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Zooming in interview series

We asked alumni of the Department of English and Writers Read to share a photo of the space where they’re thinking, reading, and writing, and to answer a few questions about how the pandemic has affected their writing practice.

A small desk and a chair face a large sunny window in Ceilidh Michelle's space

Ceilidh Michelle

Alumni Ceilidh Michelle is a musician and author from Nova Scotia.

Her work has been published in Broken Pencil, Matrix Magazine, Island Writer, Cactus Press, and reached the semi-finals of The Walrus Magazine’s 2007 short fiction contest.

She lives in Montreal.

Butterflies, Zebras, Moonbeams is her first novel and was shortlisted for the 2020 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction.

How does your current set-up differ from pre-COVID?

There is a listlessness that wasn’t there before. I’ve never had so much time and space and I’ve never felt so unsure of what to do with it.

How has this space shaped your writing routine and ritual?

It’s changed the reading material I’ve been seeking out — I’ve been reading a lot of Stoic philosophy. I’ve been writing wildly at odd hours. Or wanting to.

What are you missing?

Spontaneity. Live music. Warm crowds. Small rooms. Independent business. Flea markets. Tester lipsticks.

How are you finding joy in the current moment?

Saying hello to cute dogs. Appreciating beautiful trees. Reading the work of authors I respect. Keeping my friendships strong.

Joel Robert Ferguson

Joel Robert Ferguson is the author of The Lost Cafeteria (2020, Signature Editions) and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Concordia University in Montreal.

His poetry has appeared in numerous publications including Arc, The Columbia Review, The Honest Ulsterman, The Malahat Review, Orbis, and Southword Journal.

He lives in Winnipeg, Treaty 1 territory, with his partner and their three cats.

A cozy corner beside a window with a tufted armchair, two cats, and a laptop in Joel Robert Ferguson's space

How does your current set-up differ from pre-COVID?

My current set-up has changed quite a bit with the arrival of COVID. Before, I was used to doing my first drafts on my phone while walking around or on the metro and doing most of my editing in any of the grad study rooms in the English Department at Concordia. Now, almost all of my writing and editing occurs in my living room or at my kitchen table back home in Winnipeg.

How has this space shaped your writing routine and ritual?

I guess that my process is a bit more Wordsworth and a bit less flâneur these days. Manitoba re-entered lockdown in early November so it’s been a lot of sitting around on couches and relying on memory as a source of inspiration, rather than walking around and looking for something to immediately spark some writing.

What are you missing?

Not too much, honestly. While doing my Masters, I was mostly bouncing around between AirBnBs on a month-to-month basis. Being able to come back to Winnipeg, to my partner and our home a month early was a big relief (despite the terrible circumstances), and one that’s still going a long way towards ameliorating the loss of all the activities I took for granted before, like going to cafes and bars to work and see friends.

How are you finding joy in the current moment?

Other than writing, I’ve been reading more than ever, making a map of Little Free Libraries in my neighbourhood, spending time with family, visiting friends and neighbours (six or more feet apart and outside), and spending what’s likely an unhealthy amount of time playing video games. Having cats (who insist on sharing my workspace) is a big help for my mental health in this moment as well.

A desk with a computer and many books faces a window in Jessica MacEachern's space

Jessica MacEachern

Jessica MacEachern is Assistant Professor in the Department of English.

Her research has been published in Studies in Canadian Literature/Études en littérature canadienne and CanLit Across Media: Unarchiving the Literary Event.

Her poetry has been published in various places, including Poetry Is Dead, Vallum, MuseMedusa, Canthius, PRISM, and CV2. Her poetry collection, A Number of Stunning Attacks, was published in spring 2021 with Invisible Publishing.

How does your current set-up differ from pre-COVID?

This space is now the single location from which I write, teach, and socialize. As a result, the wider world into which I wish to write can feel out of reach.

How has this space shaped your writing routine and ritual?

When I am sitting at this desk, to my right and within immediate reach is my bookshelf of poetry, so that I am accompanied by other voices (H.D., Norine Liedecker, Mina Loy, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Moure, Lisa Robertson) as I begin a new line, revise a suite of poems, or copyedit a forthcoming manuscript.

What are you missing?

I am missing the city’s elsewheres; a special sort of inspiration lifts exclusively from busy cafes or friends’ couches.

How are you finding joy in the current moment?

Surprisingly, or not, dystopian fiction! N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, and Doris Lessing’s five-volume Canopus in Argos: Archives. I just began the first book of Lessing’s “space fiction” yesterday!

Books almost reach the ceiling on a packed bookshelf in Elisa Gabbert's space

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is a past Writers Read participant.

She is the author of five collections of poetry, essays, and criticism.

She writes a regular poetry column for the New York Times, and her work has appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine and Book Review, the New York Review of Books, the Guardian Long Read, the London Review of Books, A Public Space, the Paris Review Daily, American Poetry Review and many other venues.

How does your current set-up differ from pre-COVID?

It differs hardly at all — I’ve worked from home for years. Typically, I sit at an actual desk to do my day job. This desk is cluttered with pens and Post-It notes and perfume samples and review copies. When I write I sit at the end of our dining room table, by a window and some plants, to get separation from my other work.

How has this space shaped your writing routine and ritual?

I write during the day on the weekends and I think sitting by a window enhances the diurnal quality of the process. I start as early as possible and write all day if I can, or go on a walk in the afternoon if I’m stuck. In the evening I love to read over what I’ve written with a drink. Joan Didion did this too; she said the drink helped her edit. For me it helps create a little distance, a bit of a veil. In the evening I’m trying to read it as a reader and not the writer.

What are you missing?

Meeting friends in bars. Proximity to strangers. The library!

How are you finding joy in the current moment?

My husband and I have a very close friend who lives nearby, and for about six weeks, between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, he didn’t have to teach in person so we formed a little pod and every Saturday he came over for dinner, and we’d talk and play music late into the night. Sufficiently immersive distraction is joy.

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