Connecting writers with their inner ‘weird’

Clea Christakos-Gee // Special to Western News

Margaret Christakos, an award-winning poet, fiction author, critic and creative-writing instructor, was recently named the 2016-17 Western Writer-in-Residence. This is her second writer-in-residence position, having formerly held the position at the University of Windsor.

Margaret Christakos isn’t afraid to risk being “weird.” To her, it’s a nod to the small differences and idiosyncrasies between people who make characters leap off of the pages of her work.

The award-winning poet, fiction author, critic and creative-writing instructor was recently named the 2016-17 Western Writer-in-Residence. This program is made possible thanks to the James A. and Marjorie Spenceley fund and the upcoming season brings a partnership between English and Writing Studies, the London Public Library, the Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research and the Department of Visual Arts and Art History.

“When you are mentoring, it is exciting for me to explore what it means to move deeper into your own work. It feeds me deeply as well,” Christakos said. “You are never at the end of utterances. You always have more to say.”

Christakos is looking forward to interacting with emerging writers and becoming integrated into the campus fabric. This is her second Writer-in-Residence position, having formerly held the position at the University of Windsor.

“I hope to bring my absolute love of writing and language and what one can do when life is devoted to exploring writing and language,” she said. “The enthusiasm I have for writing as a space, where not only I get to experiment, but I encourage other people to experiment with their voice and their ability to find new ways of using language, is something I am always happy to bring.”

She is known for creating community and art-making spaces in her home city of Toronto.

Using a speed dating-type format, Christakos hopes to bring artists together for intense, brief conversations about their work and share ideas with writers outside of one’s typical community. Additionally, she plans to build on past experiences delivering successful workshops and courses, and create opportunities for writers to present and offer critical analysis of each other’s work.

“A lot of it is about creating public writing gatherings where people both share work, but also talk about each other’s work and develop critical culture together. I find that very generative because you end up making a space for people to develop the uniqueness of their own work, but also create ways for each other to talk more deeply about each other’s work.”

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She has published nine collections of acclaimed poetry and one novel, and has given readings and seminars from her work across Canada and the United States since 1989. Her work has won the ReLit Award for Poetry and the Bliss Carman Award, and been nominated for the Pat Lowther Award twice and the Ontario Trillium Book Award. In 2012-13 she was the recipient of a major Chalmers Arts Fellowship. Her new collection of creative memoir, Her Paraphernalia: on Motherlines, Sex/Loss/Blood & Selfies, was published by Book Thug last month.

Christakos is captivated by the sonic, phonetic and rhythmic aspects of poetic language. She challenges artists to tap into the physical nature of language in an uninhibited way by using fun exercises to create solo and collaborative works, making sounds together analogous to participating in a choir (among the writer’s pastimes).

“It’s not just abstract, musical play with language; it tends to bring people into contact with topics and ways of writing about their life that they may not otherwise get to. They break through tethers about what is OK to say and how what we think is gibberish or, outside of meaning, actually contains a great deal of meaning,” she said.

Christakos’ willingness to challenge what is considered ‘normal’ has allowed her to foster a creative community that steps outside the bounds of typical writer-to-writer relationships and develop an intimacy that explores various aspects of the art form.

“The willingness and readiness to challenge what is normal is actually very important to producing writing and other forms of art. You have to be willing to acknowledge we are all pretty unique, idiosyncratic and weird, and we have to allow for difference amongst ourselves. Difference is far more interesting to being part of a culture than sameness is. Difference is the principle that creates variation and creates the small differences between us that we can reach across and create a bridge.”

Through organizing events that involve sound and performance, she can probe a deeper understanding of words and sounds.

“Moving between performance and listening, you create more vibrant expression,” she said. “If I can enable a writer to become more engaged in their writing, it is more exciting for me.”

The Writer-in-Residence position also gives Christakos the structure to make progress on L’s Wake, a novel about a man’s journey staying awake over eight days while mourning the loss of his wife.

“The compositional process of making this novel involves walking through various spaces and then integrating these spaces I’m walking through into the narrative. It is interesting to have access to a city that is new to me because it will put me into the mode of what it is like to encounter London’s streets and spaces,” she said. “The residency is a wonderful situation for a writer because you actually have time to work on your own projects and to integrate deeply with a community.”

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MAKE A CONNECTION

For more information and to arrange a classroom visit or schedule an appointment with 2016-17 Western Writer-in-Residence Margaret Christakos, contact Vivian Foglton (vivian.foglton@uwo.ca).