The many SFU connections of Word Vancouver


This year’s Word Vancouver festival (formerly Word on the Street) is in full swing, and gearing up for a weekend full of literary fun. With free workshops for writers and publishers, musical performances, panel discussions, and many talented Canadian writers, there is something here to fulfill any literary hankering.

One of the festival’s best features is the chance to meet authors, and gain insight into the mind of a writer. I had the opportunity to do just that when speaking to two of the festival’s featured authors, Kristi Charish and Bonnie Reilly Schmidt, who both owe at least some of their success to SFU.  

Kristi Charish, author of Owl and the Japanese Circus, completed her BSc and MSc from SFU in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and then went on to complete a PhD in zoology at UBC. Not exactly the writer’s path, yet she credits much of her work and work ethic to her science background.

We were all taught scientific methodology in grade school (hypotheses, testing, observations), but Charish has found a way of applying this to her writing: she’ll visualize a storyline, and then hypothesize the reality of how it could transpire, creating a real-world backdrop to her urban fantasy novels.

Charish’s inspiration reaches beyond her scientific background, finding a little help in her favourite movies The Mummy and the Indiana Jones series, films with adventure-hungry leading men. But Charish chooses a female lead, Alix, in an attempt to overturn the typical characteristics of female protagonists. It’s not an easy task. As she says, “if you break the mold there is some backlash, [but] it’s important.”

Bonnie Reilly Schmidt, author of Silenced: The Untold Story of the Fight for Equality in the RCMP, also takes on a heavy task as she tells the untold stories of Canada’s female history. The inspiration for her work came primarily from the work she did on her Master’s thesis and PhD (both at SFU), and of course the time she spent as an RCMP officer.

But she never wanted to create a memoir, and so enlisted the help of many men and women of the RCMP to help round out the history and fill in the blanks of her own experience. The process was difficult at times, resurfacing memories that had long been suppressed or forgotten — like the specific history she wanted to tell.

When Schmidt was studying, there wasn’t a lot of information on Canadian women in history, and it is only within the last five to 10 years that the RCMP has attempted to change their image and acknowledge the role of women in its history. It’s for these reasons, among others, that Schmidt was compelled to write these histories; she believes it’s “important in Canada—[we] need to know that women were active in the history of the country.”


SFU connections at Word Vancouver

Self-described poet, chapbook enthusiast, and doodler, Kevin Spenst took part in SFU’s monthly poetry exchange, Lunch Poems. He is the author of Jabbering with Bing Bong, his debut poetry collection, which covers everything from sitcoms to mental health.

Kristi Charish can thank SFU for her BSc in Molecular Biology and her MSc in Biochemistry (although UBC enchanted her away for her PhD). Since then she’s worked hard on her Owl series, and has a new project set in Seattle, Kincaid Strange, that concerns a voodoo practitioner and grunge ghosts.

Jordan Abel, whose first book, The Place of Scaps, won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry prize, is a Nisga’a writer residing in Vancouver. Already published in Canada’s best literary magazines, he is currently completing his PhD at SFU, focusing on digital humanities and Indigenous poetics.

Irina Kovalyova’s collection of short stories, Specimen, varies in setting and subject matter: covering Minsk to Vancouver, hot dogs to Botox. Previously an intern at NASA, she is now working at SFU as Senior Lecturer in the department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.

Bonnie Reilly Schmidt is well-educated; having first worked ten years for the RCMP, Schmidt decided to go back to school and completed a double major before joining SFU for her Master of Arts and PhD. Her first book, Silenced: The Untold Story of the Fight for Equality in the RCMP, was released this year, and she is currently keeping her next project a secret.

Catherine Owen is a Vancouver poet and writer, but fans of her work can be found all over, including New Zealand and Australia. She shared her poetic point of view at SFU’s Lunch Poems, and her last book of poetry, Frenzy, won the Alberta Literary Award in 2009.

Chelene Knight is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio at SFU. Her work is influenced by her experiences of mixed ethnicity, giving voice to the secret poetry she wrote as a child.

Deborah Hodge prolifically writes children’s books. Originally hailing from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Hodge headed out west to complete her BA of Psychology at SFU, and is now proud to call Vancouver home (sorry, Moose Jaw).

Fiona Tinwei Lam is currently teaching continuing studies at SFU, and is the upcoming poetry mentor for The Writer’s Studio Online program. Born in Scotland and previously a lawyer, you may have read her poetry while awkwardly squished on the 135, as she was featured on BC’s Poetry in Transit project.

Stella Leventoyannis Harvey was born in Cairo, has family in Greece (and speaks the language), and grew up in Calgary. She completed a Certificate in Creative Writing at SFU in 2004. Now writing from the foothills of Whistler, her latest book, The Brink of Freedom, will be released October 1.

Lucas Crawford teaches in the department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s studies at SFU. He is the Ruth Wynn Woodward Junior Chair, and focuses his teachings on
Queer theory, film studies, fat affect, and trans* architecture. Crawford has two upcoming projects: The High Line Park Scavenger Hunt and Transgender Architectonics, both scheduled for release this year.

Mercedes Eng teaches and writes in Vancouver, and took part in SFU’s Lunch Poems. Her book, Mercenary English, explores the potential of documentary poetics.

Prior to his life as a writer, Michael Christie was a sponsored, travelling skateboarder. After landing his last ollie, and completing a BA at SFU in psychology, Christie switched gears to writing. His debut collection of short stories, The Beggar’s Garden, won the Vancouver Book Award.

Raoul Fernandes doesn’t combine his two passions, poetry and leaf sweeping, in his first book of poems, Transmitter and Receiver. But he did complete the Writer’s Studio at SFU, back in 2009.

Word Vancouver runs September 23 – 27. For more information, visit