Guest Post: English grad Chantelle Rideout on becoming a writer

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. While going through old photos and books recently, I found this note I wrote when I was eight:

"Ambitions: to be a write or a Olympic figure skater"

[“Ambitions to be a writer, a Olympic figure skater”]

Granted, I was a little slow mastering indefinite articles, but I kind of can’t believe that today I am actually on my way to achieving one of those goals (my apologies to the abandoned pile of flesh-coloured tights and sequined skirts in my attic). It might sound a bit nostalgic, but I really think it was during my time at the Mount that I began to take my writing seriously.

When I first came to MSVU, I bounced around in a few different programs before I found my place. While making shoebox dioramas for a Child and Youth class, I ran into an old friend from high school who said she’d always thought I’d major in English and I realized, oh yeah, I’d always thought I would too. Somehow I had just forgotten. After (not much) deliberation, I switched majors again and, with a mad dash of intro English courses, I managed to catch up with everyone else in the program. By fourth year, I found myself writing a thesis on contemporary Canadian poetry while writing my own poetry in the Creative Writing course and something just clicked.

Up until then, I’d had no idea what I was going to do after I graduated. I had thought about applying to a Master’s program, but I just wasn’t sure what to focus on. My heart didn’t feel completely in it. Once I found out about the MA in Creative Writing, I knew it was exactly right for me. An MA in Creative Writing allows you to take both academic and creative courses, write a book-length creative thesis, and, unlike many MFA’s, qualifies you to continue on to a PhD if you choose. I chose to do my MA at University of New Brunswick (Fredericton), but many universities in Canada offer a similar program (a very detailed list can be found at http://www.wheretowrite.ca/).

I really enjoyed the hybridity of the program. I loved getting the opportunity to improve both my critical and creative writing. I got to take interesting, focused academic classes like Medieval Women Mystics, while also doing workshops in types of writing I hadn’t tried before, like play writing. I spent the first year of my program doing coursework and workshops and devoted the second year to the book-length poetry manuscript for my thesis.

One of my absolute favourite parts of the program was getting to work with the writers in residence. During my two years at UNB, award-winning poets John Barton and Sue Sinclair held the position. Working with poets of their stature was incredible and I learned so much. UNB also hosts a “poetry weekend” every fall and poets from all over Canada come for two full days of readings. Last year, I even got to sit down and talk about poetry with renowned Canadian poet Jan Zwicky at the event, something I had been dying to do since being introduced to her work in Clare Goulet’s class at the Mount.

Another aspect of the program that I really enjoyed was the experience working on literary journals. As a graduate student in English at UNB, you have the opportunity to work on QWERTY, the student-run magazine and The Fiddlehead, the oldest literary journal in Canada, which runs out of UNB. During my first year I got to be on the editorial boards and during my second year I got to be an editorial assistant for The Fiddlehead and a poetry editor for QWERTY. Getting that experience in publishing and seeing how litmags work from the inside was really great for me, especially as I was getting to the point where I was ready to start sending my poetry out into the world.

After graduating from UNB last Spring, I started sending out poems from my thesis to literary magazines. After getting several accepted to publications like The Malahat Review and Room Magazine (along with my share of rejection letters!), I sent the majority of the poems to Frog Hollow Press as a chapbook manuscript. And they accepted it! We worked together on some of the poems that still needed editing and then all of a sudden I was choosing typeface and cover art and paper type and all of these things I had never even thought of. I had more than one nightmare (WHAT IF I PICKED THE WRONG FONT?) but it has been an absolutely incredible experience.

Sotto Voce is a collection of poems that engage with music, philosophy, history, and literature. Learning about lyric scholarship from MSVU’s Clare Goulet and living the two antiphonally in the hybrid MA program really helped me forge the connections between the lyrical and the scholarly in my poems. I hoped that in writing a bit about how my chapbook came to be and what happened after my English degree at the Mount, I could answer some questions for anyone with similar considerations. And if anyone wants to ask me anything further, I’d be happy to talk more about it. My email is chantelle.rideout@gmail.com.

Sotto Voce cover
My chapbook is available for purchase online with Paypal at
http://froghollowpress.com/catalogue.html#sotto

—Chantelle Rideout

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