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Nancy Richler wants to work one-on-one with aspiring writers

Photo courtesy of Nancy Richler

Unsure of what to expect with the writer-in-residence program at the University of Ottawa, Nancy Richler says she usually goes into new experiences like she goes into writing — leaving things open-ended.

Richler is the new writer-in-residence for the upcoming winter semester. The program—hosted by the department of English and jointly funded by the Faculty of Arts and the Canada Council—allows students direct access to professional writers of varying genres.

Last year’s writer-in-residence was André Alexis.

Richler is a Canadian novelist currently living in Montreal. Her most recent novel, 2012’s The Imposter Bride, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and featured on the Globe and Mail’s Best Books of the Year list.

Unlike many of her peers, Richler never taught creative writing as a means of income. Although previous writers-in-residence have taught a fourth-year English seminar on creative writing, Richler will not be taking this approach to her tenure at the U of O.

Instead, she intends to allot the time she could have spent in the classroom working on a more intimate and personal level with prospective student writers during her office hours.

“I love to work one-on-one with people,” she says.

The stress, anxiety, and unease of early writing is something Richler intends to spend a great deal of time helping students understand and overcome, as these are part of the writer’s lifestyle.

In previous years of the program, there has been a problem with student attendance during the writer’s office hours. To counteract this, Richler plans to visit the creative writing and English literature classes to find those shy and reclusive writers.

“You have to sort of seek them out and say, ‘Hey, I’m available to talk,’” she says.

Beginning her undergrad in English at Brandeis University, Richler opted to study history and political science instead to learn more about narratives, characters, and the stories of people’s lives — something she felt wasn’t being addressed in the English classrooms of her time.

“In my generation, I would have had to go into history classes to find the closet writers,” she says.

She came into writing after working as a counsellor with troubled youth for a number of years and, as she puts it, “absolutely failing over and over.”

She published her first novel Throwaway Angels in 1996, Your Mouth is Lovely in 2003, as well as The Imposter Bride.

Richler’s partner is currently pursuing a PhD in law at the U of O and the two are set to commute between Ottawa and Montreal at least a couple of times a week throughout the upcoming winter semester.

“I’m just thrilled to be in Ottawa. There’s so much more green space.”