Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Introducing a Young Writer - Sebastien Wen

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Sebastien Wen is a nineteen year old writer and musician. When I met him years ago I knew this would be someone to watch and he has not failed my first intuition. Sebastien has a great philosophy towards writing and is a wonderful mentor for other young writers. Want to see him? He'll be at the poetry slam Nationals starting tomorrow in Montreal along with poets from across Canada. Definitely worth checking out if your are in the area.

So are you ready to meet this young writer? Perfect! Now presenting Sebastien Wen:

KF: When did you start writing?

SW: I think I was seven when I started to draw these little comic books. I'd read those to the class. My first memory of writing a poem was in the schoolyard when I was more like nine. I started sinking my teeth into short stories around twelve. Spoken word and playwriting both started when I was fourteen.

KF: Who or what influenced your writing?

SW: Sheri-D Wilson helped me a lot with theatricality, lyricism, mysticism/lore in writing. As a kid, I read tons and tons of Poe. Probably everything by him. I love Shakespeare. I love how he's some kind of ghost, he occupies whatever voice he wants. Contemporary influences are Kevin McNeilly, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney... many.

KF: What kinds of writing do you do?

SW: Mostly playwriting, screenwriting, spoken word and page poetry (poetry designed for the page, not the stage).

KF: What is a poetry slam and how does it work?

SW: Poetry slam is a competition where performers get up on stage and do “something” for the audience. Usually they call that a poem, but really it could be a monologue, a song... it could be three minutes of beatboxing, but it has to be just you, your body, your voice, your words, their microphone. The performer gets rated between 0.0 and 10.0 by five randomly selected members of the audience. Slam is about creating an exciting, accessible way for audience to experience poetry and an opportunity for poets to share that with people who are listening. The scoring adds tension.

KF: What do you see as the main difference between a poetry slam/or open mic preformed poetry and poems on the page?

SW: Page poetry deals with musicality in a slightly different way. It usually pays to be very economical with your words in a page poem. You don't have to worry about performance for a page poem, but you can't rely on your delivery to convey your message. You also might want to pay attention to space on the page – how the words form up. Maybe a way to put it is that when I write a page poem, I am creating an artifact. It's something for a reader to sit down and explore, fiddle with, think about, dissect and investigate. There's no time for that with spoken word. You just tell the audience to strap in and then you floor the gas.

KF: What kinds of things do you like to write poems about?

SW: I write a lot from third person witness point of view, usually about myself watching and thinking about other people, often damaged people. Sometimes it's also about my relationship with those people. When something is bugging me, I write some political-rant type pieces.

KF: Where do you see yourself going with your writing?

SW: Right now I'm in Honours English at UBC. I'd like to do a masters in English and if I somehow finish a Masters, I'd like to somehow finish a PhD. I also want to keep doing slam until I am a slam-ninja. I'd be pretty satisfied if one day a team I was on placed very high in nationals. Wouldn't mind representing UBC at CIPS again and maybe making it into the finals. Middle-term goals – get a collection of poetry published, get a couple plays to fringe festival, start filming movies... You know. Just play. It's all about playing.

KF: Has there been a highlight in your writing life so far and what is it?

SW: Oh, man. So many great moments. Getting my first poem published was pretty exciting. Lunch with Beau Sia had me nerding-out. Okay, okay... Here's a good memory. The first night I arrived in Vancouver, I was barely eighteen years old. I'd never lived in Vancouver. I'd never lived on my own. I'd never been to university. The whole thing was scary. I knew the Vancouver slam scene was supposed to be awesome, so I went down the slam and it WAS awesome. It was so damn cool. And I went “okay, let's sign up and see what happens”. I brought the house down. That was so exciting – to have a room of so many people responding so well to my work.

KF: Do you have any advice for other young writers?

SW: Relax. Don't compare yourself to other writers, don't beat yourself up over your writing, don't constantly hound people for their approval of your writing. Remember to do this for yourself – because it's fascinating, because it's healing, because you want to be a master at something. Keep writing and remember that it's all just exploring and playing and improving and discovering. Also, edit. Cut the lines you don't need! Cut theeeeeem! It's a very long road to be good at something. I haven't even taken a step on that road yet, but I already know that it's worth the journey.

KF: Where can people see your work?

SW: Just youtube Sebastien Wen or go to

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Kim Firmston

Kim Firmston is a writer and creative writing instructor in Calgary. Her teen novels Schizo and Hook Up were Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Bet Selections. Her short story "Life Before War" was shortlisted for the 2008 CBC Literary Awards. Her most recent novel for teens is Touch, about a teenage hacker with a troubled family life.

Go to Kim Firmston’s Author Page