Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Rita Deverell

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Rita Deverell

Open Book talks to writer and theatre artist Rita Deverell on the intersections between academics and activism, holding the Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at Mount St. Vincent University, and the collection of plays she recently edited, Give Voice: Ten Plays (Playwrights Canada Press, 2011).

Open Book:

What initially prompted you to become the editor of Give Voice: Ten Plays from the Obsidian Theatre Company Playwright's Unit (Playwrights Canada Press, 2011)?

Rita Deverell:

I had the great pleasure and gift of being in Obsidian’s Playwrights Unit in 2008. At our SRO public reading I was talking with a retired editor of Playwrights Canada Press who said, "These plays would make a great book." The comment stayed in my mind, and since I’m in an academic environment from 2009-11 I have the leisure to edit books and offer to PCP and my fellow playwrights. They said yes!

OB:

What is the meaning of the anthology’s title?

RD:

The title was suggested by the book’s illustrator, my son Shelton Ramsay Deverell. I didn’t select him though, PCP did. For more of his fine work go to Sky Envelope. As to what it means, it’s hard for all writers to find voice/space. Obsidian gives voice to visible minority writers for whom it is even harder.

OB:

You are the current occupant of Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at Mount St. Vincent University. How has this position spoken to your work as a creative writer as well?

RD:

Nancy’s Chair is permission to do my work. We just celebrated the 25th. Anniversary of the Chair whose terms are “a senior women’s studies scholar or distinguished women in some other aspect of Canadian life.” My work is in media, creative and journalistic writing, and as a theatre artist. I’ve been doing all of that while in the Chair, as well as teaching and making a ton of speeches.

OB:

How do you see the role of performance within the larger emancipatory project of women’s studies?

RD:

For the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day I did a benefit performance of my first one-woman show, "Smoked Glass Ceiling", to raise money for the Mount’s women refugee students. Need I say more?

OB:

Virginia Woolf once said, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." What does this quote mean to you? What does this room symbolize for you, as a writer/scholar?

RD:

Both the money and the room are real for me, no symbolism in sight. I must arrange my life always so I have space and support, eliminate the crazy makers, work with nourishing people, and pass it on.

OB:

Who are your favourite women writers and why?

RD:

My hobby since the age of 9 has been reading detective fiction. In that genre I adore Amanda Cross, Donna Leon, and Pamela Thomas-Graham. Less leisurely is Toni Morrison, Djanet Sears, Colleen Wagner, and Wendy Lill. I could go on.

OB:

Are you currently at work with any new projects?

RD:

You betcha. Two screenplays, an anthology of the work of Nancy’s Chairs, an essay on creativity, and a book chapter for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. I’m also being a mentor to three individuals at the moment, which is another project. I’m 65 so I have to hurry!




Rita Deverell is a writer, academic, and broadcaster, and known as the first woman to lead a journalism program in Canada in her position as Director of the School of Journalism at the University of Regina in the 1980s. She is currently the Nancy's Chair at Mount Saint Vincent University, a post that honours women scholars and activists who have contributed to the advancement of women everywhere.

For more information about Rita Deverell, please visit her blog.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon. You can also order it from the Playwrights Canada website, here.

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