Graduate Student of the Month - Olivia Robinson
A graduate of the University of Prince Edward Island, Olivia Robinson is originally from the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. Her work has appeared in The Overcast, the UPEI Arts Review, and was shortlisted for the Room 2017 Fiction contest. This past summer, she completed a writing residency with TRACS on Fogo Island. In 2015, she won the Maritime Electric Short Story Award at the Cox & Palmer Island Literary Awards on PEI. She is a current MA creative writing student at Memorial and resides in St. John’s, NL, but has also lived in PEI and Ontario.
How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?
I was lucky enough to meet Lisa Moore in 2015. I had just finished my undergrad degree and didn’t really know how to move my writing to the next level, so I reached out to her for advice. I was on my way to a two-month writing residency on Fogo Island and stopped in St. John’s for a couple of days. She told me she was teaching a creative writing course in the fall semester so I signed up to take it as an unofficial student. I met so many wonderful writers in that course and the overall experience of it is what made me decide to apply. Although it took me almost another year to actually go through with it, I’m very glad I did!
What drew you to explore creative writing originally?
I had two wonderful professors during my four years at the University of Prince Edward Island — Richard Lemm and Brent MacLaine — who are both beautiful writers and excellent teachers. I’ve always loved writing and reading, but Richard and Brent were the first people who encouraged me to pursue it more seriously. I started out planning to major in biology at UPEI, if you can believe it, but soon realized that was not for me. I had fallen into the trap many young people find themselves in, of giving up on something they love because someone told them they wouldn’t be able to get a job with an English degree. Luckily for me, I realized early I had made the wrong decision. The opportunities are endless if you’re dedicated and passionate enough to seek them out. Writing is what I love, and I’m so grateful for Richard and Brent’s encouragement and inspiration.
Can you tell us a bit about your current projects?
I’m in the process of editing and filling in the gaps of a novella I completed in Lisa Moore’s creative writing class this past semester. Everyone in the class wrote a novella, around 20,000-30,000 words. I loved reading everyone else’s work and the discussions in class. I’m also starting to think about my thesis project, which will be a collection of short stories. All of the stories will have a connection to the Atlantic provinces, either through setting or the characters, but that’s all I know right now.
A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What does your supervisor Lisa Moore bring to her role as your advisor and mentor?
I could write an entire essay for this question! Lisa is an inspiration. Her work ethic is unparalleled, between writing, painting, teaching, and providing insightful, constructive feedback for her students. She always has the perfect book recommendation to get me out of a writing rut and encourages me to go outside of my comfort zone in my writing. This past semester, in the creative writing class, the whole group worked together on a podcast (which you can find online here, along with the ones from Lisa’s other classes, which was a really unique experience. It was a collaborative method of storytelling I haven’t explored before and really enjoyed.
Are you involved in any organizations on-campus or off? If so, can you explain and detail such involvement?
I’m helping with the Sparks Literary Festival this year, which takes place on Sunday, January 28th from 10:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. It has been a wonderful experience so far and I can’t wait for the day — I’m so excited to hear Sharon Bala read from her debut novel and I can’t wait to listen to some of Sue Goyette’s new poetry. There are so many excellent writers lined up! For more information on the festival, and the full list of writers, check out the website: https://www.hss.mun.ca/sparks.
What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?
I’ve only completed one semester of my program so far, so I still feel like I’m discovering things every day. But the best part so far is the people I’ve met, professors and students, who are so wonderful and friendly. I felt immediately at home. Before the holiday break, I discovered the Jumping Bean cafe in Hatcher House, with those lovely booths by the windows, so I’ll be spending a lot of time there next semester. Also the QEII Library has quickly become one of my favorite spots. I like going there early in the morning when it opens. I enjoy the feeling of campus waking up, everyone hurrying along the pathways with their coffee, ready for another day.
What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?
I’m hoping to find a publisher for my collection of short stories. I’d also love to go to the Banff Centre and explore more writing residencies around the world. I love traveling, so getting to write and travel would be ideal. Other than that, just writing, writing, and more writing!