On March 15 at the Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside Hotel, the UBC Creative Writing department pulled out all the stops to mark its 50th anniversary.
As a UBC Creative Writing MFA grad myself, I had figured that the evening would be respectable but somewhat modest. Much to my delight, it exceeded my expectations.
The upscale affair included a live auction conducted by the CBC's ab fab Fred Lee, a sprawling silent auction, a New Shoots prize award presentation (a 29-year program which pairs UBC Creative Writing grad students with high-school students), and speeches by acting chair Steven Galloway, UBC Creative Writing professors Andreas Schroeder and Keith Maillard, and former UBC Creative Writing professor George McWhirter.
Schroeder, who spoke about the department's history, mentioned that the department faced severe cutbacks after the dot-com bubble burst and the mortgage meltdown: courses were cancelled, instructors let go, class sizes increased, and the department was forced to merge with another program.
The unversity was even considering shutting down the program altogether.
However, the department not only survived but thrived. Schroeder said that the department has rebounded from its point of peak attrition with only 250 students and 7 faculty to its current state which boasts 3,000 students with 42 faculty offering the largest range of genre workshops in North America.
He also pointed out that the gender ratio has reached equity. He said in the 1960s and '70s, it was generally 80 percent men and 20 percent women, at the most, among students and faculty whereas now, women equal men in the program. (My own personal experience of the program was that it was female-dominant, with only two other males enrolled in my year.)
Also, he said that while instructors used to be teachers who wrote, all instructors are now full-fledged professional writers who teach.
Here's a collection of photos I snapped from evening that highlight the success stories of the department and the talent that it has attracted.
Unversity of Victoria associate professor and author Lee Henderson won the 2009 Vancouver Book Award for The Man Game while jet-setting journalist Doretta Lau just released her collection of short stories, How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?
UBC Creative Writing Program Coordinator Andrew Gray (Small Accidents) with writer and former UBC Creative Writing sessional instructor (and Gray's wife) Jennifer Herbison and Madeleine Thien (Dogs at the Perimeter), who is SFU's writer in residence
Poet Billeh Nickerson (Impact: The Titanic Poems), UBC screenwriting professor Peggy Thompson (who wrote the locally shot comedy-drama Better Than Chocolate), and poet, author, and University of the Fraser Valley Creative Writing professor Andrea MacPherson (Beyond the Blue)
Author and UBC Okanagan Creative Writing assistant professor Michael V. Smith (Progress)
Novelist Eden Robinson (Blood Sports) released her first short story collection Traplines in 1996 to critical acclaim.
UBC Creative Writing non-fiction adjunct instructor Deborah Campbell (This Heated Place), with her partner, author Ronald Wright (What is America?)
UBC Creative Writing acting chair and fiction professor Steven Galloway (The Cellist of Sarajevo)
UBC Creative Writing secretary and glamazon Pat Rose has worked at UBC for 25 years—and knows how to work a dress.
Vancouver Poet Laureate and novelist Evelyn Lau (A Grain of Rice), who was also a former UBC Creative Writing writer-in-residence, with writer Angela Mairead Coid (also George McWhirter's wife) and Jane Silcott
Other attendees included:
• Georgia Straight contributor and screenwriter Patty Jones
• poet Marita Dachsel (Glossolalia)
• novelist and Vancouver Public Library's writer-in-residence Rawi Hage (Carnival)
Cheers to the department and best wishes for the next 50 years and beyond! Mwah, dahlings...