Hannah McGregor's A Sentimental Education

October 20, 2022

Hannah McGregor is an Associate Professor in SFU's Publishing Program. She is also a podcast host and a newly published author. Although Hannah is currently on leave, she spoke with us about her role within the program and her brand new book. Hannah McGregor's A Sentimental Education is an enriching amalgamation of things that are personal to her.

A Sentimental Education explores your life experiences; your work, education, history, and your identity, both as a feminist and as an educator. What more can you tell us?

My goal was to bring the lessons I've learned from academic podcasting into my writing. Podcasting is a different medium, with different logics, including the tendency to speak from a more intimate, personal place. Academic writing usually deals in the impersonal. We teach students not to write in the first person and to value expert evidence over personal experience. While there are benefits to that, there's also a lot we lose when we strip the personal out of our work. A Sentimental Education is an experiment for me in bringing together the best of podcasting and the best of academic writing to create something new.

You began writing your book in 2018 but you mention how it had been “fermenting” for much longer. Since this is your first book, how was the writing process? What challenges did you face and overcome?  

The biggest challenge in writing my book was finding my voice. As a podcaster, I'm very comfortable with speaking in a more casual and personal voice. However, as a writer, I tend to immediately fall back on my academic training and write very formally. With each subsequent draft, my editor kept saying "I need more of you, I need more of your voice." I'm very good at first drafts, and I never suffer from writer's block, but this book took a whole lot of editing. It was a good reminder that you should never expect to write a first draft that's publishable; as the saying goes, writing is revision.

What does being a feminist scholar mean to you? You also talked about the idea of “collective learning” in A Sentimental Education. Could you elaborate on that?

For me, feminist scholarship is less of a what and more of a how. How are we making knowledge, how are we learning, how are we treating each other? I've met a lot of scholars who work on feminism as a topic but who don't do their work in a feminist way. They're invested in hierarchies, prestige, and a combative model of knowledge creation, where you prove how smart you are by tearing down other people's ideas. I'm interested in what work becomes possible when we focus on creating things together, learning from one another, and centring care. That approach has been central to my teaching, my podcasting, and increasingly my approach to research. Academia is a competitive world, but I don't think it has to be this way. I think we can imagine it otherwise.

Describe your role within the Publishing Program at SFU. What can we expect in regards to your work at the school?

Right now I'm on sabbatical, which means my role is reading and writing and thinking about things. But when I get back, I'm going to become the new Director of Publishing. I'll continue teaching but I'll also be working on some curriculum changes, including expanding our undergraduate and graduate offerings. The world of publishing keeps changing, and I want to focus on making sure that we're not just keeping up with those changes, but helping to lead them.

Would you encourage graduates to join the MPub and undergraduates to take publishing as a minor? What do you believe the publishing program has to offer that’s distinct from other programs?

In publishing, we're all about praxis. That means the blending of theory and practice. We believe in learning about publishing by doing publishing, whether that's creating book cover designs, putting together your own magazine, or recording your own podcasts. You come away from publishing courses with lots of practical skills, but even more importantly, with the critical framing to help you understand how those practical skills fit into an industry that is constantly changing. I never want my students to just learn skills by rote. I want them to be prepared to think creatively and to reimagine what publishing is and what it could be.

Lastly, is there any advice you’d like to give publishing students? Maybe a motto that you’ve religiously held on to as you navigated your way within this industry? 

I've said this once already, but it really is my motto, so I'll say it again: we can imagine otherwise. When you're part of a large institution (like the university) or industry (like publishing), it can feel overwhelming just to navigate it, let alone change it. I come back, time and again, to this gorgeous quote from Ursula K. Le Guin: "We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings." Publishing is about telling stories, and while it might seem safe to keep telling the same story, we have the power to tell a different one.

Dr. McGregor's A Sentimental Education is out now.

Learn more about Dr. McGregor here.