Writer-in-residence stresses sharing an honest story


Ivan is good old-fashioned kitchen table stories. Imagine you are drinking black tea with canned milk, and it is snowing outside. The kitchen smells like homemade soup, and you don’t have to work tomorrow so you can sit up all night talking and smoking cigarettes. Or maybe it is a warm night in the middle of July, and you are sitting on a wool blanket in the sand, resting your back against a big-beached log. The lake is smooth as glass and there is plenty of wood for the campfire. Someone is talking, telling you a story.

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Whether she’s writing or telling them to an audience, such are the stories Ivan Coyote likes to tell.

“I’m not just sharing my stories. I’m a storyteller,” said Western’s 2012-13 James A. and Marjorie Spenceley Canada Council for the Arts Writer-in-Residence, hosted by the Department of English. “I comment on the life around me. That’s what I find most motivating. I write a lot about the people around me, my family, the place I grew up, the place I live now and the travels I have because it’s what interests me and what moves me. It’s what catches my crow’s eye as an artist.”

An award-winning novelist, short-fiction writer, editor, oral storyteller, performing and multi-media artist, Coyote’s career has spanned more than two decades and has taken her from her hometown of Whitehorse to tours across Europe and North America where she’s had many opportunities, not just to share her work, but to help others tell their stories as well.

“I have taught street kids, women in prison, people with drug addiction, mental health issues, pregnant teen moms, kids in the foster system, transsexual auto workers, seniors, German trade students from technical schools and students at Canadian universities,” Coyote said as she explained her path of packed creative-writing classes, workshops and stints at colleges, universities and libraries across Canada that will bring her to Western in the fall term.

Her overarching lesson? Share a story, share it honestly, and listen closely to another’s.

“When I teach classes, I don’t care whether the student calls the work fiction or non-fiction. I’m interested in honest writing – whatever vessel you want to couch that in,” she said, noting there is a time and occasion for every story.

“The best text is the best story, for that audience, on that night, at that time. That’s what keeps me excited about my job,” Coyote explained.

“The challenge for me, and what always keeps me going is finding that story-teller’s Nirvana where you have figured out what you know about life, and humanity, and art, and the spiritual act of sharing your creative gift with people, when you actually get in that moment when you tell that perfect story, at the perfect time, to the perfect crowd and you make them emote something. That’s what I return to all the time.”

Coyote will move to London come fall where she will work not just with Western students, but with all members of the community, facilitating story-telling as a way of building safe and inclusive spaces for all.

“I’ll be doing some programing for GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer) youth. Right now, my bend is that the safest way for us to make space for each other is do it around creative and artistic endeavours,” she said.

“It’s the most fun and engaging way to do (this), so hopefully I will be a part of some programing that will create a safe space for queer youth on campus, in the community and in high schools by working on artistic endeavours together. I think this is most effective for students and the youth population.”

If you ask her, Coyote will tell you: A good, well-timed story yields tremendous influence.

“It’s the most powerful weapon, tool, gift, lubricant, vessel, bridge, time machine we as humans have. Bar none. It’s the only thing that will change the world – listening to each other,” she said. “That’s why we have to believe in our own non-fiction.”

Coyote is currently working on two works of fiction and is about to release a collection of short stories for GLBTQ youth called One In Every Crowd, a text that emerged from an anti-bullying, story-telling show which she has performed at high schools across Canada. She won the ReLit Award for her first novel, Bow Grip, and has received many other nods and acclamations for her work.


Visit Ivan Coyote, Western’s 2012-13 James A. and Marjorie Spenceley Canada Council for the Arts Writer-in-Residence, at ivanecoyote.com.