As writers, we are primed for the moment when a book comes out—the launch, reviews and physical object. I asked six Queer writers—Amy Fung, Leah Horlick, Zoe Whittall, Jen Currin, Hana Shafi and Gwen Benaway—about the messy process, pitfalls and discoveries of the years in between projects. Whether your writing process is one of incubation or more like a deranged scavenger hunt designed by your least favourite relative, I hope you find something useful here! Good luck with your PROCESSING.
— Alex Leslie
Alex Leslie: Thank you for agreeing to answer some of my questions about navigating works-in-progress. I chose this as the topic because editing, revision and the question of how to keep up momentum in a project over several years are things that preoccupy me. My collection of stories that just came out with Book*hug took about four or five years to finish, while I was writing a collection of poetry. When a book comes out, there’s the celebration of the finished project – but for me, there are the sheaves (sheaves!!!!!!) of notes, plans, outlines, abandoned maps, cut paragraphs. My relationship with the nurturing chaos of the project-in-progress is suddenly changed to a relationship with a book — a thing! It’s like I walk around in a forest for years and then it’s like, look, a little house!! We live with our book-length projects, sometimes for years. For me, it’s a long-term relationship with all the ups and downs. Thank you for taking the time (away from your current project/bacterial word-guest) to think about these questions.
First question – I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of momentum in my writing practice. When I’m stuck with a project, I tend to pivot to another project, to keep going. How long does it take you to build up momentum after you start a project? How do you build/get into the project? What do you do to keep going when momentum abates?
Gwen Benaway: I’m always running between pages and texts. My entire life and brain is inter-textual, so I never really feel like I have space to pause and reflect. Somehow I’ve written and published/sold 4 books in the last two years. I don’t really know how. It just happens.
Jen Currin: Because I often write in spurts, stops and starts, because of my teaching schedule, I don’t often get to build up anything I would call momentum. There have been a couple of summers that I took off from teaching to work on a collection of stories and those were the times I had to push myself to stay in the practice and to try to build momentum. It helps when you have a sense of the stories that need to be written – the sheer feeling of necessity to get them on the page and keep working on them is often enough to keep the momentum going when interest flags. The time crunch is also helpful. When you have a limited amount of time to write, there’s this sense of, “Well, it’s now or never, so I’d better push myself.” On the other hand, sometimes pushing ourselves doesn’t work and what’s needed is a rest, a jog, a meditation or dinner with a friend to re-energize us.
Amy Fung: The past year and half of writing my first book has been intensely masochistic. I don’t know if I could describe it as momentum so much as simply a will to not bleed out in any one sitting. But because I freelanced full-time on and off for years, the task of writing to completion is more muscle memory than momentum. After a long walk or hitting the gym or just meditating, I can still sit down and write until I hit my word count, but that doesn’t always mean any of it is any good. But once it’s out, that’s when the real work begins. I know I only have 3 – 4 hours of solid editing time in me each day, so I try and preserve that time as best I can through regular eating and sleeping patterns, to quell my energy, or momentum, into a productive force. In other words, I’ve become pretty boring and disciplined in the process of writing this book. It’s been awful. I can’t recommend it.
Leah Horlick: The perennial problem I have when writing is (blissfully, intentionally) confusing the research stage with momentum. I can read and read and obsess about an idea and then catch myself months in, not having actually written a thing. Incubation is important, and I know writing doesn’t always look like actually putting words on the page, but I really need to prompt myself to actually sit down and get a draft started, rather than endlessly reading or watching documentaries. Once I get an honest-to-goodness Word document going I don’t have too much of a problem with momentum, but I do have a constant, creeping anxiety that I haven’t referenced enough source material: that I might have left out some obvious thematic conclusion, or that I haven’t explored a relevant writer’s work enough, or I don’t have enough of a grasp on, say, 5000 years of Jewish theological thought to legitimize my creative work. (Can you tell this is the most recent fear? I continue to guiltily read while finding a home for my current project on my Jewish ancestors in Romania & Moldova.)
Hana Shafi: I’m so bad at getting momentum to start a project. I’ll mull over the ideas for different projects but have trouble just diving in head first, mainly because it can be so intimidating starting new work.
Zoe Whittall: I also tend to pivot to another project when the momentum lags, and sometimes that backfires because if I switch to another genre – most often I go between novels and TV scripts – then it always takes me a few days to really get into the right headspace for the other one. Building the momentum is hard, it’s like jumping into a freezing lake. It’s easier to stay in once it’s warm and you’ve been there for a while. Scripts are all action, dialogue and being economical with both, and you can forget the importance of the sentence, the image, style, precision – all those things that are vital for prose. A funny thing happened to me this year while trying to finish a novel – I suddenly understood how to write short stories after twenty years of trying and failing. Stories started forcing themselves on me. I loved it, I was really in a groove with the stories and had momentum that seemed to come out of nowhere, but I knew I was also in some way procrastinating because the novel was very difficult and to keep going was effortful. Writing stories felt like intuition and play and being inventive with these small sentences inside intricate, concise scenes and the novel was like a large swath, an endless blur and to get into that length was so much more frightening. But I used to feel the opposite – I loved the room to move within a novel, and the story felt impossible with its constraints. So who knows. I fuck myself up I guess no matter what the goal is.
Alex Leslie: The best part of writing a project for me – the addictive part – is when I first start to be “in” a project, I am feeling it deeply and my intention is working together with my process. Other writers have told me, no, I am clearly a freak and for them it is simply a case of persevering, researching, and putting one foot in front of the other, blindly. Do you have an experience of a project “clicking” that keeps you going? Are you a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other person? Something else?
Gwen Benaway: I write in bursts but I think I’m always just trying to stay ahead of the rolling 8 ball that is my life, so I’m never able to give myself over to something completely. I can’t imagine what the luxury of having even two weeks to focus on one piece of writing would feel like.
Jen Currin: I like how you put this – “my intention is working together with my process.” And connecting it to deep feeling. This is one of the most pleasurable parts of writing, I think. For me, this synchronicity occurs maybe 25% of the time, at best, when working on fiction. The ratio is much higher for poetry. A lot of it is one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, which is also enjoyable in a nose-to-the-grindstone sort of way (overuse of hyphenated adjectives alert!). I’ve found that it’s necessary to find pleasure in hard work if I want to complete any pieces of fiction.
Amy Fung: You are definitely a freak, but that’s why we’re friends. I’m not sure I fully understand this question, as we’re all addicts here, but if I just answer the first line, the best part of writing for me is that moment of estranged revisitation. You know, when you come back to those moments that you didn’t even know how to put into words or thought until a sentence or a paragraph torqued it out. That’s the best part, because even here it’s still indescribable. After building up a reservoir of research to draw from, the writing process remains a carefully executed leap of faith to places unknown. Getting to the edge to peer over is my favourite part. The rest is just follow through.
Leah Horlick: I love the proverbial click! If I’m lucky, the project gradually transforms from an amorphous blob with some tenuous over-arching theme, then finally crystallizes. That’s when I get to do some cheering and when it becomes more fun to talk about. I find it’s the persevering trudge later on, when the shine wears off a bit, or when I start to realize how potentially deep the thematic rabbit hole goes. My other favourite part is when the click turns into a little sonar of ideas; when either because I’ve developed one-track thematic laser vision, or because of some serendipitous Borg system of brains, I start seeing the topic everywhere.
Hana Shafi: There are definitely moments when a project clicks for me; I’m suddenly in the zone. But those moments are really fast, really intense, a lot of writing will come out of it, and then there will be a long creative dry spell after. I’m working on trying to write sustainably, so it’s not just bursts of inspiration and then nothing at all.
Zoe Whittall: Usually I experience the clicking part, of being deeply into it and it feels like magic and not work, that’s usually the first draft, or the first 30 pages of the first draft. I rewrite that shit over and over again and it’s like a hit song, you know it’s a banger and it feels instinctive and like someone else wrote it through you. The problem is the rest of the manuscript, and also that in a few weeks, I’ll read over those same magical 30 pages and they aren’t magic, in fact only two or three sentences are magic, but I had to trick myself. So now I have three great sentences, and an idea, and hundreds more pages to go, and then it is work, research, one foot ahead of the other, putting in the effort. And then for the next few months and most often years, I volley between those two emotional states – the momentary feeling that it is easy and that images and scenes and sentences are coming to me, and then months and months of forcing it and re-writing and doing surgery on sloppy first drafts. So I’m a bit of both.
