Those who habitually put pen to paper, take heart: a good story still matters.
That’s the definitive word from acclaimed book editor, award-winning author and educator Shelley Tanaka, and Trent University’s 2019-20 Ashley Fellow.
Ms. Tanaka has been able to share that perspective with a wide range of students and professors at Trent as the first visiting scholar to have residencies at both the Peterborough and Durham campus since the fellowship was established in 1976.
On January 29 at Traill College’s Bagnani Hall, Ms. Tanaka wrapped up her fellowship with a public lecture titled Children’s Books As ‘Windows And Mirrors’: Stories From The Publishing Trenches. Her talk summarized the lessons and learning she brought to students and fellow professors at Trent.
Ms. Tanaka’s reference to mirrors is about “books that reflect our own world back to us” whereas windows are books that give readers a glimpse of the bigger world.
“It’s interesting for me to see younger writers writing out of their own experience…writers who aren’t afraid of writing darker stories,” says Ms. Tanaka. “I teach at a fine arts college in the United States, and a lot of people there are anxious and worried about the state of the country, and the state of the world. Being at Trent has been almost like an antidote.
Ms. Tanaka worked with students in Trent’s English Literature program, as well as other students interested in writing, in a writer’s craft workshop, where she was pleased to hear how students were approaching their work and the things they’re working on.
“What I’m seeing is that combination of wanting to write something you really care about and wanting to write something that’s relevant to other people,” says Ms. Tanaka. “They’re not just writing to listen to the sound of their own voice. They may not always know what kind of writer they are until someone makes you try. School is good for that.”
Fourth year English Literature major Tessa Smith, who also writes a monthly column for the Peterborough Examiner, appreciated the opportunity to sit down with an experienced published author.
“Shelley Tanaka's workshop style is inviting, inquisitive, intriguing. I had the opportunity to sit down with her for almost two hours in Wallis Hall, and it was apparent her questions directed at each reader/writer came from her experience in the literary world. I feel very fortunate to have received encouragement and suggestions for my writing endeavors.”
Ms. Tanaka says the influx of American books into Canada has made it imperative that Canadian writers be able to find their place in the mix.
Books, she adds, will always have a place, despite the onslaught of social media platforms and Internet websites.
“People still want the physical book and they want it to be beautiful and they want it to be well done and they care that the stories are as good as they can be,” she says.