Writer-in-Residence speaks to campus club


Acclaimed Canadian author Joseph Boyden paid a visit to Wilfrid Laurier University last week as part of the Writer-in-Residence program.

The program, established last year, invites notable Canadian authors to stay at Laurier for a week to participate in book signings, lectures and, in the case of Joseph Boyden, a private session with a committed group of readers.

Laurier Reads Boyden (LRB) is a campus club sponsored by the office of Deb MacLatchy and organized by Tanis MacDonald and Ute Lischke of the English department.

LRB had read Boyden’s novel Through Black Spruce and discussed the work at their bi-monthly meetings.

Lawrence Hill, the guest author from last year’s installment, penned the novel The Book of Negroes. Of the book, MacDonald explained, “I had a course that fit perfectly into teaching that book, so when he came here I had a perfect audience.”

With no course offering Boyden’s novel in 2012, MacDonald and Lischke formed LRB. One of the biggest surprises for the professors was the diversity of the interested parties. “We were surprised that there was such an appetite across all disciplines,” stated MacDonald.

Individuals from all fields of study made up the group: approximately 70 members strong. This number included first years, professors, employees of the university and alumni.

Guest speakers joined LRB in their bi-monthly meetings to discuss aspects of the novel that related to their own lives. Boyden’s novel focuses on native culture in Northern Ontario, so many of the guest speakers had native background as well as Boyden himself, who is of native descent.

Following a fundraiser dinner held in Boyden’s honour on Wed. March 7, the author led a private session with the LRB group. He mainly answered questions that the group had prepared ahead of time but also read from the book and told stories of his past. Afterwards, he signed copies of the novel. Boyden also had an open lecture to the general public.

When asked what he was expecting from LRB, Boyden laughed, “A much smaller group.” The author explained that he was “honoured and impressed” by the attention and focus of the group. Deeply humbled by the praise he received, Boyden stated, “I grew up with 11 brothers and sisters. I’m still getting used to the idea of being in front of people without being in trouble.”

Members of LRB spoke of the presentation and how they felt about the experience. Undergrad student Eva Lolle, pleased with how the club had helped in her classes, said, “We did colonialism in class, which I’m very interested in.” “There were a lot of connections.”

Shara Spencer, a staff member at Laurier stated, “I certainly got a different perspective from being in the group … being able to talk to people with different perspectives and backgrounds really helped me read the book.”

Ultimately, Boyden’s involvement with the LRB had positive outcomes for the involved patrons. MacDonald and Lischke plan to keep the club and tradition alive in coming years.

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