I sometimes stop to do research after I’ve already begun, and that’s a nice respite.
Alex Leslie: I take a lot of notes, keep a notebook, and print out drafts and write all over them, often on public transit. I also email myself ideas and sentences; my Gmail account is a nightmare of unread cryptic emails from someone called “Alex Leslie”. I know writers who write on the computer and keep everything in the draft (no other materials). What does your physical process look like?
Gwen Benaway: I always write via word processor, but I end up emailing drafts back and forth to myself between my various computers/spaces.
Jen Currin: My physical process is messy. I use a lot of paper. I print out copies with lots of handwritten notes and then enter them into the computer document and print it out fresh each time I start a new draft. Each story has its own paper folder with notes, drafts, research, etc. I don’t keep every draft – only the ones I need to keep the story moving. For poems, I write several drafts by hand and then type the most-final draft up and print it out to tinker with it further. I do story editing on the computer and by hand, but I don’t usually edit poems on the computer. I also do a lot of editing and writing on public transit. Another good reason not to own a car…
Amy Fung: I have a banker’s box of old coiled flip notebooks, the ones that fit into your back pocket, but at some point I switched to the 5 x 8 Moleskins. As of late though I’ve actually started taking most of my notes on my phone and that’s way handier as it lets me organize my thoughts into multiple streams. My physical Moleskins are a mess of curatorial projects, writing notes, various grant budgets, and personal journal entries. I guess that also explains my writing in some ways! In the early stages of this current book project, I threw up working drafts onto Google docs and sent private links to a select handful of readers and editors to comment on it as I was writing. It kind of worked, except having readers be able to see each others’ comments may have self-censored some thoughts. And yes, something about sitting on public transit, or airplanes and trains, helps this process along.
Leah Horlick: I had a brutally long commute for the last two years and the only thing I miss about it was the amount of writing I could get done on the Skytrain. Not even drafts of poems, really; just a lot of productive clearing out my brain to make room. I tend to keep everything in a Word document, and have a working notebook where I mess around by hand. When a particular draft is starting to feel a bit more cohesive I start a new document and start a whole new draft. It makes it easier to keep track of the progression of poems; for some reason, it’s really important to me to see the differences between the initial word-cloud of a draft and the finished product. I think it helps with a sense of accomplishment—remembering that the poems don’t come out fully-formed, that tiny scraps of stray ideas can turn into a finished draft.
Hana Shafi: It’s split between notebooks, sketchbooks, documents on the computer, and notes on my phone. It’s such a disorganized mess and I’ll sometimes forget where I wrote something.
Zoe Whittall: I have notebooks, carefully selected and then mostly neglected. I used to use them all the time, for my first two novels I had a lot of paper notes and first drafts in pen. Now I pretty much use the notes function on my phone. For poems I often write on my phone. The exception is when I go on vacation or go on a writer’s retreat, then I’ll be more intentional and bring my notebook and try to unplug and use technology less. I always write better in pen on paper, my mind slows down because it has to. And now due to lack of daily practice, I’m even slower on paper and that means my writing slows down as well, which is never a bad thing. My flaw is that I’m impulsive and I hand things in too early. I have an entire poetry book that really needed another year before publication but I couldn’t see that. Now that I know publication is such a crapshoot no matter what, that you can’t control what happens, I make sure to hold things back more.
Alex Leslie: Do you work on The One Book to the exclusion of other things? (Besides paid work and/or schoolwork, obviously.) Or do you work on multiple projects at once? If you work on multiple things at once, is there an interplay between the projects that helps you keep going?
Gwen Benaway: I don’t have the luxury of working on one thing. I write articles and essays constantly, poetry when I have space, and I’m editing an anthology while revising a collection of poetry and a memoir + trying to write a YA novel. So I’m always writing and I do think they interplay in some sense, but I also think of them as separate projects.
