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Shyam Selvadurai Inspires the Creative Writer in All of Us!

November 19, 2018

The Department of English BA and Literatures of Modernity MA programs were delighted to have author Shyam Selvadurai serve not only as our Distinguished Speaker but also as a guest Instructor of Creative Writing during the fall 2018 term. Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Shyam gained international recognition for his first novel, Funny Boy (1994), which won the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Lambda Literary Award in the US. Additional impressive publications include Cinnamon Gardens and Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, and the edited anthology Story-wallah! A Celebration of South Asian Fiction.

On November 19, as our Distinguished Speaker, Shyam treated us to a reading from his 2013 novel The Hungry Ghosts—published in Canada, India and Sri Lanka—as well as from his new novel-in-progress, Mansions of the Moon. He then engaged with the audience in a stimulating discussion about his career, including the topic of the upcoming film version of Funny Boy. As LitMod student Sam Boer notes, “It was refreshing and inspiring to hear a writer as masterful as Selvadurai recite his own work. I particularly enjoyed hearing about his experience revisiting Funny Boy many years after its publication while writing it into a screenplay. What a strange experience it must be, re-reading your own work and suddenly understanding the parents in your story better than you could when you wrote them!”

During the term, Shyam also led a series of creative writing workshops. These were attended by students in the Department of English along with those in programs like Media Production, Computer Science, and Immigration and Settlement Studies. Designed to help students cultivate their own styles in fiction, the short story, and literary non-fiction, the classes covered basic writing skills related to point of view, detail, and character, allowing students to hone their craft through his lectures, workshopping, and one-on-one consultations. Participant Mary Grant from LitMod comments, “It was such a privilege working with Shyam over the past few weeks to develop my work in fiction. He was absolutely a fantastic resource for developing my writing skills.” Mary’s colleague Shane Liu adds, “I loved the fountain of knowledge Shyam gave, and the tone he respectfully shared information with was both intelligent and inviting. He was open to all questions and was willing to answer each one with a story that felt personal and sincere.”

Shyam clearly enriched the experiences of our students and faculty this term. His presence highlights how creative writing in our department is a vital strength that connects students to global and social issues through the study of creativity and storytelling.