Jennifer Still knows how important mentors have been to her writing career, and she is eager to play a similar role to Winnipeg’s writing community.
Still is the Winnipeg Public Library’s new writer-in-residence, a role she has until Apr. 30, 2018. The Crescentwood resident is an award-winning poet and the editor for CV2, Canada’s longest running poetry journal. She has also been the writer-in-residence at the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture and at the University of Winnipeg.
Before the awards, before the books, and before the appointments Still was a writer at heart who in Grade 5 would memorize poems for school while drying the dishes at the kitchen sink.
"I loved listening to the rhythm and walking across my mom’s linoleum, chanting the words of Robert Frost inside of me while being in this very different place," Still said. "I began to experience the depth of the interior world stories and poems opened me up to."
Still began to write — in her diary, letters to friends, letters never sent. She took individual courses and participated in an intensive, 10-day writing retreat. It was while living in Saskatoon that Still visited a writer-in-residence who provided her with valuable advice and mentorship.
"When you live in a city and there’s a writer-in-residence anywhere in a city — a library, the university, you go," Still advised. "It’s a guaranteed, thoughtful response to work that may otherwise not have a reader.
"You get encouragement and support. You get pointed in directions of writing groups and other communities that will support you or to readings that will support this work. To me its the start of growing yourself as a writer."
While living in Saskatoon Still also had the good fortune of living near poet Sylvia Legris who encouraged Still to turn a small group of poems into her first book.
"Without Sylvia saying ‘Jennifer I think you’re writing a book’, I may have just kept dabbling in poems and not seen this greater body of work in front of me," Still said.
Still knows how hard it can be for writers to start. The first step is to pay attention to that voice inside of you.
"I always say to people if you have an impulse to write that’s a pretty rare thing," she said. "Not everyone has that impulse. I think if you just have that you have something to say. Trust that first.
"My suggestion would be to follow it without expectation, without a lot of intention of what it will be. Follow your voice across the page."
Education is important, Still said. Read. Seek out other perspectives. Watch people in what is increasingly becoming a distracted world.
"I’ll never stop learning," Still said.
Pay attention to the environment around you. If a phrase catches your attention, make note of it and ask yourself why. There’s a reason it speaks to you.
"Just live, live with a lot of awareness," Still advised. "Live curiously, live engaged.
"That’s how I write. I write when I’m in motion and present in my environment."
Manuscripts may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, dropped off at the Millennium Library Reader Services desk or mailed to:
251 Donald Street
Community journalist — The Herald
Tony Zerucha is the community journalist for The Herald Email him at tony.zerucha@canstarnewscom Call him at 204-697-7112