Jen Currin: I find that I don’t usually think in terms of projects. It’s just too big, too monolithic for me. I find it daunting. I work poem by poem or story by story, and when I have a substantial body of work, I start to conceptualize it as a project. I guess this is also because, through the writing of individual pieces, I’m waiting to see what comes out/what comes together – I’m waiting for the project to tell me what it is, and that could take awhile. I do work on stories and poems at the same time, although my poetry production slows down considerably when I’m heavily into fiction. Poems sometimes creep in when I’m stuck on a story and I find it helpful especially to be reminded that I can write something in another genre when I’m stalled. Sometimes it seems like a story will never come together and then I’ll write a poem in a day and remember, “Oh yes, you can finish things.”
Amy Fung: I have never worked on only one thing at a time in my entire life. I need to have several things on the go, even if half of them are distractions like applying for jobs I don’t want or studying a completely different topic like math and science. I feel really called out by that saying, “If you want to get something done, ask the busiest person you know.”
Leah Horlick: I like a study in contrasts, so what I’ve been doing lately is playing with how a dedicated focus on one project can free up bandwidth for something totally different. While I was working on the Moldova project I had a document going where I just plunked other poems as they arrived, almost like a reward. In a way the Moldova poems were functioning as a constraint, like in a form poem, and motivated me to work on other pieces that were super-located in Vancouver and relevant to my immediate life, rather than so focused on an historic theme.
Hana Shafi: Generally it’s one project at a time, but I’m currently trying to work on two and I’m finding it really challenging. I think they are definitely seeping into each other though.
Zoe Whittall: I usually always have more than one thing going, but generally it’s one major thing and several things-in-waiting that I get excited about and then start in lulls from the major project. I often have one major TV development thing and then several other TV projects that I also juggle. But I think of novels as my full time job, so I try to give it my full attention, except when I have an actual full time TV job.
Alex Leslie: Music or silence? (Me: headphones.)
Gwen Benaway: Always music, never silence.
Jen Currin: At home: silence (earplugs if necessary). In cafes and on public transit I can usually zone out the noise.
Amy Fung: Silence if I am alone. Music if I can hear others.
Leah Horlick: Music! Same contrast here—ideally ambient but loud! With breaks to read out loud. Sometimes I’ll read out loud over the music too, though—I think it keeps me in my body and takes a bit of the edge off. A loud coffee shop works too. It can help to be in a busy place with lots going on around me to keep me present. The library is a great option if I need quiet and a tiny bit of privacy but also want to be around an ambient sense of people.
Hana Shafi: Instrumental music! I often write to my favourite movie soundtracks. Either that or just the sound of people going about their day in a coffee shop; writing in busy places is really nice. It all just sounds like white noise for me.
Zoe Whittall: Depends on the stage. For editing and proofing I need silence. For writing I sometimes like energetic music that can keep me typing and hyped, generally in headphones that can block out any other noise. Sometimes I like background noise at a café, as long as it’s not too crazy loud.
Alex Leslie: Speaking for myself, I am far less precious and more chaotic than when I started writing and then publishing books – I find it hard to find unbroken focused time and so I build momentum and maintain interest in my projects in different ways (for example through the above-mentioned note-taking). How has your process changed since you started writing?
Gwen Benaway: I think my process hasn’t changed, but I’ve gotten better at it. I’ve had a long apprenticeship to writing nonfiction. I started with blog posts when I was 23 and then articles. Essays came later in life, beginning with the Prism piece and building from there. I’ve published 200+ pieces of nonfiction, ranging from click bait to pop culture to film criticism to personal narrative. And that process has really trained me as a writer. I read non fiction every day which I think grounds me, but in terms of my process changing, it’s not my process of writing that’s changed: it’s been me learning how to write, over and over again.
Jen Currin: The biggest change for me has been devoting a huge amount of my creative energy to short fiction over the last eight years. This has forced me to be much more focused and dedicated than I have been in the past. I’ve learned to block off big chunks of time, whenever I can, to work on stories. I have for many years been accustomed to writing poems in the margins of my days and nights, but I realized pretty quickly that fiction just wasn’t going to work that way for me–which is why the few other times I tried to write it (in undergrad and grad school, mostly), I was never able to continue for long. I didn’t devote enough time to the practice. I have always been a notebook writer when it comes to composing poems, and my process for stories is also heavily dependent on note-taking, but the notes are more focused around a central character, scene, or theme.
