Writing and publishing demystified

Students aiming for a career in literature to get frontline experience at Wordfest

Photo of Kit Dobson.

Kit Dobson, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of English at Mount Royal University.

A special fourth-year course is helping students discover career paths in writing and publishing. Called 'Wordfest: The Course,' it's a first-time partnership of this kind with Wordfest, the Calgary arts organization that runs an annual literary festival and year-round events with authors. Kit Dobson, PhD, is the course instructor.

The timing of the annual festival, now called the 'Imaginairium Festival,' coincides with Mount Royal's fall reading week, which made the collaboration possible, Dobson notes. Students will spend their time volunteering and learning at the 10-day event in October.

"Collaborating with Wordfest is an opportunity for students to go into the city and be able to participate in the cultural life of this place in a way that might not be immediately accessible in the classroom," he says.

That opportunity was a key reason Megan Nega enrolled. Nega, who would like a career in writing and publishing, is entering her fourth year of studies, earning a Bachelor of Arts - English (Honours) with a minor in creative writing. "In most English classes you will never have the opportunity to meet the author and ask them questions, and so I think this course fills a void in English studies," she says. "So many courses in an English degree look towards the past, and so it's exciting to have the opportunity to take a course that is focused on the current literary moment."

A goal of the course, according to Dobson, is to help students see how robust the arts and culture community is in Calgary and to envision opportunities for themselves to build successful careers.

"There are publishers working in Calgary, there are magazines, book shops, all of these in addition to Wordfest and what comes through the universities. There are lots of different things in the city and we will hopefully be able to link students up to those things and open some doors for them."

Wordfest CEO Shelly Youngblut says she, too, is excited about the collaboration and giving students a behind-the-scenes view of writing and publishing.

"Students want careers, and it's a challenging environment in the world right now for writers," she notes. "Live events give authors an opportunity to connect with readers and understand the meaning of their work in real life. It's part of how you have to market yourself as a writer. The selling piece is as important as the writing, and for students we're demystifying all of that."

Readings for the course will include the works of at least two of the authors featured at the festival as well as academic and critical work on the culture industries. While at Wordfest, students will have opportunities to meet with the writers whose work they have chosen to read, and to interact with the organizers of Wordfest. "This is about making connections and building bridges for students," Dobson says.

"There's no doubt that it takes hard work to establish a career. It takes talent and ability and a lot of craft. That's a given," Youngblut points out. "For students, Wordfest will show them the ropes - and that's essential. Many established writers don't know this. Students will get to learn behind the scenes and see how they might supplement a writing career by also being part of a literary organization and being in the community."

Photo of Wordfest Literary Death Match performance.

The Wordfest Literary Death Match is a fan favourite performance.

Fourth-year English student Madeleine Edwards is looking forward to hands-on learning about the Canadian publishing industry. "I've been interested in Wordfest for a long time so I was happy to get the opportunity to go and experience it up close." She's looking forward to meeting many authors and is eager for the course to start. "I'm still not a 100 per cent sure what we'll be doing during that week at Wordfest so I'm excited for our first meeting."

Wordfest: The Course is a fourth-year 'special topics course,' which allows for some experimentation, according to Dobson. "At the fourth-year level, students are quite self aware. They know what it is they're hoping to get out of their program and out of their courses. I have ideas, but they'll have ideas coming in as well."

Nega agrees. "At some point, we as students have to decide what is meaningful to us to study as opposed to what any curriculum says is important. This is one of those rare opportunities to really exercise autonomy over my own learning and I appreciate this opportunity to take an active role in my own education."

She adds, "I think Mount Royal is so lucky to have passionate professors like Dr. Dobson who are willing to try something unconventional in order to push the boundaries of what is possible in university."

Mount Royal was a founding partner of Wordfest 25 years ago, notes Youngblut, and she says the arts faculty have continued to be important supporters and advisors. "That we can now share that in a meaningful way with MRU students shows how far that relationship has come, and it signifies the difference between Mount Royal and other universities."


Find out more about Mount Royal's Faculty of Arts including the English program and student success stories. Learn how to land your dream job after graduating from MRU.


Aug. 26, 2019 — Melissa Rolfe

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