Western’s new Alice Munro Chair in Creativity wants to connect students with a key principle of making art: the simple pleasure of creating.
Award-winning author and best-selling writer Sheila Heti knows a little something about harnessing the creative spirit.
She was recognized with one of Canada’s highest literary honours for her latest novel, Pure Colour, winning the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction. In addition to her novels, Heti has published plays, long-form essays, short stories and children’s books.
“It’s all about the pleasure and simplicity of just making things; it’s easy to get bogged down and think that certain things are required of writers and artists, but nothing is required except following one’s own actual curiosity,” Heti said of creativity.
The Canadian author, a former writer-in-residence at Western (2011-2012), said she gathers her own inspiration from reading, walking, conversations with friends and thinking deeply about culture and relationships.
“The Faculty of Arts and Humanities is delighted to be able to host a writer of Sheila Heti’s stature. Often cited as among the most prominent writers in English today, her innovative writing defies easy categorization. Every new work brings with it the anticipation of a new discovery. We are excited to hear and read more from her and for our students to have the opportunity to learn from her,” said Jan Plug, acting dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
A creative mentor for Western
Heti will teach a class called ‘The Creative Moment,’ described as “an experimental, improvisational course in artistic creation and the development of the creative personality.” It’s open to students who are interested in creative writing or, more generally, the creative process.
“Rigour, curiosity, seriousness and a sense of play will be encouraged,” Heti wrote.
She brings that fun to her own work, even outside of writing. Heti is the co-founder of an unusual lecture series called the ‘Trampoline Hall’, where people present on topics outside their areas of expertise. The popular monthly shows run at a Toronto music venue.
Heti’s writing is unique, spanning genres and styles. She’s penned children’s books, mused on the decision not to have children – her novel Motherhood was chosen as one of the best books of 2018 by The New York Times – and created a podcast and blog series.
Her next project, called Alphabetical Diaries – a book built from Heti’s own journals over a ten-year period, reordered to list each sentence in alphabetical order – is due out in 2024. It’s been described as “a thrilling confessional,” with excerpts published in The New York Times over several months. American streaming giant Hulu has now optioned it for a television series.
Heti said she is working now on a new book and a long article.
Alice Munro Chair wrote to the Canadian icon
At Western, Heti is looking forward to collaborating with colleagues, meeting interesting people and having stimulating conversations with professors and students.
“I’m really happy about it. I love teaching, and I want to come up with unique ways of organizing the classes.” – Sheila Heti, Alice Munro Chair in Creativity
The Alice Munro Chair in Creativity is named after the Nobel laureate and one of the country’s most famous authors.
Alice Munro began at Western in 1949 as an undergraduate student in English, later becoming the university’s third writer-in-residence. She accepted an honourary degree in 1976.
Heti has her own connections to the Canadian icon.
“I love her stories, and when I was in my early twenties I sent her a fan letter, which she very kindly replied to,” she said.
That handwritten note, delivered by mail, left a mark on Heti.
“I was astonished by her warmth and care and kindness in replying to some random reader. I felt I wanted to be that way too, just open and kind in the same way she was. I admire her for her work and for her character.”