Yukon College creative writing instructor Jamella Hagen will be a mentor at the Young Authors Conference at F.H. Collins Secondary School on May 3 and 4. PHOTO: courtesy of Jamella Hagen

The local writer selected to be a mentor at this year’s Young Authors Conference is Jamella Hagen, who teaches creative writing at Yukon College. She describes her course as “a multi-genre class for second-year college students in which students write fiction, poetry, drama and nonfiction.”

Hagen grew up in Hazelton, B.C. and attributes her interest in writing and the arts to her parents.

“(They) were both social workers, but they were also artists — my father was a music reviewer and my mother exhibited drawings in local galleries. Many of their friends played instruments and painted. I was always drawn to the arts in all forms, and I always loved stories.”

She describes Hazelton as a place with “a vibrant arts community of musicians, visual artists, and writers” and credits several of her school teachers with encouraging her to write.

“As a teen, I discovered Canadian writers like Margaret Atwood and Gwendolyn MacEwen, whose books opened my eyes to the way I could write about the stories I saw around me.”

Defining herself as a writer was a slower process.

“It took me a long time to start saying, ‘I’m a writer,’ but I think anyone who writes is a writer. Being a writer is about writing, it’s as simple as that.”

Pursuing her passion led her to do a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. She is a former executive editor of Prism International, a literary magazine published in Vancouver, and has coordinated the Whitehorse Poetry Festival.

Her poems have appeared in journals across Canada including Arc, Event and The Malahat Review as well as in the anthologies Unfurled: Collected Poetry from Northern BC Women, Ice Floe: New and Selected Poems and The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2010, and she has won several awards.

She says she likes to write every day when that is possible.

“I agree with the many writers who report that when they’re actively writing, ideas come to them; but when they’re not, they don’t. So, I don’t think it’s worth waiting for inspiration to strike… you have to get to work so you’re ready for inspiration when it does come along.”

She writes both poetry and prose, and has a somewhat different approach to each.

“When I write poetry, I don’t write from a plan or outline, and my favourite thing is to let the poem surprise me as it evolves. I think a lot of my best work comes from unexpected places, so discovery is a big part of my process.

“When I write prose, I do write with a plan and a structure in mind, at this stage of my writing career, though I didn’t at the beginning. And I still leave room for the unexpected to happen.”

In either case, revision is part of her process.

“I write many drafts of all my work, so what I initially planned may change several times over before I’m done.”

She has done many workshops with students and likes to provide them with open ended prompts to stimulate ideas.

In general, however, she offers this advice: “Read as much as you can, and write as much as you can! Write the kind of stories you like to read. Go to author readings to hear writers read their work aloud. Learn to as much as you can about the world of writing and literature. Consider studying literature or creative writing at a college or university. Above all, believe in yourself, keep writing and have fun!”

Hagen will be reading at the Live Words event at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre as part of the Yukon Writers’ Festival on May 2 during the evening and will be participating in the Young Authors Conference at F.H. Collins Secondary School on May 3 and 4.

Joanna Lilley feels most herself when she’s writing