Amy Fung: I don’t pull all nighters anymore or shut myself in for days at a time. After three or four hours of writing and editing, I know I am done, so I have learned to stop and rest. Air out. This was a hard lesson to learn and keep.
Leah Horlick: After grad school and a few stints of serious underemployment I have come to really love chaotic time. A routine isn’t necessarily realistic for a lot of our working lives. Chunks of time stolen here and there make the work feel more like a reward; weekend mornings are lovely for that, and same for weekday evenings once the laundry is in. I didn’t anticipate how lonely unbroken writing time gets; I found that it felt totally luxurious stretching ahead of me in the morning, but then by 3pm I would wind up on the phone with someone or chatting (dear god) with a barista because I was so squirrelly. A few days away, for me, is really the way to do it; to get out of town and out of my routine for a bit can feel so powerful, but until that’s an option, chunks of time it is!
Hana Shafi: I’ve been trying to shift into the habit now to write on a daily basis, even if it’s crap. I’m not doing a great job at this so far, but I don’t want to stick into my old habit of only writing when something great comes to me. I think writing every day will definitely help me hone my craft more and become a lot less susceptible to writer’s block.
Zoe Whittall: I used to write in the morning before my job started, or on the one or two days a week that I had off. Sometimes if a job was demanding I wouldn’t write for months. Sometimes I can’t write much and so I focus on careful and considered reading and research. Now I am very lucky, my whole job right now – and I know this is momentary so I’m trying to enjoy it – is to wake up and write or read whatever I want. It’s the life I’ve always dreamed of and have worked towards to the exclusion of a lot of other things in life. Having more time doesn’t mean my productivity has sky-rocketed, but it does give me a sense of calm and confidence.
Alex Leslie: Do you share with readers (friends, fellow writer, lovers) along the way, or is it all in the vault until the end?
Gwen Benaway: I always have friends read my work (and lovers) before I publish. One of the people who has been my biggest helps has been Alicia Elliot, because she will read my first drafts, and Billy Ray Belcourt who has done the same for me. One of the things I love is having a community of writers around me who help each other out and don’t focus on competition, but on collaboration and building a collective body of work.
Jen Currin: I am a part of two writing groups and I also solicit feedback from sensitivity readers.
Amy Fung: I never thought I was a sharer, as I am used to writing for one person in mind, the person I am writing about (usually an artist). I made a habit of sharing working drafts with those I am writing about for their feedback and sign off, so when I started writing this book, I started sharing drafts of stories with some of the individuals who appear in them. I also had several dedicated readers (i.e. paid readers) from a variety of backgrounds and from all over the country for sensitivity feedback. I have also been reading chapters-in-progress all over the place for the past year, so I guess I am a big fan of sharing along the way.
Leah Horlick: Oh yes! Sharing along the way is the fun part. The vault is no fun for me; I need the validation to keep me going. I’m often keen to send out works-in-progress to lit mags just to keep the fire lit for myself and feel like I’m doing something, airing the work out. Plus, I hate the thought of getting to the “end” of a project and not having any shared thoughts along the way that might have improved or polished the work or steered me in a different direction.
Hana Shafi: I’ll share with a few trusted friends, but with family it’s always in the vault until the end.
Zoe Whittall: With short stories and poems, I sometimes share if I’m excited about the idea but uncertain about how it’s working and need some criticism and perspective. With a novel I generally keep it to myself until I show my agent who gives me substantive notes on voice, structure, character – the big things – and then after that stage, I might show a close friend or my partner, and see if they think it’s total garbage. With scripts I’m constantly collaborating, it’s a real team sport.
Alex Leslie: Last question and thank you again! Something that keeps me going through the writing process is an increasing feeling of responsibility to the characters and to the work as I write – the longer I write, the more I feel responsible to completing it, and this often helps me make me the turn towards completion. What kind of sense do you have of responsibility/accountability to a completed project and how does this effect your process? If not project, is there an audience or reader you’re writing to or for that motivates you through all those drafts?
