Aislinn Hunter worked at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in the Creative Writing Department at the time, not sure where now or if the same, but this was interesting as I do not do a lot of creative writing. Here is part 1.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What positions have you held? What position do you currently hold?
Aislinn Hunter: I am currently a faculty member in the Creative Writing department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, but I tend to teach part-time (in one semester) so that I can write more than four months a year. This has allowed me to take on writer-in-residence positions at other universities (Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland, Lancaster University in England, and Macquarie University in Australia) and to do freelance or contract work that interests me. It’s also afforded me time to undertake a PhD. Before coming to Kwantlen I taught creative writing as a sessional instructor at The University of Victoria and before that I worked on a contract-basis as a broadcaster and producer at CBC Radio and as a researcher at the National Film Board of Canada.
Jacobsen: In brief, how was your youth? How did you come to this point in your academics?
Hunter: My family was above middle-class economically but I didn’t grow up in what I’d now call a ‘culturally rich’ environment. (My friend’s parents owned an art gallery and they used to wake their kids up by blaring classical music – I remember feeling completely envious of their arty world.) My mom, who was a nurse, took a few university classes in psychology and sociology when I was growing up and her excitement and what she brought home from those classes helped cultivate my enthusiasm for learning. When I was old enough to express my leanings she enrolled me in dance classes and supported my interest in theatre. I was an inconsistent high school student (A’s in the arts, D’s in maths and sciences) but an amazing day-dreamer. At sixteen I dropped out of high school (where I was miserable) and at seventeen I moved on my own to Dublin, Ireland and got a job in a pub. A few crucial years followed: in them I had the freedom to discover what excited me – for example, I remember being obsessed with the material residue of the past which seemed to be everywhere in Ireland. At twenty-one I was accepted at the University of Victoria as a ‘mature’ student and I fell in love with art history and creative writing. In second year I unexpectedly received a small bursary, the Patti Barker Award for Writing, and it was a life-changing moment – I’d never been recognized for excellence before. I think that award gave me a new way to identify who I was and what I could do. An MFA in Creative Writing followed and then three book publications and then an MSc in Writing and Cultural Politics, and now I’m almost through my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh. I’ve received a lot of encouragement in the form of academic awards along the way and I’ve worked hard. Still I think any success I’ve had has a lot to do with that old adage: do what you love and the rest will follow.
Jacobsen: How did you gain interest in Creative Writing? Where did you acquire your education?
Hunter: I was involved in theatre until I was 18 or so and had always been a bit of a scribbler, but I didn’t formally arrive at writing until I took an introductory creative writing class at The University of Victoria when I was twenty-one. That year Patrick Lane walked into the classroom, opened a book, read a poem by Gwendolyn MacEwan and made me, in one fell swoop, want to be a poet; made me want to know something the way a poet knows it, and to be able to say that back to others in the same way that MacEwan did. Patrick was around fifty then and a Governor General Award-winning poet with, I believe, a high school education. Still, in one year he taught me more than any other writer or professor about writing and about what it might mean to be a writer in the world. My soon-to-be-husband was like that too: a kind of Renaissance man with no formal post-secondary education, but incredibly, incredibly intelligent. He taught me, mostly by example, how to be a critical thinker. Any success I’ve had in my formal education (an MFA at The University of British Columbia and an MSc at The University of Edinburgh) owes something to these two men and the wonderful mentors inside and outside academia who have followed them.
Jacobsen: You have written five books. What form has your creative expression taken over time?
Hunter: I work in a variety of genres so generally the topic or the material dictates the form – something will generally ‘feel’ like content for a poem or for an essay or fodder for something more involved like a novel. I am obsessed by the past (as both a construct and as a site of historical events) and by how we engage with it (and it with us) and so that is always at the centre of my creative, and I suppose, my academic work.
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