A New Course for Hispanic Canadian writers

Martin Boyd

Canadian writing in Spanish constitutes a relatively new branch of Canadian literature which, given the rapid growth of the Spanish-speaking community in this country, promises to increase in importance in the years to come. A recent milestone in this development was the publication last year, by the Ottawa-based publishing house Lugar Común, of Retrato de una nube, an anthology of short stories by established Hispanic Canadian writers which is very probably the first of its kind. This coming fall, one of the contributors to that anthology will deliver a course that marks another significant milestone for Hispanic-Canadian literature: the first university-level course in Canada devoted exclusively to literary production in Spanish, to be offered through the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. While many Canadian universities already offer courses in Spanish language and literature, this marks the first time that any university in Canada has offered a course focusing on the creative process of writing in Spanish. Students can take the course on its own or as a credit within the Creative Writing Certificate Program offered by the SCS.

The course was proposed to the university by Mexican-Canadian author Martha Bátiz, who wants to offer Hispanic Canadian writers something that she herself didn’t have when she first came to Canada; a forum where they can share and hone their work and develop their writing skills – all in their native language. “Since I arrived, I felt a huge need to join a writers’ workshop, because I believe strongly that sharing your writing with other people of like interest is a good way of finding out whether what you want to say or do is coming through clearly, and whether it’s being expressed in the best possible way.”

Martha Bátiz

Bátiz’s background as a writer leaves no doubt of her qualifications to deliver a course like this. Born and raised in Mexico City, she holds degrees in English and Latin American Literature and is currently completing doctoral studies at the University of Toronto. She was first published at the age of 22 in Mexico, where she won several creative writing scholarships and literary contests. Since then, her articles, reviews and short stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines in her homeland, as well as in Spain, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and here in Canada. Her publications include the short story collection A todos los voy a matar (“I’m Going To Kill Them All”), the compilation of articles and short stories La primera taza de café (“The First Cup of Coffee”), the award-winning novel Boca de lobo (“Wolf’s Mouth”) and México visto desde lejos (“Mexico Seen from Afar”). A new collection of her short stories will be published in Puerto Rico this year, with the English translation to be published by Exile Editions here in Canada. She also has extensive experience as a student in writers’ courses, having studied in workshops delivered by award-winning Mexican novelists such as Daniel Sada, Carlos Montemayor and Ali Chumacero. It is her intention to bring the level of seriousness and professionalism that she absorbed in those workshops to her course here in Toronto. “I didn’t want to hold a workshop in my house, because I’m not interested in forming a social club,” she explains. “I’m interested in offering something at the professional level. And (to do that), I felt that there’d be nothing better than having the support of a prestigious institution like the University of Toronto, whose School of Continuing Studies opened their doors for me because they know that I’m very demanding with myself… they know my way of working.”

The course is open to writers in Spanish of all genres and at all levels – from people with no experience at all to published writers – and will offer a range of exercises and activities of benefit to all students. “I don’t believe that workshops always produce great writers,” says Bátiz, “but I do believe that this meeting of like minds and interests is very beneficial, especially if there is constructive, objective criticism that helps both the writer and the text to improve. I can promise that the texts that come out of this workshop will be the best that each writer can produce in the given time.” To help achieve this objective, Bátiz has enlisted the help of Cañasanta – Canada’s most prominent Spanish language online magazine, with a large readership not only here in Canada but throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Cañasanta‘s editors have agreed to evaluate the work of each student in the course and to publish the works they consider to be the most outstanding or of highest quality. “My aim is that the Cañasanta editorial team will find it extremely hard to choose the best,” adds Bátiz, “because all the texts will be of a very high standard.”

Bátiz hopes that this course may establish itself as a point of reference for writers in Spanish in Toronto. “The ultimate goal is (for the writers) to feel proud of what they’ve achieved, and also, I hope, to set a precedent of excellence in literary creation in Spanish, so that the course can grow and become recognized as a place to which any member of the Hispanic community with a desire to write can come with the certainty that they’ll be in good hands.”

The Creative Writing in Spanish course is scheduled for Thursday evenings at 6:30 p.m. during the University of Toronto’s fall term, beginning on September 24. Writers interested in enrolling should contact the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies at (416) 978 2400 or online at www.ulearn.utoronto.ca.

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