I met Alistair MacLeod during the cocktail reception for Humber College’s week long Creative Writing Workshop. The year was 2003. Alistair had corralled his seminar students to meet them and to establish the reading plan for the first two days
Up until that evening, I believed that I was in Alistair MacLeod’s group because he had been my first choice for a seminar leader. What I learned after talking to fellow students terrified me. He had been the first choice of more than half of the students I was meeting. They had arts degrees; I had two science degrees. Clearly there was a problem. Why would I be given my preference over others who had been writing creatively all their lives? Self-doubt crept in and settled in my gut.
So, it was with an uneasy feeling that I met Alistair MacLeod with my fellow seminar students.
“Which one of you is Lendrum?”
Oh no. This was it. My stomach lurched. “I am sir.”
“Good. We will start with your submission tomorrow.”
I was as close to fainting as I have ever been. With absolute certainty I knew I had been placed in Alistair MacLeod’s seminar group to illustrate how not to write. I approached the next morning with trepidation.
Alistair chose to begin the class with a discussion about writing, and deferred our reading of each other’s material until the next day. Perhaps he had seen my look of terror. If so, I was grateful. Alistair set the tone early on by saying, “Some of you have good beads but don’t yet have a necklace.” Had I been less caught up in anxiety, I would have known that nothing bad was going to happen in this group. We would be safe to explore our own and each other’s creativity.
My fellow students were an accomplished group and eager to share their work. They were bright, generous, and inquisitive. I listened intently to how they asked questions, provided affirmations, and I scribbled furiously whenever Alistair spoke. Somehow I managed to manoeuvre my way down the presentation roster, which only delayed the inevitable. It was not until Wednesday afternoon, with my presentation behind me, that I began to relax—a little.
I have kept my notebook from that week, and they are full of Alistairisms. The admonition that keeps me going on slow writing days is, “Write what you care about. Write about what worries you.” Or something like that. My handwritten notes from the first two days are tight and cramped. I had not yet unclenched. If I had been able to muster the confidence, I would have said to Alistair that the week had been special, memorable, and that his encouragement left me convinced that someday I would be a writer.
Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, published by Inanna Press in 2013.
(Photo – Front row L-R: Mary Jo Morris, Helen Du Toit, Alistair MacLeod, Bonnie Lendrum. Back row L-R: Rob Marsh, Ian Colford, Sally Moore . James Bartleman, Michelle Butler- Hallett, Rod McDonald)
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What an amazing experience to participate in that seminar! It was wise of you to pursue the opportunity and it’s clear you carried some of Mr. MacLeod’s lessons forward. Bonus classmate – James Bartleman.
They were all amazing…polished,confident, articulate and they knew how to write. I was fortunate.
I tell all my first-year students about Alistair, his readings, his own visit to my classroom for a session with that course, and his genuineness. I always cite the line from “As Birds Bring Forth the Sun” — “here in our own peculiar mortality” — when I remember he is no longer here in person.
Thank you David. I just finished re-reading the same collection of stories and sighed when I set it down. His writing is a gift to us.
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