Raoul Fernandes won a 2016 B.C. Book Prize for his first book of poetry.
Photo by Greg Ehlers.
For Raoul Fernandes, writing is a way of exploring his curiosity about the world around him. He chose the Writer’s Studio at SFU as a place to hone this craft exploration and published his first book of poetry, Transmitter and Receiver, after completing the program. The critically acclaimed book, which received the 2016 B.C. Book Prize for poetry, is a true expression of Raoul’s worldview and—although he is modest in saying so—his hard work in becoming a writer.
Raoul, what made you choose SFU as the place to study your craft?
I had realized quite early that writing poetry was going to be a significant part of my life, but deciding to go back to school for it felt like the next step in taking it more seriously… I had a bit of skepticism or nervousness about the idea of studying writing in an academic institution, as I had done it on my own for so long. But what the Writer’s Studio was offering seemed more refreshing and exciting. I liked that it was mentorship-based, that it covered various aspects of being a writer and that it would connect me with the writing community and other passionate writers. Ultimately, that was the most rewarding part—the conversations and deep thinking about my work and the work of others.
Can you offer any advice to other writers who are considering taking the program?
I feel it’s good to enter with the desire to grow as a writer, to challenge yourself and your assumptions. It's good to be open and thoughtful about your work in the context of other writers who are coming to the program with very different styles and traditions. And, like many things, what you get out of it is proportionate to how much you put in.
Can you tell us about the process of having your first book published?
I felt my time at SFU was about gaining the discipline and confidence for writing my first book… After I had a fairly solid manuscript, I ran it by a couple of writer friends (Jen Currin and Rob Taylor) and they helped me fix it up. Then I started looking around for possible publishers. Nightwood Editions was one of my top picks—they make beautiful books and I liked a lot of the writers they published. I sent my manuscript to them, they accepted it, and we worked on it for the next year and a bit.
“My time at SFU was about gaining the discipline and confidence for writing my first book.”
Photo by Greg Ehlers.
How did it feel to receive a B.C. Book Prize?
It felt good, I must admit. It’s nice to have approval, a little boost of confidence. But it’s also important to keep it in perspective and get back to the writing without any of that glittery stuff in your head. Also, there’s lots of little moments that make me feel just as happy, in a more manageable way: seeing the way people have been reacting to the poems, getting opportunities to be more involved in the literary community, etc.
You and your wife recently had a child—congratulations! How do you balance your writing with having a family?
Well, right now, with work, school and family, it’s hard to find much time. I read a little here and there and occasionally I’ll be able to have a brief window of time to write, sometimes with my new son napping on my lap. I don’t want to struggle for it—my family is very important to me, and I don’t want to feel bitter about not having a lot of time to write. I think the wheels are always moving, and I still try to think and process the world in a way that I feel will be good for my writing.
More about Raoul
What’s your favourite book?
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
What’s your favourite class you’ve ever taken?
The Poem’s Intention (taught by Jami Macarty at SFU).
How would people describe you?
Scatterbrained, thoughtful and gentle (I asked my wife).
What’s your favourite place to write?
Any nice café with good light.
What’s your favourite way to write: pen, pencil or computer?
Pen. Pencil is fine as long as it's sharp. Computers are for editing.