Professional Profiles

Author says The Writer’s Studio changed her life

Ayelet Tsabari. Photo by Elsin Davidi.

By Natasha Townsend

Ayelet Tsabari’s success story is every author’s dream.

In 2011, when the graduate of The Writer’s Studio had finished working on a collection of short fiction, she decided to approach HarperCollins, who had published some of her favourite books of short stories. She queried them—without the help of an agent—and, to her amazement, they contacted her within an hour. She sent them the manuscript, and they wrote the following day to say they were interested in publishing her book.

It takes many writers years to get that far.

Today, two years later, her book has been released, and it’s already receiving acclaim: The Best Place on Earth was longlisted for The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in April. She’ll find out whether she’s made the shortlist in May.

The book is a collection of short stories dealing with themes of love, loss, and universal displacement in Israel told from the perspectives of Mizrahi Jews. As a Mizrahi Jew herself, Tsabari felt passionate about telling the stories of her people. “It was very important to me to correct the experiences I had as a kid—to include characters like me,” says Tsabari. “In Jewish literature, it is mostly Ashkenazi Jews that are represented; I wanted to tell the story of Mizrahi Jews.”

Tsabari’s writing journey began in Israel. She wrote articles, essays, short stories, and poems throughout her teen years, and later enjoyed a successful career in journalism. Moving to Canada in 1998, she knew she had to learn to write in English. In 2006, Tsabari wrote her first story in her second language, and was accepted to The Writer’s Studio only a year later.

SFU creative writing program was a turning point

The Writer’s Studio was a turning point in Tsabari’s life that she believes contributed to her success. She was initially insecure about her creative writing abilities, but with the encouragement of her mentor, Wayde Compton, she developed into the writer she is today.

The Best Place on Earth, by Ayelet Tsabari,
was released by HarperCollins in March 2013.

“I don’t know if I would have believed in myself without his belief in me,” says Tsabari. “Through our talks, mentorship meetings, and the feedback I received, Wayde gave me the confidence to keep going—confidence I don’t think I would have had without him.”

Compton, the current program director of The Writer’s Studio, believes the Studio’s mentorship model sets them apart from other programs.

“We take a more naturalistic approach. The mentor acts not as a teacher, but as a writer in a community producing work,” says Compton. “The students are viewed as writers as well, gaining experience from more experienced writers about practical issues.”

The Writer’s Studio workshops coupled with Compton’s mentorship strengthened Tsabari’s writing. While in the program, she also learned the business side of writing.

“Elective courses helped prepare me,” says Tsabari. “Getting Published, taught by Mary Schendlinger, was very informative and hands-on. It taught me how to write queries, reach out to agents, and write proposals. The Writer’s Studio taught us not just the creative process, but the business side as well.”

Compton says Tsabari’s talent was apparent early on. “She already came in so skilled. She could write scenes, characters, and leap between people, but needed improvement developing stories—where is the story and how does it work? Now she’s mastered it, this is her first book, and it’s so self-assured.”

“I thought The Writer’s Studio would give me discipline, skills, and confidence, but it exceeded my every expectation,” Tsabari says. “I couldn’t have imagined what an amazing experience it would be. It changed my life.”