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Governor General Award-Winner: It began with The Writer’s Studio

January 16, 2015
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Arleen Paré receives a Governor General's Award.
Image by MCpl Vincent Carbonneau, Rideau Hall.
©Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Canada represented by the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General (OSGG), 2014. Reproduced with permission of the OSGG, 2014.

By Amy Robertson

When the voice on the phone said she had important news to share, Arleen Paré asked for a moment to sit down.

The author had learned only 10 days prior that her third book, Lake of Two Mountains, had been shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. When the call from Canada Council came, she knew she’d won.

“It was a fabulous, fabulous moment,” she says.

The win is still sinking in for the graduate of The Writer’s Studio, part of SFU Continuing Studies. “It was never on my radar,” she says. For Paré, just getting published feels nearly as good as winning an award—and it’s almost as difficult.

Writing is a second career for Paré, who spent years working in social services. After completing her master’s degree thesis, she found she missed writing, so she began a novel. She joined a writing group and soon began to take writing classes, which led her to Betsy Warland, a Vancouver author who began The Writer’s Studio.

“I thought she was a brilliant teacher,” says Paré. “I knew I could learn a lot still from her.” Paré completed The Writer’s Studio in 2002—the second run of the program.

“It was completely brilliant,” she says. For her, the most appealing thing was the opportunity to learn and workshop with a group of like-minded writers for an entire year. By the end, she says, “I felt like I had some mastery of writing.”

Her entry into the world of writers also helped propel her into her new career. Shortly after completing The Writer’s Studio, she retired from social work and began to focus on writing.

Paper Trail (NeWest Press 2007), a story inspired by her time as a social worker, made her the first Writer’s Studio graduate to publish a book. In 2008, it won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Prize. She published her second book, Leaving Now (Caitlin Press), in 2012.

Lake of Two Mountains (Brick Books 2014) is a collection of poems inspired by a lake of the same name in Quebec where she spent time as a child.

Wayde Compton, who currently directs The Writer’s Studio, is thrilled about Paré’s achievements.

"Arleen’s literary trajectory through and beyond the Writer's Studio has been phenomenal,” says Compton. “Her writing is daring, original, and increasingly masterful. Arleen is also the most prolific of our alumni, with three books to her name and, I'm certain, many more to come in the future."

“None of this would have happened, I don’t think, without The Writer’s Studio,” Paré says.