Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Feature: Lynn Crosbie and The Writing Project at the AGO

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Lynn Crosbie

Writer and professor Lynn Crosbie is known as an innovator; her books have blurred genres and sparked controversy. So it makes sense that when she teaches a writing course, it's got an innovative twist.

Last week kicked off The Writing Project, a writing class taught by Crosbie and hosted by the Art Gallery of Ontario. Students are invited to draw inspiration from the permanent collections, and the class is taught on site at the Frank Gehry-designed gallery building. Moreover, final submissions for the course include a visual aspect. A lack of fine arts skills shouldn't, however, deter emerging authors; the visual portion of the project can be as involved as a painting or sculpture for the ambitious but collage, found art and photography are equally encouraged. Crosbie received everything from striking, spooky collages to chapbooks of beautiful photography in the course's previous incarnation.

This is the first time the course has run under this name and in exactly this form. It grew, however, out of an earlier course that was based around the AGO's popular General Idea exhibition and which, like The Writing Project, focused on the creation of a literary/visual hybrid project. That first course proved for Crosbie how valuable an experience it is for students to combine literary and visual output. "I've had great results from students," Crosbie tells Open Book. "People are a lot more creative than they think, especially with context and direction in the wonderful environment of the AGO."

Guests visit the Art Gallery of Ontario

Crosbie's other past courses have also been "tightly linked to gallery shows"; her first offering riffed on a Chagall exhibition. "It was a tremendously context-driven show," says Crosbie, which loaned itself naturally to the writing process. Representations of trauma in the artwork translated into an intense and prolific workshop experience. Crosbie was amazed by the improvements she saw in students' work and confidence. "It's useful," she says, "to be in an environment that's very supportive." Speaking to the traditional, highly critical art school approach, Crosbie laughs. "I try not to be the angry man in the beret [tormenting students]," she says. "And there are some amazingly talented people who show up."

The course originally grew out of several of Crosbie's interests and experiences. "I've been interpolating visual imagery for a long time as an OCAD professor," she explains. She also cites Lindsay Zier-Vogel's Love Lettering Project as an inspiration for the course. Works created by the students will draw on the personal and the autobiographical as well as engaging critically. "What you make, you're going to present to someone," says Crosbie. "But we still treat the work as work."

Having significant experience on both sides of the equation when it comes to writing courses, Crosbie is particularly enthusiastic about The Writing Project's unique environment. At the end of the previous course, she found she had "a group of people who didn't know each other previously who are as close as can be, and doing work ten times better than the first day. That's the little miracle [of the course]. There's something magical about it."

A student displays her creation for Crosbie's class

When asked about her own favourite area in the AGO, Crosbie immediately cites the gallery's modern and contemporary collection; a room featuring pop art icons like Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol and many more. "[They have several] big, striking pop works... it's a blow every time you go in". Crosbie praises the space for its inspirational quality, calling it "a way to start talking about what's appropriate in art and what's not appropriate... shock factor, wow factor."

Lynn received a gift from a former student, part of the student's creative project, that may speak to the success and creativity of the course: "It's a tiny little voodoo doll," she says, her voice wry. "Which I haven't used yet."

Photos courtesy of Lynn Crosbie

Lynn Crosbie is a cultural critic, author, and poet. She teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design and the University of Toronto.

For more information about Life is About Losing Everything please visit the Anansi website.

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