Ruth Ormiston

September 29, 2023
Master of Publishing (MPub) alumnus Ruth Ormiston (they/them) smiling in front of a graffiti wall. (Photo Credit: Zoe Mix)

Ruth Ormiston graduates this week from the Master of Publishing (MPub) program. Their research focuses on advancing and improving accessibility measures at literary festivals through an intersectional lens. Ruth is an associate at the Vancouver Writers Festival where they are continuing their work in building a more inclusive and equitable community. 

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I am originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba. I did my BA in English Literature at the University of Manitoba. I then did my MA in English literature at the University of Victoria

Personally, I enjoy many artistic pursuits. I do a lot of knitting in my spare time. I am also a self-taught graphic artist. I truly love being creative.

What led you to the MPub program at SFU?

As you can see, I come from quite a traditional academic background, and because of that, I’ve always loved books. 

I’ve been passionate about storytelling my whole life. I love how stories can make you feel seen, but also make you see the world in different ways. That, I think, is what drew me into studying books, from the very beginning, and then the MPub program, in 2021. 

Last fall, I did my MPub professional placement at the Vancouver Writers Fest. I was helping them implement and improve their accessibility measures. I am currently back as their accessibility coordinator for this season. 

Did you have a favorite publishing course? Was there a particular project you loved working on? 

I am stuck between two courses! So it’s a tie between PUB 602, the design class with Mauve Pagé, and PUB 801, the publishing history class with Amanda Lastoria. The through line is that they're both heavily design related, but in different ways. I am extremely interested in book design, which was one of the major reasons that drew me to the program. I loved how Mauve’s class focused on the technical side of book design and working with the software while Amanda's class provided context on certain design choices and the history of book design. 

The book project was the most memorable one for me. It was during our first semester, of course, and because we were put into these smaller groups, we had to work closely with each other very early on in the program. Some of my group members from back then have now become my best friends. We talk every day! It was an incredible bonding experience, but it was also a great learning experience. 

I enjoy learning through doing, and the book project gave me exactly that. It is essentially a simulation of what it's like to be working for a publishing imprint and having to do different jobs while wearing different hats. So that was amazing. 

How has the MPub helped shape the path that you are now on? 

As I mentioned earlier, the program really gives you the opportunities you need. For example, my professional placement at the writers fest happened due to Suzanne and John and the MPub. I also think the program prepared me for the placement, in terms of understanding what a publicist does or knowing how to communicate with publicists and authors, which is important, especially for the writers fest. 

Another thing the program helped me with is confidence. I became more reassured in my abilities as a designer, especially in a professional setting. I truly appreciate the publishing program. It feels very much like a family and a community. When I go to alumni events or other professional development meetings, I always feel like these are my people. The instructors want to help you succeed. That has been truly refreshing and reassuring.

Ruth holding a copy of the Writers Fest program guide outside of Festival House on Granville Island. (Photo Credit: Leena Desai)

Can you share your most cherished moment at SFU?

Well I think the first thing that comes to mind is the Vancouver campus because I spent most of my time there as an MPub student. I loved the Harbour Center location. That’s where the MPub is. You’re right at the heart of downtown Vancouver, so it was great being there, especially since I was new to the city. I’ve held onto some good memories of my classmates and I. Whenever we had a long day, we would go get Vietnamese coffee at a place right down the street. We would always look forward to our breaks. While it was a bonding experience for us, it wouldn’t be the same if we were somewhere else. We had these fun options because we were going to school in downtown. Plus the view from the publishing offices on the third floor is amazing. 

What has been your biggest learning so far, and what is next for you?

For me, personally, learning about the colonial legacy of English language publishing was extremely significant. I think it was one of the most important things we talked about in the program. It definitely deepened my understanding of how the publishing industry works today.

On a technical level, learning about digital publishing methods such as epub and podcasting was both exciting and crucial because that is the future of publishing. I believe a lot of work will be headed in that direction.

We are going into the writers fest immediately after the convocation, so it’s going to be a very busy month. I'm excited for it. So yeah, I am looking forward to my second year at the festival and take in the events and interact with the people there. Once that ends, I have a bit more work to do with the writers fest. 

I've really enjoyed working in the festival community, and I also love doing anything design related. So, I'm just keeping myself open to new opportunities. 

Can you elaborate on the work that you do at the Writers Fest? 

I consider myself the accessibility point person. We have an accessibility round table set up at the writers fest every month. We meet with community members who have had lived experience of different disabilities, and they are compensated for their time and their expertise. 

These members provide us with their feedback on how we can improve accessibility at the festival. So, I listen to them and I take their advice and I implement it internally. I work with different departments to integrate the roundtables’ recommendations. 

Do you have any advice for our newest cohort and for students who maybe considering both our undergraduate and graduate program?  

As someone who has had broad or varied interests, I found that the publishing program is one place that will appreciate and encourage your uniqueness. I know we’re often taught to focus on one thing, but the program allows you to explore your interests and your skills, and it also teaches you to embrace them. So, if you ever feel like you need to narrow down your interests, don't do it. The publishing program will support all your endeavors. 

While you're in the program, try out the weirdest or the most out-there ideas you have. You will have the opportunity to work on different creative projects where you can test out those ideas. Don’t be afraid to take risks because the MPub is the right place to explore and push your limits.

Connect with Ruth here

Learn more about Ruth here

Learn more about the MPub program here