Writer in Residence Maureen Ulrich uses words to tackle bullying
Young adult characters learn to carve their way in the worldThey’re everywhere, and they can be very hard to spot. They can be the star of the football team, or they can be a quiet academic achiever. They can be loud and stand out in a crowd, or they can be the one you never notice.
Public Maureen Ulrich Reading
Don't miss Maureen Ulrich talk of her experience as a writer targeting a young audience, and about her feisty characters who take on challenges like bullying in school and in sports.
At 5:30, get your books autographed by Maureen.
They’re bullies, and they can ruin lives.
“It could be the one who gets the Best Student Award at the end of the year,” says author Maureen Ulrich, this year’s Writer in Residence at Mount Royal. And sometimes they’re not who you think they are, but are simply somebody acting on another’s direction, she says.
The star of Ulrich’s Jessie Mac series: Power Plays, Face Off and Breakaway, Jessie McIntyre, runs into a number of different types of bullies in her first novel, Power Plays. Readers meet Jessie at the beginning of Grade 9 when she is the new girl in school in Estevan, Saskatchewan, and she is having a hard time fitting in. Throughout the course of the school year, Jessie not only experiences severe bullying, she also wades through the turbulence of teenage relationships, the toxic effects of jealousy and the highs and lows that being involved in competitive sports can bring.
In the story Jessie becomes a dogged winger on the Estevan Xtreme girl’s hockey team, and figuring heavily are real-life locales such as Estevan Civic Auditorium, Lampman Recreation Centre, Swift Current’s Fairview Arena, Regina’s Balfour Arena, and the Estevan Junior High (EJH), which was torn down in 2005). Ulrich taught at EJH for 18 of her 25-year career as an educator, and its once-hallowed halls are where her trilogy’s heroine starts her journey.
“I think it’s important to be as authentic as possible,” says Ulrich. “I write about real places, but people seem to relate to them from their own perspective and experiences.”
Power Plays earned a gold, and Face Off a silver, Moonbeam Awards medal, and Power Plays was also a finalist in two Young Readers’ Choice awards programs. A review of Power Plays by Mount Royal Professor Richard Harrison reads, “I found myself both believing Jessie and believing in her…this despite her terribly human tendency to speak when she shouldn’t and not speak when she should. Sometimes I found myself relating to her choices the way I do in memory to my own as a high school student. Ultimately, of course, Jessie does choose the truth, and that makes her a hero, but that she has to wrestle with herself and all her fears and wounds to do so makes her human.”
Ulrich at Mount RoyalFor the week of Feb. 22 to 26, Ulrich will be visiting classrooms, giving presentations, hosting debates, holding one-on-one manuscript consultations and meeting with faculty of the Department of English, Languages, and Cultures. The most anticipated event is this year’s public reading and book signing, to be held at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 25 in the Lincoln Park Room (J301). The Writer in Residence program began in 2007, and provides students and the chance to meet, interact and receive mentorship from national and international authors.
Due to her expertise in the subject matter, Ulrich will also be the guest speaker at the Cochrane High’s Day of Pink/Who’s Frank MRU Anti-bullying Initiative on Feb. 24.
"The purpose of the Writer in Residence program is provide inspiration," says Harrison.
“Teachers are one level of that. But there’s something different when that writer comes from outside of the institution ... I love this too. My job is to make what I make and then allow (students) to apply whatever sort of value it may have to (their) life.
“That’s a really important and powerful voice."
When writing for a younger audience, Ulrich says it’s important to keep the pace up. She uses dialogue and humour, and is always providing morsels of enticing intrigue to keep the reader moving along.
“Don’t end a chapter with, ‘She went to bed.’ and then start another with, ‘she woke up,’” says Ulrich . The early days of editing Power Plays also saw her switching from third person to first after consulting with a young person on how to increase the presence and resonance of Jessie’s story.
“I had to get right in her head,” says Ulrich, which also helped with describing the often uneasy contact Jessie has with other characters, as well as the intense hockey action on the ice.
Harrison says that education has the habit of accentuating that what happens in “adulthood” defines the nature of human experience.
“Here’s literature that will give form to what others in their community are experiencing right now. Or here’s literature about what they might be experiencing in the very near future.”
“Young adult fiction is doing the work of literature for a community that only exists for a decade,” he says.
The Jessie Mac series is all about how young people are not necessarily ready for power and unfamiliar circumstances, and yet they come, anyway.
“That’s an experience that adult literature doesn’t really have a lot to say about, but a really good series of books like this one does,” he says.
As for her being the choice for Mount Royal’s Writer in Residence for 2016, Ulrich says, “It’s an honour and a privilege to have been selected.”
“I’m looking forward to sitting down with students one and one and talking about their experiences with writing.”
Writing for Ulrich relies heavily on experience, and advice she gives is, “You can’t sit in a room by yourself and write a book.”
“You have to keep experiencing as you keep writing.”
According to Harrison, The Writer in Residence program is something the great universities all do.
"It’s a part of the intellectual community. We are connected to writers and scientists and astronauts and musicians, a university is part of the intellectual community of a country,” he says.
“The more a university reaches out and does those kinds of things, the better the university is doing its real job for the whole culture.”
More about UlrichUlrich has also created over 30 plays for young people and adults, and calls the southeastern Saskatchewan town of Lampman home. Born in Saskatoon, she spent many of her adolescent years in Calgary, attending Milton Williams Junior High and Henry Wise Wood High School. She is a teacher, a mother, a Riders and a Jays fan, who golfs, skis, rides her motorcycle and is passionate about writing.
Currently Ulrich is writing and producing a one-woman play about three Saskatchewan women (Mary Baker, Arleene Johnson Noga, and Daisy Junor) who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during the 1940’s. Baker, who was the inspiration for Geena Davis’ character in the movie A League of Their Own, played ten years, mostly for the South Bend Blue Sox. In order to research the topic, Ulrich interviewed 92 year old Noga, in addition to Baker’s and Junor's family and friends, and read numerous newspaper articles from the era. Fifty-six Canadian women played in the AAGPBL during the league's twelve-year run. Diamond Girls will be be performed at the Regina, Winnipeg, and Edmonton Fringe Festivals.
Jan. 27, 2016 — Michelle Bodnar