Author Tags: Fiction, Film

Born in Vancouver in 1954, Linda Svendsen has lived in New York and published fiction in the The Atlantic, Saturday Night, O. Henry Prize Stories, Best Canadian Stories and The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. She won first prize in the 1980 American Short Story Contest.

Marine Life, published simultaneously in the U.S. and Canada in 1992, and later in Germany, is a Vancouver-based collection of connected stories about a lower-middle class family. It was nominated for the LA Times First Book Award and later adapted for the screen by Lori Lansen as a feature film.

Her first novel, Sussex Drive (2012), is a political satire set in Ottawa in 2008, in which two powerful women compete for behind-the-scenes influence when they're not driving their kids to school. It's a battle of wits between the "cagey but kind" Quebecois Governor-General Lise Lavoie and the "politically savvy, uber-reliable wife of the autocratic Conservative PM," Becky Leggatt as to who can best influence Canada's foreign policies.

Svendsen returned to Vancouver in 1989 to teach creative writing at UBC where she edited Words We Call Home, an anthology that celebrates the silver anniversary of Canada's first accredited Creative Writing department.

Also a screenwriter, she adapted The Diviners by Margaret Laurence for a two-hour CBC movie and received a 2004 Gemini Award for co-writing the mini-series Human Cargo, a CBC production about social upheaval in Africa and an Afghan woman who has been smuggled into Canada, post 9/11. Human Cargo, which garnered 7 Gemini Awards and a George Foster Peabody Award. Another television project was At the End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story. Having become the Chair of the UBC Creative Department, she received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006 to develop Immunity, a mini-series about the global AIDS crisis. She has also been a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute and a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.


Writing at UBC, edited by Linda Svendsen (UBC Press, 1990)
Marine Life (Giroux, 1992)
Write Turns: New Directions in Canadian Fiction, edited by Linda Svendsen, Alison Acheson (Raincoast, 2002)
Words We Call Home: Celebrating Creative
Sussex Drive (Random House 2012) 978-0-307-36221-6 $22

[BCBW 2016] "Fiction" "Film" "Movie"

Words We Call Home (UBC, $19.95)

from BCBW
Seems like only yesterday, but it's actually been 25 years since the UBC Creative Writing department, the first such accredited writing department in Canada, first took attendance.

In honour of the department's silver anniversary, an anthology, Words We Call Home (UBC Press, $19.95), has been edited by Linda Svendsen. Numerous contributors pay tribute to C.W. department founder, Earle Birney, who was succeeded by department heads Robert Harlow and George McWhirter.

It's a fair bet you've read a book, seen a play or watched a movie made by one of the writers in the anthology:

Leonard Angel, Christiane Balk, Carol Bolt, Roo Borson, George Bowering, Robert Bringhurst, Frank Davey, Don Dickinson, Glen Downie, Daryl Duke, Kenneth Dyba, David Evanier, Marya Fiamengo, Michael Finlay, Dennis Foon, Cathy Ford, Eric Forrer, Bill Gaston, Gary Geddes, Kico Gonzalez-Risso, Elizabeth Gourlay, Paul Green, Genni Gunn.

Geoff Hancock, Hart Hanson, Robert Harlow, Ernest Hekkanen, Gladys Hindmarch, Jack Hodgins, Margaret Hollingsworth, Debbie Howlett, Ann Ireland, Sally Ireland, Surjeet Kalsey, Lionel Kearns, Norman Klenman, Charles Lillard, Cynthia MacDonald, Kenneth McGoogan, Florence McNeil, Kim Maltman, Jill Mandrake.

Daphne Marlatt, Seymour Mayne, Jennifer Mitton, Daniel David Moses, Erin Moure, Jane Munro, Rona Murray, Morgan Nyberg, Morris Panych, George Payerle, E.G. Perrault (who was in Earle Birney's first class), Karen Petersen, Maida Price, Linda Rogers, Lake Sagaris, Andreas Schroeder, Robert G. Sherrin, Heather Spears, Richard Stevenson, Dona Sturmanis, Fred Wah, Tom Wayman, Ian Weir, Jim Wong-Chu, Andrew Wreggit and Derk Wynand.

UBC Creative Writing Department
An Overview (2007)

from Linda Svendsen, Dept. Chair
The Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia has now celebrated its 42nd year on the UBC-Vancouver campus. In the past 25 years, Creative Writing Programs have enjoyed incredible growth at North American universities; in 1975 there were 15 MFA Programs, in 2004, there were 109. (Associated Writing Program institutional membership has more than quadrupled since 1975 and is now over 330). A civil society in the heyday of its middle years, an immigrant population, and youth, as always, have found that they have news to report or express, and turn to creative writing programs for guidance on how to go about doing so, and, simultaneously, for sanctuary and stimulation. There has never been a greater interest in: advocacy for literature (e.g., CanWest’s Raise a Reader campaign), the marketing and promotion of children’s books (e.g., the Harry Potter phenomenon, New York Times Book Review bestseller listings for young children’s books, serial books, and Young adult books, the rise of successful chain children’s bookstores, and many feature films based upon literary adaptations of children’s works), and literary works exploring international and indigenous themes.

