Gregory Scofield is this year’s Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poet

Gregory Scofield. PC: Provided by VIU
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Renowned poet Gregory Scofield will be coming to Nanaimo on February 12 and 13 as VIU’s Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poet for 2019-20. He is Michif of Cree, Scottish and European-Immigrant descent, and traces his ancestry to the Métis community of Kinosota, Manitoba, and Bacon Ridge. He will discuss, through oral storytelling, the importance of Indigenous literature and storytelling, the ways in which knowledge is presented and accepted, and inform how storytelling can be used to foster miyo- wâhkôhtowin (good relationships).

Scofield says now, more than ever, people of all generations wonder: can we foster good relationships between people and the Earth, and between ourselves? He suggests that stories help build exactly that: miyo-wâhkôhtowin.

The Victoria-based poet and storyteller has been teaching concepts and writing in Cree since the publication of his first book, The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel (1993), which won the 1994 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Since then, Scofield has published seven more books of poetry, including Witness, I am. He has served as writer-in residence at the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg and Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is the recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), and most recently the Writers’ Trust of Canada awarded him the Latner Poetry Prize (2016), which is given to a mid-career poet in recognition of a remarkable body of work.

Scofield, thinking about the greed and carelessness that have motivated many relationships, writes that for him, wealth is about being blessed with family and community. He describes himself as “wealthy,” and credits his Aunty for having “wove[n] me back into wâhkôhtowin and the beautiful web we are all just trying to hold onto.”

“We are honoured and excited to have Gregory Scofield present the Gustafson lecture and reading at VIU this year,” says Laurie Meijer Drees, Professor in the Indigenous/Xwulmuxw Studies Department. “As a noteworthy Métis poet, he brings voice to the lives of Canada’s First Peoples and is remarkable for his work on the poetry of Louis Riel. Reading and listening to his work is like delving into an old family photo album while listening to a vinyl country music record: it’s heartwarming and a little sad all at once.”

As the Gustafson poet, Scofield will participate in the following three events:

  • A free public reading on Wednesday, February 12 from 7:30-8:30pm at White Sails Brewing, 125 Comox Road, Nanaimo.
  • A reading and Q&A for students on Thursday, February 13 from 10-11:30am at Shq’apthut – A Gathering Place, Building 170, on VIU’s Nanaimo campus.
  • The Distinguished Poet’s Lecture: “Why Indigenous Literatures Matter,” Thursday, February 13 at 7pm in Building 355, Room 203 on the Nanaimo campus. Courtesy parking is available in Lot N below Building 355.

All events are free and open to the public. A selection of Scofield’s books, as well as chapbooks of previous Gustafson lectures, will be available at the catered reception following the lecture.

The VIU Ralph Gustafson Chair of Poetry was established in 1998 from the estate of the late Canadian poet and his wife, Betty. The 2019-20 lecture and other events are funded by the Ralph and Betty Gustafson Poetry Trust, the Canada Council for the Arts and VIU’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

For more information, you can contact Sonnet L’Abbé, Chair of the Gustafson Committee, at sonnet.labbe@viu.ca.