Associate Professor, Creative Writing and Literature
Andrea MacPherson is a poet and novelist, and has written six books: three novels, What We Once Believed, Beyond the Blue, and When She Was Electric, and three poetry collections, Ellipses, Away, and Natural Disasters. When She Was Electric placed number 6 on CBC Canada Reads: People’s Choice, and Natural Disasters was longlisted for the ReLit Awards.
Her poetry was anthologized in the UK publication,How the Light Gets In, and she has been a runner-up in both ’s Short Grain Award, and Prism International’s Poetry Award.
Born in Vancouver, Andrea was raised in the lower mainland. She holds an MFA from the Creative Writing Department at the University of British Columbia, where she was Editor of Prism International. She has also acted as the Reviews Editor for Event Magazine. Andrea frequently reviews books for Canadian Literature.
Traditionally, there has been much debate over the ability to teach creative writing: how do you teach creativity? How can you teach someone to write well? Is it possible to teach something we have for so long associated only with talent? Yet, it’s simple: Writing is a craft, just as painting or playing the piano or presenting a monologue is a craft. Craft can be defined as an artist’s technical skill or ability, extending to the choices an author makes when creating a text. Craft is what we should be talking about when we discuss creative writing and, from there, the need and necessity to develop and encourage it.
My approach to teaching creative writing courses is holistic, combining lectures, in-class exercises, freewriting assignments, directed reading, group work, editing and workshops. The combination of these elements teaches students to be careful and thoughtful readers and editors. To be a successful writer, you must also be a successful reader. This, in itself, can sometimes present an obstacle for many students who do not buy books of poems or short stories, or who only read novels in conjunction with specific courses.
I introduce students to a variety of authors and styles, and in this manner immerse them in the genre so that they might understand the literary devices at work within them. The purpose, here, is to show students that there is more to creative writing than simply putting your immediate feelings on paper; it is a craft, full of structure.
Creative writing explores the relationship between the author and the other, the writer and her community, the writer and her experience; in this way, creative writing is about expressing the author’s physical and psychological engagement with the world around her.
To this end, it is the professor’s responsibility to both inform and nurture students, so that they might express their experiences in the world to their readers. The task of helping to shape the story or poem, of asking relevant questions and making suggestions, of guiding the arduous process of rewriting and editing, falls to the professor.
To achieve this goal, revision is essential; too often, there is an assumption that you only get one chance with a piece of creative writing, that there is a magical muse that sits on your shoulder and supplies you with a wonderful, cohesive, emotionally charged piece of work.
Teaching students that revision—the literal redrafting, revising and reimagining of their own work—is an essential element in the process and a tool they will carry with them for any future writing projects stresses creative writing as a process, the analytical approach to craft, the importance of revision itself, and the need for persistence and commitment. It reaffirms to the student that creative writing is work.
Workshops, much like revision, are an essential element to the writing process. This is where the poem or story changes from something private for the author to a public piece of literature. In workshops, I facilitate the conversation and encourage students to get beyond simple, surface responses.
This can be a challenge, as some students are hesitant to voice constructive criticism, and others might not be receptive to hearing it. However, once the concept of receptivity has been established, workshopping is one of the most successful and rewarding steps in the writing process.
I think Katherine Anne Porter articulated it best when she said, "Most people won’t realize that writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like anything else." In the end, I see this as the role of the creative writing professor: to allow students to take on their apprenticeship, to practice their craft and learn, as Nathaniel Hawthorne said, that “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
Creative Writing, Fiction, Poetry, Historical Fiction
Contemporary Canadian literature
Reproductive rights; feminism in North America; social and political movements in Scotland and Ireland; the missionary movement in Hawaii; First Nations history in BC
What We Once Believed (Caitlin Press, 2017)
Review of How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?; The Mountain Story; Betweenin Canadian Literature, 2015.
Ellipses(Signature Editions, 2014)
Away (Signature Editions, 2008)
Beyond the Blue (Random House, 2007)
Natural Disasters (Palimpsest Press, 2007)
When She Was Electric (Raincoast, 2004)