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"The Writing Knows More Than You Do"


Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee Gary Barwin on teaching and writing

“I’ve had students read work that was entirely breathtaking. The entire class gets a feeling of something magical happening. In a couple cases, I followed up by publishing some of this work in my role as editor with a small press.

My students come from all walks of life and so I learn a lot from their experiences, knowledge and insights. They’ve done lots of things, been lots of places and know many things that I don’t.

I’ve also been deeply moved by students trusting both me and the class enough to share writing addressing very personal, difficult experiences. And when students of vastly different ages, experiences and backgrounds hear each other’s work and clearly get it, I feel thrilled and inspired and delighted to have the opportunity to teach.

I always tell my students that ‘the writing knows more than you do. I’ve found it best to trust the process and listen to what is unfolding in the work rather than trying to enforce a fixed idea of what the writing should be. The process often yields far more interesting, fresh and authentic writing if you listen for it.

Writing can be mostexciting when you don’t stick to the route as planned but instead allow yourself to wander and explore."

Gary Barwin was nominated forthe Scotiabank Giller Prize and Governor General’s Literacy Award for his debut novel “Yiddish for Pirates”.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Momentum Magazine.