Gwen Benaway: I write for other trans girls and that’s a demanding audience. I strive to be ethical in my work. It’s a huge weight in a sense, because I can’t just say or do whatever I want. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along. I think about light skin privilege, representation, what’s my lane, and how to tell a story in a way that leaves space for others. I’m glad that I do that work, because I don’t always see it in the world, and I would never trade that responsibility because it’s made me a better writer, but it’s a lot of unseen labour. And I don’t talk about it publicly often, but I’m always thinking about how to make space for writers who are emerging around me and not tell certain stories so that they have space to tell their truths when I think their perspective is the one that needs to be prioritized over mine. So I try to focus my work towards the space where I think I can be most helpful, that I feel is something that I can really contribute to, and use my work to try to carve out space. I’m never perfect at that, but I try and I reflect deeply on it. Sometimes you fuck up as well and then you need to refine your approach next time, learn from your mistakes, and try to generate work that fine tunes your past misses.
At the end of the day, I’m a trans woman in public and that’s a huge amount of scrutiny to live under. Trans women don’t get second changes and are never allowed to make mistakes. We have to always get it right or we’re discarded. So I try to land all my jumps (that’s a figure skating metaphor) because I know the risk of missing one jump is losing everything.
Jen Currin: Thanks for this question (and for all of the questions!). I think responsibility is a good way of framing the feeling/impetus that helps drive a work to completion (if we believe “completion” is ever truly possible!). A sense of responsibility to the work does help me to keep pushing through when I feel stalled, to keep trying, even if I need to put it aside for awhile and return later. There are certain stories that demand to be told, and won’t leave you alone until they are. If a story keeps returning to me or refuses to let me go even if I think I’ve failed at trying to tell it, I know that I can’t give up on it. This is one of the hardest parts of the writing process because sometimes it can take years to break into the true part of a story. I have several that are sleeping unfinished right now because I don’t know what to do next, but I haven’t given up my responsibility to them, and I trust that eventually they will get finished.
Not too sound too mystical about it, but I often feel like the drive or juice to get something done comes from something bigger than – and possibly outside of – “me.” Two of my siblings are musicians and they have a song about this called “Injection” – playing on the idea that an artist gets a sort of spiritual or energetic “injection” to be able to make a work. Maybe this is referring a bit also to your earlier question about being “in” the work…
Amy Fung: At the end of the day, I have to be happy with it, to feel I have done as much as I can for the text and be able to champion it and defend it. A project like a book is never the end of the conversation, but the beginning of one, and my responsibility is to acknowledge the existing conversations already happening around me and to join in with some modicum of interest and respect.
Leah Horlick: I think I used to really push myself to “show something” for all the work I’d been doing internally, and I’m trying to ease up on myself about that. I’m trying to balance that with affording myself lots of time to make sure I feel as good and safe as possible about the work I’ll be sharing. It’s so tempting for me to rush things in the name of productivity but that’s not necessarily a good reason to hustle a poem out the door! I don’t feel a certain responsibility to the poems, but I do feel a lot of joy about sharing work with others, which is a lovely motivation itself.
Hana Shafi: It’s hard for me to write consistently without a strict deadline, so I have to create fake ones in my head. I do feel a sense of obligation to myself to complete it though; I’m often disappointed in myself for abandoning projects or letting them just sit around for too long.
Zoe Whittall: Interesting question! Sometimes I feel a responsibility to imagined readers, to not waste their time, to give them sentences worth underlining and thinking about. Sometimes I feel a responsibility to the imagined career I’m aspiring to, that I want to make sure not to repeat myself, to try new things while still keeping true to an authentic authorial voice, to my style. These days I’ve already been paid for books to come, so I feel a responsibility to keep my commitment to the editors who are waiting. But in terms of feeling a responsibility to the characters – I’m not sure. I feel attached to the characters. I feel like I want to see their journey through in some way, and I’m a character-first kind of writer, that’s how I discover the story. The ideal audience or reader shifts depending on what I’m trying to accomplish with each book. With my first book I wanted to write an experimental novel about a young queer femme figuring out who she was, and I wanted it to be funny and sexy and reach a queer readership at a time when maybe I could count on one hand the books that had queer or femme content. With each book there’s a bit of a shift in terms of who I’m thinking about as a reader, and often I try not to think about the reader in a publishing sense until I’m done. If I do it corrupts the process in a way.
