By contributor Aislinn Cottell
If you have the time to pry an eye from your textbooks this semester, you might spot a few different faces on the endless stairs we call home. In the wake of several departures from the Creative Writing and English departments last year, some new members have been hired this fall to fill the gaps in our literary line-up.
Alissa Gordaneer is a poet, journalist, and communications professional who, before starting at VIU this semester, spent several years editing for alternative papers such as Victoria’s Monday Magazine and the Detroit Metro Times. She also worked as a freelance journalist, and taught writing at Royal Roads University and the University of Victoria. Gordaneer has received both the Nuclear Age Peace Poetry award and two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg awards for her poems, and has been given awards for her journalism by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, the BC Newspapers Association, the Michigan Press Association, and the BC and Yukon Community Newspapers Association.
Gordaneer will be largely taking over VIU’s journalism program from its founder Richard Dunstan, who retired last spring after teaching at the university for 19 years.
Professor Steven Guppy also retired in September 2015, having taught various poetry and fiction courses here for 30 years. Some of his classes will be picked by new professor Sonnet L’Abbe, an accomplished poet and critic who has taught English both abroad in South Korea, and here in Canada at the University of Toronto and UBC. L’Abbe regularly reviews both fiction and poetry for The Globe and Mail, is an occasional contributor to CBC Radio One and the National Post, and was the guest editor of the Best Canadian Poetry 2014 anthology. Her own work can be found in several anthologies and journals including the Best Canadian Poetry 2010, Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets, and Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Canadian Women Poets. She has also published two books—A Strange Relief (2001) and Killarnoe (2007).
Creative Writing Department chair Jay Ruzesky describes the departure of Dunstan and Guppy as a definite loss, especially considering the “institutional memory” that such established department members held when it comes to knowledge of course history and development.
“They were people who worked very hard, and put a lot into the department, so when I say we lost them,” Ruzesky said,”what I mean is that they gave a lot.”
However, Ruzesky is also excited about the new additions, the high quality of their work, and what they can bring to the table.
“What you get with new people is new energy, enthusiasm— new excitement.”
“We had a department meeting the last week of August, just about everybody was able to come, and looking around the table—I use the word ‘loss’ about the people who left, but I was looking around at what we gained, and feeling really good.” In addition to the new hires, both long-term but part-time professors Kathy Page and Robert Hilles are becoming permanent members of staff this year, something Ruzesky says will bring new stability to the department and is “as it should be,” given their success as teachers. He also believes that VIU’s approach to creative writing—namely small, workshop-based classes—is going well.
“I’m feeling really optimistic about the department going forward. It’s a really strong department, a good place to be, and a good place to be a student.”