Award-winning author, literary-arts advocate and recent Concordia honorary doctorate recipient Clark Blaise, LLD 13, was barely 26 years old when he approached the chair of Sir George Williams Department of English, Sidney Lamb, with an idea.
It was 1966. Blaise had recently moved to Montreal from Iowa and was working as a literature and writing professor in the department alongside colleague “Peggy” (better known as Margaret) Atwood. He proposed to create a program geared exclusively to creative writers. “Lamb thought it was interesting,” recalls Blaise. “He didn’t say goodbye. He was receptive, which I didn’t think would happen.”
Blaise also could not have imagined that almost 50 years later — and decades after he left Concordia in 1978 — the program he envisioned would not only survive but thrive on its reputation as one of North America’s finest. “I came to Montreal out of programs in Iowa that were so devoted to creative writing,” he says. “In Montreal, I saw extraordinary talent. If I had not had such incredible students at Sir George Williams, I probably wouldn’t have been fired up.”
Launched in the early 1970s, Concordia’s Creative Writing Program was based on the same curriculum Blaise had studied as a graduate student in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. (Blaise would later become a professor and director of the Iowa program, which is a residency.)
In May, a new curriculum will be unveiled at Concordia. Its author, Terence Byrnes, MA 80, was the Creative Writing Program’s coordinator until fall 2013. For Byrnes, the program has certainly come a long way from its fledgling years. And he should know — Byrnes was a first-year Concordia graduate student in the Department of English when he attended Blaise’s weekly writers’ workshops in 1975.