A Mentor for Yukon Young Writers

Born in England, but transplanted to Newfoundland when she was very young, Kathleen Winter credits libraries with kick starting her interest in writing.

“We moved around a bit and in one village the only library was ‘the bookmobile,’ a van filled with books that came to town once a week – I loved that van,” Winter says. “I got lost in the worlds of books and knew early on that I wanted to create worlds of my own, in the way these writers were doing. It felt natural and beguiling to me from the start.”

She says her next big push came from a high school English teacher named Art Griffin.

“He had a shelf of great books that he loaned to us, books not in the school library. He gave us good writing assignments, open-ended ones. I remember that for one of his assignments, he allowed me to write a long story on a scroll of paper someone had salvaged for me from the pulp and paper mill in our town. It was salmon coloured paper and it must have been 12 feet long. I filled it up with a story about a shadow that came to life,” she says.

Winter began her career by writing scripts and songs for the Canadian content segments of Sesame Street, and also became a columnist for The Telegram in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

By 1987 she had written a novella, Where is Mario; four years later there was a collection of pieces about life on The Rock called The Road Along the Shore – An Island Shore Journal. After that, her husband contracted cancer, and the family’s struggle is chronicled in The Necklace of Occasional Dreams (1997).

The short stories that made up the collection boYs came together in 2007 and won her that year’s Winterset Award and the Metcalf-Rooke Award

Her first full-length novel, Annabel, was published in 2010. It won her the Thomas Head Raddall Award, and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Rogers Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Award. Later, it was a Canada Reads nominee.

More nominations followed for a collection of stories, The Freedom in American Songs and her nonfiction book, Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in the New Northwest Passage, both published in 2014. The latter book was shortlisted for the 2014 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

She approaches prose writing much like her early love of poetry.

“I have an affinity for line, rhythm, mystery and gaps, or leaps in meaning. I guess a problem for me, in writing long prose work, is that I tend to like leaving holes, unanswered questions, and odd-shaped structures and chambers in the work. I think it’s quite a lot of work for my editors to coax me to create structures that hold up and are not too ephemeral.”

She likes deadlines, but not outlines. She’ll work hard at a project, but says, “I have to feel I’m on an adventure and anything could happen.”

Winter says that persistence is even more important that talent.

In a number of interviews she professes to love the outdoors and moving about, and has written a whole essay about the dangers of sitting down too long while working on Annabel.

“I am looking forward to the land, to the light, to openness of geography and of people,” she says. “I have an idea that I will find the Yukon exhilarating.”

She likes working with students and finds that exciting.

“I don’t impose my vision on students. I like to ask, listen, wait, and then, gradually, make something together, or stand back and offer a guiding nudge while students conduct their own true exploration. Every student has his or her own particular voice, and it’s important to me to listen for that voice and respect it.”

Winter will be one of the four mentor writers at this year’s edition of the Young Authors’ Conference, being held as part of the Yukon Writers’ Festival at F.H. Collins High School on May 4 and 5.

This is the first of of a five part series by Dan Davidson about the professional authors participating in the Yukon Writers’ Festival and the Young Authors Conference during the first week of May.

Yukon Writers’ Festival

In 1990, a number of organizations joined together to meld the Young Authors’ Conference and the National Book Festival into a more far-reaching Yukon Writers’ Festival to highlight the Canadian literary arts in the Yukon.

The current sponsors of the events are Yukon Education and Yukon Public Libraries.

Five writers, usually with one from the Yukon, are engaged to participate in the week long series of events.

The Public Libraries’ author is sent outside the capital to a different set of rural sites each year. This year J.B. MacKinnon will visit Dawson City, Faro, Pelly Crossing and Teslin, presenting the theme “Rewilding the World”. In addition he will be participating with the four YAC writers in an evening of readings and music at the Haines Junction Public Library.

The four YAC mentors – Jamie Bastedo, Kelly Milner, Sheri-D Wilson, and Kathleen Winter – will hold workshops for two days at F.H. Collins High School, and will also participate in a reading and reception at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre on the Wednesday evening.

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