Kings Journalism banner

Award-winning essayist Alicia Elliott is King’s 2019 Writer in Residence

January 31, 2019
Photo: Ayelet Tsabari

When Alicia Elliott was in Toronto in the spring of 2017 for the National Magazine Awards — she won for best essay — “the amazing writer and photographer [and now King’s MFA mentor] Ayelet Tsabari had offered to take some professional headshots for me. As we were talking between shots, she suggested to me that I write a book of essays, since I’d already written so many. My husband had suggested I write a memoir before, but the usual form of memoirs – following your life from birth to where you are now and requiring a tidy ending when your life was still happening – never appealed to me. When Ayelet suggested a book of essays, though, it all made sense.”

In March, Penguin Random House will publish that collection of essays, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, “a personal and critical meditation on trauma, legacy, oppression and racism in North America.”

The book is already generating advance buzz: Maclean’s critic Brian Bethune describes it as a “standout” nonfiction book for 2019. “We need to clone Alicia Elliott because the world needs more of this badass writer,” writes author Eden Robinson. Adds Seven Fallen Feathers author Tanya Talaga: “Alicia Elliott has gifted us with an Indigenous woman’s coming of age story, told through engagingly thoughtful, painfully poignant and enraging essays on race, love and belonging.”

In August, Elliott, a Haudenosaunee writer, will be Writer in Residence for the University of King’s College MFA in Creative Nonfiction Residency in Halifax in August.

“Alicia is one of the most exciting Canadian essayists writing today. Her pieces provoke and engage her readers, challenging us to expand our understanding of the issues she is tackling,” says Kim Pittaway, executive director of the King’s MFA program. “We are delighted to have her joining us.”

Elliott will do a public reading from her new book, teach a master class and meet one-to-one with senior students in the MFA program.

Ironically, Elliott says she was “rejected from every creative writing MFA program right out of my undergrad.” (For the record, the King’s MFA hadn’t launched when she was applying!)

But she has plenty of excellent advice for all writers, including to expect rejection: “The most important thing to remember is that — MFA under your belt or not — you’re going to get rejected,” she wrote in the Malahat Review. “A lot. And it’s really, really going to hurt. But after about the fiftieth ‘no,’ the amount of time it takes you to recover (and stop cursing the name of the editor that rejected you) starts to lessen. You can more easily accept that your work wasn’t for them, that that’s okay, and that you’re going to keep trying anyway. Because when you do finally get a ‘yes,’ that feeling is so much sweeter, so much more memorable than any ‘no.’”

More reading: