Billy-Ray Belcourt is the 2018/19 Writer-in-Residence
Award-winning poet to read at free, public event and work one-on-one with students
“I think Billy-Ray will be electrifying for our students,” says Natalie Meisner, an associate professor of English and one of the organizers of Mount Royal University’s Writer-in-Residence (WiR) Program, which is bringing award-winning poet Billy-Ray Belcourt to campus this year.
In existence for 12 years with the goal of bringing authors of national and international standing like Belcourt to the University to work with and mentor students, the WiR program has previously hosted esteemed writers such as Will Ferguson, Ivan Coyote, Yvette Nolan and Austin Clarke.
Of why they chose Belcourt, Meisner says, “His poems are funny, witty, forthright and really honest about sexuality. He’s a queer, Indigenous writer and he brings together intersectional politics, frank discussions of intimacy and beautiful turns of phrase ― they pulled me in.”
The WiR organizing committee is “delighted” that they are able to host Belcourt this year, says Meisner, pointing out that he was recently a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry for his debut book of poems, This Wound is a World (Frontenac House 2017). In addition to that honour, This Wound is a World won the 2018 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize (making him the youngest winner ever), the 2018 Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize and a 2018 Indigenous Voices Award.
This Wound is a World
The second time around
Belcourt says he is looking forward to returning to Mount Royal, having been on campus a year ago as the Office of Academic Indigenization’s first Emerging Scholar-in-Residence, an experience that he calls “incredibly rewarding.”
As writer-in-residence, Belcourt is most excited about working directly with students and steering developing writers in the right direction. Belcourt believes that with poetry particularly, writers should have central questions or governing hypotheses about their writing and it shouldn’t just be a passive or solely aesthetic undertaking.
“Writing should be attuned to the world, as a sort of social undertaking, and writers should never let go of that or lose sight of that.”
Belcourt says he is personally driven to keep writing in the direction of his political and social goals. “I want to be resolute in my drive to write towards another kind of future – for different forms of liberation for queer, Indigenous and trans people.”
Writer-in-residence programs are vital to the literary community in Canada, Belcourt says. “They allow us as writers to move through places – like universities we wouldn't otherwise get to unless on a tour. They also demystify the writer/reader relationship. It allows students especially and readers of our work to interact with us in less pressurized and high-stakes ways, and these programs also allow us to give back to our communities and develop that kind of reciprocity between networks of readers and the writer.”
From the Driftpile Cree Nation north of Edmonton, Belcourt is also a PhD student and 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. His next book, NDN COPING MECHANISMS: NOTES FROM THE FIELD, is due out with House of Anansi in the fall of 2019.
Meisner says it will be beneficial for students to see someone of almost their own age succeeding in the way Belcourt has. “His work has swept all of the major awards for poetry in the country and he’s still a student – that’s something we find exciting. He’s just so darn good – perceptive of human nature, earthy, honest and all that good stuff.”
Mount Royal’s writer-in-residence program
When the WiR program started over a decade ago it resided mainly within the English department, with professors bringing their classes to meet the writer. According to Meisner, the program has grown and evolved. There is now a distinct focus on bringing a high-profile writer with a diverse voice to campus and ensuring that everyone in the community can take part in the events.
The weeklong WiR program is comprised of two parts.
- A free, public reading will be held on Thursday, March 7 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. in The Knuckle (EA3003). Belcourt will speak on a topic of his choice. The Department of English, Languages and Cultures will work with the Cougars Campus Store to provide copies of Belcourt’s books for purchase and Belcourt will be available to sign books.
- The Department of English, Languages, and Cultures will provide Belcourt with an office for the week, where he will hold office hours and students can book one-on-one writing consultations.
Discover more about Mount Royal’s Writer-in-Residence Program.
Everyone is Lonely
everyone is lonely
but no one knows
what to do about it.
once a week
on my facebook wall
without even trying.
with parts of my body
but i don’t
notice the difference.
couldn’t get enough
of the sight
of broken twigs
i was born.
i am single
because i haven’t dated
anyone who is
broken twig enough.
he’s a little bit
i’m a little bit
From This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt
Copyright © 2017 by Billy-Ray Belcourt
Feb. 22, 2019 — Felicia Zuniga