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By Russ Cooper
They've said the words of the prophet were written on the subway walls. But taking a look at this year's list of nominations for literary awards, you could see some pretty fantastic words written on Concordia's walls.
Joining exclusive company (see related stories: Rawi Hage; Nino Ricci), Concordia's newest literary rainmakers include Sachiko Murakami for her book The Invisible Exhibit, nominated for the Governor General's poetry award; poet Katia Grubisic's What if red ran out and Joshua Auerbach's Radius of Light have both been nominated for the Quebec Writers' Federation (QWF) A.M. Klein prize for poetry; and novelist Andrew Hood is up for the QWF Hugh MacLennan prize for fiction for his novel Pardon Our Monsters. As well, Pasha Malla has been Giller prize longlisted for his novel The Withdrawal Method.
As thesis advisor to Grubisic, Murakami and Auerbach, creative writing professor Stephanie Bolster isn't surprised Concordia is producing some of the country's brightest up-and-coming writers.
"That many strong writers have gone through the program, these nominations aren't so much a surprise but as an affirmation," says Bolster. "The diversity of writers in the program continues to impress and inspire me. We knew all along they were that good."
For Murakami, the prestigious nod for the GG on her first published work was surprising, and she gladly welcomes the support. "It was a bit shocking and bewildering for the first while because it's rare for the first book to be nominated, but it feels really great," she says.
As a master's student in English lit with a creative writing option, Murakami credits Concordia with helping in her evolution as a writer and contributing directly to her current level of success.
"When I started, I thought of myself as a student - writing a bit, but not really publishing or really involved in the culture of writing. But being at Concordia helped me get involved in the writing community," she says. "I left Concordia with a lot more confidence as a writer."
Ironically, Murakami wrote Invisibility about her hometown of Vancouver during her time here in Montreal, but she's writing her new as-yet-untitled novel — a humourous tale of charlatan orphans from the streets of Montreal who pretend to be homeless to cash in on charities — from the lush surroundings of B.C.'s Galiano Island.
"All I can think about Montreal is the devastating cold and the gritty sidewalks," she says. "[The new book] is gonna be great."
Auerbach, who began Radius as his MA thesis but continued to rework it into its current incarnation after leaving school, echoes Murakami's comments in regard to Concordia's creative writing department fostering an atmosphere of collaboration and a spirit of preparing writers for what lies beyond the classroom.
"I think within the creative writing program, a writerly community happens," he says, "which helps to push one's work forward as opposed to being created in a vacuum."
For Grubisic, watching What if mature from her MA thesis into a vaunted tome has been an experience of reflection upon her work. "[The nomination] is really encouraging. It's the icing on the cake," she says, "but there are so many layers on the cake, and I'm working hard to keep it from falling over."
Currently on a promotional tour for her poetry collection (with a hometown stop on Nov. 9 at Blizzarts before heading east for another tour), ever-the-poet's-poet Grubisic muses upon the persona her work adopted after it was finished and published. "Who was it that said, 'poems are never done, they're just abandoned?'"
Regardless of her current ruminations, she isn't shy to employ her poetic sensibility about her decision to come to Concordia to study with Stephanie Bolster. "I chose to come to Concordia because of her. She's incredibly perspicacious and meticulous," she says.
For Bolster, the respect she feels in the work of her former students has progressed from professorial pride into that of a colleague. "Many of these writers have graduated into friends," she adds. "I read their work more as an interested reader now."