Amy Fung is a writer, researcher and curator currently based in Toronto, Canada. She received her Masters in English and Film Studies from the University of Alberta in 2009 with a specialization in criticism, poetics, and the moving image. Her writings have been commissioned and published by festivals, museums, and publications nationally and internationally. Most recently, Fung held the position of Artistic Director of IMAGES Festival, Toronto between 2015 – 2017. She is a co-founder of MICE Magazine and has served on numerous boards and juries across the country. Her first book, Before I was a critic, I was a human being is forthcoming 2019 from Book*hug and Artspeak Gallery,
Gwen Benaway is of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. She has published three collections of poetry, Holy Wild (2018; Book*Hug), Ceremonies for the Dead and Passage. A Two-Spirited Trans poet, she has been described as the spiritual love child of Tomson Highway and Anne Sexton. She has received many distinctions and awards, including the Dayne Ogilvie Honour of Distinction for Emerging Queer Authors from the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Her poetry and essays have been published in national publications and anthologies, including The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s Magazine, CBC Arts, and many others. She was born in Wingham, Ontario and currently resides in Toronto, Ontario.
Jen Currin is the author of Hider/Seeker: Stories, which was listed as a one of The Globe and Mail‘s top 100 books of 2018. Jen has also published four poetry collections, including The Inquisition Yours, winner of the 2011 Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry, and School, a finalist for three awards. Jen lives on the unceded territories of the Qayqayt Nation (New Westminster, BC), and teaches writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Leah Horlick is a writer and poet who grew up as a settler on Treaty Six Cree Territory in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Her first collection of poetry, Riot Lung (Thistledown Press, 2012), was shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award and a Saskatchewan Book Award. Her second collection, For Your Own Good (Caitlin Press, 2015), was named a 2016 Stonewall Honour Book by the American Library Association. She is also the author of wreckoning, a chapbook produced with Alison Roth Cooley and JackPine Press. She lives on Unceded Coast Salish Territories in Vancouver, where she and her dear friend Estlin McPhee recently concluded curating REVERB, a queer and anti-oppressive reading series. In 2016, Leah was awarded the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Emerging Writers. In 2018, her piece “You Are My Hiding Place” was named Arc Poetry Magazine’s Poem of the Year.
Hana Shafi is a writer and artist who illustrates under the name Frizz Kid. Both her visual art and writing frequently explore themes such as feminism, body politics, racism, and pop culture with an affinity to horror. A graduate of Ryerson University’s Journalism Program, she has published articles in publications such as The Walrus, Hazlitt, This Magazine, Torontoist, Huffington Post, and has been featured on Buzzfeed India, Buzzfeed Canada, CBC, Flare Magazine, Mashable, and Shameless, Known on Instagram for her weekly affirmation series, she is also the recipient of the Women Who Inspire Award, from the Canadian Council for Muslim Women. Born in Dubai, Shafi’s family immigrated to Mississauga, Ontario in 1996, and she currently lives and works in Toronto. It Begins With The Body (2018; Book*hug) is her first book.
Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People was a bestseller in Canada. Her debut novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, was named one of The Globe and Mail’s Top 100 Books of the Year and CBC Canada Reads’ Top Ten Essential Novels of the Decade. Her second novel, Holding Still for as Long as Possible, won a Lambda Literary Award and was an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book. She was awarded the K. M. Hunter Artist Award for Literature in 2016. Her writing has appeared in The Walrus, The Believer, The Globe and Mail, National Post, Fashion, and more. She has also worked as a writer and story editor on television shows such as Degrassi, Schitt’s Creek, andBaroness von Sketch Show. Born in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, she has an MFA from the University of Guelph and lives in Toronto.
Alex Leslie was born and lives in Vancouver and is the author of the short story collections We All Need to Eat (2018: Book*hug) and People Who Disappear (2012) which was nominated for the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction and a 2013 ReLit Award, as well as a collection of prose poems, The things I heard about you (2014), which was shortlisted for the 2014 Robert Kroestch Award for Innovative Poetry. Winner of the 2015 Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers, Alex’s writing has been included in the Journey Prize Anthology, The Best of Canadian Poetry in English, and in a special issue of Granta spotlighting Canadian writing, co-edited by Madeleine Thien and Catherine Leroux. Alex’s next book, Vancouver for Beginners, will be published by Book*hug in Fall 2019.