The UBC Creative Writing Program has grown to offer all genres of writing and this multiplicity has set us apart from peer programs, which have tended to focus upon three or four high-traffic areas. Our faculty—seven full-time tenure-track, sessional and adjunct instructors--tend to work in different genres and advocate this flexibility for our students, not only to offer a wider range of publishing and production prospects, but also to reinforce structural skills and poetics. It is our goal to continue to offer the depth and breadth of this program even while the university is in the midst of recurring financial cuts of $36 M. annually.

In 2006, UBC Creative Writing launched Canada’s first Optional Residency MFA degree program in order to offer a distance education degree to writers who were unable to move to the Vancouver area for two years. This cost-recovery distance education initiative is a notable success; the tenured and tenure-track faculty, who supervise the Optional Residency program, attest to the high caliber of instruction and student work. This program even attracts professional writers, with international awards and significant publications, who choose to pursue the MFA degree, or who want to develop strengths in different genres.

With a total of approximately 140 graduate students in our Program, we are approaching the size of the English Department’s total graduate enrollment.

In 1999, Dr. Shirley Sterling, with support from the Dean of Arts, taught the very first First Nations Creative Writing 202 workshop, which was warmly received. Since Dr. Sterling’s passing, Sessional Instructor Richard Van Camp has taught the introductory and fourth year workshop; Richard has also led the Musqueam Youth Group project, with support from UBC and Faculty of Arts. With the publication success of graduates such as Eden Robinson, Richard Van Camp, Marilyn Dumont, and Nicola Campbell, and the CD release of songwriter Russell Wallace, we are committed to building upon this relationship; the ultimate goal would be a Chair in First Nations Creative Writing and Literature.

One of our top-rated sessional instructors, Alison Acheson, is launching Creative Writing 439—Introduction to Teaching Creative Writing/Learning Exchange. Alison and twenty BFA and MFA students will liaise with Dr. Margo Fryer and work with Creative Writing students and elementary school students on the Downtown East Side in this service learning project. This is an area we will be watching closely.

Our relationship with the Vancouver International Writers Festival and the Vancouver literary community is in good shape; last year it is worth noting that 18 of the 47 English Canadian authors in attendance were graduates of UBC Creative Writing, the highest number ever. Professor Emeritus George McWhirter was chosen by the Mayor’s Committee as Poet Laureate of the City of Vancouver; funded by the contributions of Dr. Wosk, George will visit community centers, schools, literary organizations, and the Vancouver Public Library to publicize the anthology he is editing about the streets of Vancouver. Keith Maillard has joined the UNESCO City of Literature committee, chaired by former Writers Festival director Alma Lee, which aims to have UNESCO status conferred upon Vancouver.

There are areas of concern: The financial situation of the university has impacted upon the Creative Writing Program. The hiring retrenchments include: 1.3 Creative Writing 1.3 full-time tenure track positions (30% of the Creative Writing/Film Production Assistant Professorship and the Writing for Children position.) The Film Production degree programs, including the Joint Degree in Creative Writing and Film Production, are currently suspended; this particular degree was of tremendous interest to writer-directors, or auteurs, in Canadian and international feature film. The Writing for Children position is a concern in that we are the only MFA Program in Canada focusing upon this genre and have developed a highly attractive program (MACL, Master of Arts in Children’s Literature) with the Department of English, SLAIS, (School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies) and cross-faculty, with Education. At a time when there is genuine engagement with children’s issues—psychological and sociological development, literacy—we are committed to restoring the position Professor Sue Ann Alderson filled so brilliantly

The vision document for the University of British Columbia is entitled “Trek 2010,” and some of its main goals include sustainability, support of First Nations students, and global citizenship. We believe that the Optional Residency MFA, with its low carbon footprint and on-line program, is a model for sustainability. I have already spoken of our long commitment to First Nations writers and literature. And, in terms of global citizenship, our graduates include distinguished Canadian authors writing eloquently about their country of origin, or their family’s country of origin—writers such as Madeleine Thien, CBC Read’s Anosh Irani, Commonwealth Writers Prize nominee Anar Ali, filmmaker and MOMA invitee Bojan Bodrusic, and Kuldip Gill, among others. And many of our graduates live and travel overseas and come back to write about it: Adam Lewis Schroeder, Kevin Patterson, and Rachel Rose. “Only connect,” states E.M. Forster. We know of no better way than to share our stories.

-- Linda Svendsen, Creative Writing Chair, UBC