Whitney French is also the founder and co-editor and of the nation-wide publication From the Root Zine, a platform for Black, Indigenous and woman of colour artists. Whitney French is also the creator of the nomadic workshop series Writing While Black, an initiative to develop a community of Black writers embraced by communities in Toronto, Halifax, Detroit, Ottawa, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Vancouver respectively. She lives in Toronto, Canada and works as an acquisitions editor at Dundurn Press, while simultaneously writing her science fiction verse-novel.
WHITNEY FRENCH: I don't know. I don't like this question, because I don't think I want to envision a "dream mentee". Obviously someone with good energy, but people are simply people. It's not like I wish for a specific quality for a mentee. They don't even have to be all that good of a writer. The only thing that means much of anything is that they are passionate about writing. I've had mentees who challenge me, I like that. I've had mentees who thought they were better writers than me. I'm ok with that. I've had mentees who were distrustful or disrespectful. I don't like that. But outside of those boundaries, I'm open. I don't have to like my mentee's writing. I just have to like them as a human, and trust in their passion. And know they'll do the work.
ROOM: What kind of writing are you excited by?
WF: I'm excited about writing that isn't afraid to play with language. Writing that digs deep at the bone, that is risky and daring and balances humour and sorrow. Writing that takes something familiar and makes it miraculous. Writing that doesn't take itself too, too serious and that speaks to multiple truths. Writing that's rooted in place and culture and people. Writing that makes me rethink what the written word can do. Oh any anything speculative doesn't hurt either.
WF: That's a great question, especially because I'm an emerging writer! My approach is to center writers' goals and desires. I wish to place them in a position of agency, choice and self-direction. I don't know what they'll need, they have to tell me. And I have to be humble enough to say when I can or can't-yet-but-maybe-later help them. Instead of schedules and deadlines, I think of rhythms and patterns. Formalized mentorships have these structures that often create a co-dependency between mentor and mentee and that's the last thing I want. God no! My approach is to re-remind the writer of their own skills, ability, capacity and potential instead of relying on me or any other source to strengthen their craft. And of course, I make mentees read a lot. I flush them with resources, I think about their stories while I walk down the ravine near my house and juggle ideas in between my fingers. I hope that something that I bump into in life helps them get close to the story they wish to tell.
ROOM: What do you hope to accomplish by the end of your time with a mentee?