The University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has a fledgling creative writing M.F.A., launched in summer 2013, that focuses exclusively on nonfiction and is the only program of its kind in Canada. The first graduates from the program say its new affiliation with Pace University in New York City helped make their introduction to the U.S. publishing world a positive experience.
Modeled on a program offered by Goucher College in Maryland, the two-year low-residency M.F.A. is ideal for students who are continuing their careers while completing their degrees. Each academic year, students attend classes in Halifax for two weeks in August and then spend a week in January in either Toronto or New York meeting with people working in various roles in the publishing industry. During the rest of the year, they work remotely with the school’s mentors to produce a publishable manuscript by the end of their second year.
Executive director Don Sedgwick says the program is “going like a rocket.” He notes that it took about five years for him and King’s professor and author Stephen Kimber to put together the program, which was championed by Kelly Toughill, director of the King’s College School of Journalism. Sedgwick says they’ve been gratified to be able to select about 20 high-caliber students each year, many of whom are already established writers and journalists working for Canada’s national newspapers, the CBC, and other media outlets.
The first class graduated in May, and Sedgwick says at least three students already have literary agents and others have received requests for proposals from publishers. He also reports that publishers in Canada have been tremendously supportive. Penguin Random House sent Pamela Murray to be an editor-in-residence for one week last year, and HarperCollins sent the award-winning nonfiction author Andrew Westoll to be an author-in-residence The program’s advisory board includes high-profile publishing professionals such as Anne Collins, publisher of the Knopf Random Publishing Group at Penguin Random House Canada.
One of the program’s attractions is the immersion in the Toronto and New York publishing scenes. The first year, the students went to Toronto and met nonfiction editors at HarperCollins and Random House, literary agents, publicists, and professionals at Kobo.
While planning the New York experience, Sedgwick approached Manuela Soares, a faculty member of Pace University’s Master of Science in Publishing program. Soares says she saw the program not as competition, but as something that was potentially complementary and a good introduction to Pace’s programs. “We also offer certificates, for example, in book publishing,” Soares says “and if you were a were a writer having done an M.F.A. and wanted to know more about how to get your own work out there, you could do a certificate with us.” In the fall of 2014, the schools formally formed an affiliation and Soares helped Sedgwick make arrangements to use Pace facilities when his students visited in January 2015. Pace alumni and adjunct professors were among the professionals the students met.
Graduate Pauline Dakin, a senior producer for CBC’s current affairs broadcasts in Nova Scotia, says the week in New York was “remarkable—we heard from well-known, well-established bright lights of publishing in narrative nonfiction, but then we also got to hear from people who are kind of new and more cutting edge and doing different things, so there was a full breadth of experience presented to us in the publishing world.” She adds that it opened doors to the U.S. publishing industry that often seem to be closed to Canadian writers. “We’ve had people who have been very generous and said, ‘Here’s my email, here’s my card, feel free to be in touch,’ so we have that ability to reach out to people,” she says. “People at Pace, people in the industry, agents—the whole realm of the industry was represented there at one time or another through the week.”
Dakin is not the only member of her cohort to have found the time at Pace enriching. “New York was a dream come true for me on a variety of levels,” says Genevieve Cole, of Seattle. “Don pulled out all the stops in terms of the people that we were able to meet and engage with about publishing and writing. We opened the week with Lewis Lapham and we ended the week with Adam Gopnick.” She adds that even though she is a U.S.-based writer, the trip to New York was still vital: “It’s the center of the publishing world, and it was just very energizing.”