Thursday, August 26, 2010

Yay Melissa!

The Sou'wester
August 26, 2010

New writer-in-residence relishes latest challenge
By: Simon Fuller

Melissa Steele is the Winnipeg Public Library’s new writer-in-residence for the upcoming 2010-11 season.

The Winnipeg short story writer has a few weeks to sharpen her pencils before her seven-month tenure at the Millennium Library begins Oct 1.

Steele’s mandate will include working with aspiring writers through individual consultations and workshops, as well as allocating time to her own writing projects.

"I’m excited," said Steele, 47, who lives in Fort Rouge. "I have taught creative writing courses at the University of Manitoba, and in some ways, this will be a similar experience. But I’m looking forward to interacting with writers on a one-on-one basis without having the agenda of grading their papers."

Steele, who won the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Writer at the 1999 Manitoba Book Awards, will also bring a sense of empathy to her new position.

"I know how hard it is to focus on writing and how hard it is to write well. But as a mentor, I won’t have all the answers," said Steele, who hails from California but has collectively spent more than half of her life in Winnipeg and attended Argyle Alternative School.

"And I like to encourage people to read all the time. People often tend to read narrowly in one genre, but there are many different choices."

During her upcoming tenure at the library, Steele — whose husband, film professor George Toles, is known for his script collaborations with Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin — will also spend time focusing on her own writing.

She has already penned two short story collections, Donut Shop Lovers and Beautiful Girl Thumb, which were both published by Turnstone Press.

The latter work is currently shortlisted for the 2010-11 On the Same Page community reading campaign, which is co-sponsored by the Winnipeg Foundation. The other writers in the running are Michael Van Rooy, Catherine Hunter and Jake MacDonald. Readers can vote online at

In the past, Steele has also been involved with the mentorship program at the Manitoba Writers Guild.

"Melissa is a really wonderful mentor and a complete smarty pants," said Winnipeg writer Ariel Gordon, who is also events co-ordinator at Aqua Books in Winnipeg.

"As a mentor you want someone who cares about you and your work. And she was a really good role model for a young female writer," added Gordon, who lives in Wolseley.

"Melissa’s mentoring style is very intense and very careful. And what I particularly like about her is though she primarily writes short fiction, she can ably talk about many genres of writing."

The writer-in-residence program, which is a free service, was established in 1985 and created to give new, emerging and established writers a chance to have their manuscripts read and critiqued.

Copies of manuscripts can be dropped off at any Winnipeg Public Library branch, emailed to or sent to the Millennium Library, attention: Writer-In-Residence, Reader Services, 251 Donald St., Winnipeg, MB R3C 3P5.

Manuscripts must be by typed in 12-point font (prose: doubled-spaced, poetry: single-spaced) on one side of the page only. Prose submissions should not exceed 15 pages and poetry submissions should not exceed six poems.

* * *

Melissa mentored me as a part of the MWG's Sheldon Oberman Emerging Writers Mentor Program in 2002 and so I was thrilled to see that she's been selected as this year's Writer in Residence at the Winnipeg Public Library.

It was an honour to talk to a reporter this past week about how very excellent she'll be at the job. Which sounds like typical lit bumf, but she really is very good.

Also: submit! Submit!

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