homeless youth in the city’s core, helping others find and express their voices.

“You’re teaching people to find their own creativity and to trust it, and whatever that looks like for them. I think that’s what it’s all about,” he added.

“When I teach, I talk about inspirations, and they can either come from outside in, or from inside out. Mostly, it comes from experiences I have had. If you have a sense, or a feeling of some kind that you feel like pursing, that guides you outside into the materials – that’s inspiration,” Barwin explained.

“I think on a fundamental level, my work is about identity and how one constructs a sense of oneself, and how one constructs a sense of the world.”

Writing is about being connected with oneself, with a community, and with a world that surrounds. This sense of connection is something Barwin hopes to contribute to and grow in London.

“I want to point writers to other communities and places in the world, to make connections with people, with writers and communities and different kinds of writing,” he said.

“Society moves along without any awareness of poetry, for example, and so just to be able to find that place and build a community within the greater culture, is great.”

Barwin has received numerous awards, including the 2013 City of Hamilton Arts Award (Writing); Hamilton Poetry Book of the Year 2011; 2010 bpNichol chapbook Award; and KM Hunter Artist Award. His YA novel, Seeing Stars, was short listed for both the Crimewriters of Canada Arthur Ellis Award as well as the Canadian Library Association YA Book of Year, and his picture book, The Magic Mustache, was chosen as a Best Bet by Macleans.

Barwin’s residency is co-sponsored by the James A. and Marjorie Spenceley Fund, the London Public Library and Western’s Faculty of Arts & Humanities.

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OFFICE HOURS: Western Writer in Residence Gary Barwin will hold office hours 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. To book an appointment on campus, contact Vivian Foglton at vivian.foglton@uwo.ca.