Borderlines Writers Circle Visits U of A

On Friday, November 24, thanks to Borderlines Writers Circle participant Dr. Leilei Chen, the Writers’ Guild of Alberta partnered with the University of Alberta to offer students of ENGL 102 E1: Introduction to Critical Analysis, a Bridging Program course, an enhanced writing experience.

Four other Borderlines members, Nine, Mila, Luciana and Shimelis, shared their backgrounds in writing, their experience of writing in a foreign language and offered advice to the class of international students foraying into writing in English. Keep reading! was the number one parcel of wisdom. Other advice was to let yourself include words in your native language in your first draft; don’t be blocked by the effort of translation. Mila also suggested falling in love as a sure way to acquire a foreign language!

Dr. Chen shared her story of coming to Canada as an academic and now working on more creative material. This was a side of her that her students hadn’t yet seen, but one that is common to the members of this year’s Borderlines circle. In one way or another, each member has pursued studies at the U of A as a means to supplementing their creative work.

Thinking in another language is a step beyond vocabulary lists and grammar points. For Dr. Chen’s students, it involved critically examining family history, inter-racial connectivity, matrilineal inheritance in a patriarchal world–big subjects to explore in fiction, specifically, the novel Disappearing Moon Café by Sky Lee, and all in a foreign language.

After sharing their personal stories, the presenters conducted a “Blue Pencil” session, offering editorial comments on students’ draft papers. Luciana asked the students in her group to read aloud their best paragraph and they talked about why those sentences were effective. This built confidence before approaching areas that needed improvement.

I also participated in the session and found that as students read their essay aloud they were able to self-correct grammar issues which allowed us to explore the communication of ideas in terms of organization and clarity. By asking a few probing questions and noting their answers in the margins, I was able to provide notes for revision; the Socratic method, really. Overall, I was impressed by the students’ desire to learn a new language, and the facility they had already accomplished. 

This event was made possible because Dr. Chen received a Community Service Learning (CSL) grant from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta. CSL exists to link academic course work to community-based experiences. In this case, the members of the Borderlines Writers Circle, whose work varies from journalism to children’s books, to fiction, travel writing and ekphrastic poetry, exchanged energy and stories as writers in a non-classroom environment. Many thanks to the students and Borderlines members, especially Dr. Chen, for an enriching event!

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