Literary Opportunities

A decade ago, as a fledgling fiction writer, I submitted a short story to a Canadian literary magazine called EVENT. I had never heard of this magazine before, but I printed out my story, stuffed it in an envelope, and mailed it away to an unfamiliar city: New Westminster, BC.

When the then-editor emailed me to say he wanted to publish it, I was so excited I stood up too fast and hit my head on a desk lamp. That was only my second real published piece, and its acceptance was a relief. A year earlier, I’d left my sturdy pre-med path to pursue a career in—of all things—creative writing. “That sounds like a fun hobby for when you’re a doctor,” everyone said. My parents had started casually forwarding me articles about writers who were also neurosurgeons. My alma mater had stopped calling me to ask for donations.

Three years ago, while having drinks with writer colleagues in Halifax, Nova Scotia, one of them mentioned that EVENT was seeking a new editor as part of a teaching position at Douglas College. I’d been teaching at a university in Halifax when the department lost funding for my position, and I had gone from being a full-time assistant professor to a desperate adjunct juggling several workshops and freelance projects, and moving to a 270-square-foot apartment to save on rent. When I returned home that evening, I scrambled together my application—the deadline was noon the next day. A week later, I had a Skype interview where the panel included two former EVENT editors, one of whom had published my story years earlier. When I mentioned this, he said, “I remember it well.”

I sold my furniture on Craigslist, bought myself and my cat plane tickets to Vancouver, had a weepy farewell dinner, and moved 6,000km away to a shockingly green province where I didn’t know a soul. These are the kinds of choices a person has to make to have a career in the arts. EVENT’s former editor is now my colleague. In my more sentimental moments, I feel that EVENT has saved me twice, and that fate brought me to New West, to the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had.

I’m not sure how many New West residents know about EVENT; we’re a small staff tucked away in Douglas College, and my own goal is to develop deeper ties between the magazine and our surrounding city. At EVENT we publish fiction, poetry, and book reviews, and we’re known in particular for creative non-fiction, in which writers reflect on their lives and their work. We’ve featured such talented Canadians as Alistair MacLeod, Jane Urquhart, Andre Alexis, George Elliott Clarke, Madeleine Thien, Annabel Lyon, and Eden Robinson.

When I saw that Tenth to the Fraser’s theme this month was “reflection,” I immediately thought of our annual non-fiction contest, the longest running contest of its kind in Canada. Our deadline is in April, and we welcome submissions from established and emerging writers alike. Last year our winner, Gena Ellett, was a New Westminster resident, a young writer who saw an opportunity and took it. Her piece went on to become a finalist at the National Magazine Awards. For decades, writers like her have had their work in our pages and gone on to receive national and international recognition.

Giller Prize winner Madeleine Thien, who this spring will speak in New West at an event hosted by JJ Lee, very graciously said, “EVENT found my work and brought it out into the world.” But our magazine wouldn’t have found her if she hadn’t taken the first step in reaching out.

Succeeding as a writer depends so much on seeking and seizing opportunities. I’ve been surprised by how many opportunities exist in New West’s literary community: LitFest; the Royal City Literary Arts Society, which organizes reading series, workshops, and contests; events at the New West Public Library and the Anvil Centre; Tenth to the Fraser; and more, I’m sure. I can’t speak for these organizations, but arts programming is often underfunded and its staff is often underpaid and grateful for active community members. Whether you’re a writer or not, your support is valued. Send out your work, volunteer at an event, follow and share on social media, attend a reading. I hope to see you there.