An Interview with Alicia Elliott: Room's First Mentor-in-Residence

Interview by 
Jessica Johns
Alicia Elliott

We are thrilled to announce Alicia Elliott as Room’s very first Mentor-in-Residence!

Room’s mentor-in-residence program is a brand new program designed to pair established mentors with emerging writers. This year’s mentor, Alicia Elliott, will select between eight and twelve students to mentor (free of charge to the student) over the year of the residency, including manuscript feedback and career advice and support. The Outreach and Education Coordinator, Jessica Johns, will act as the coordinator of this program, and as the mentor’s assistant and mentor-in-training.

Alicia Elliott is a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River living in Brantford, Ontario, with her husband and child. Her essays, editorials, and fiction have been published widely. She's currently Creative Nonfiction Editor at The Fiddlehead. Her essay, "A Mind Spread Out on the Ground" won Gold at the National Magazine Awards in 2017, and another of her essays, "On Seeing and Being Seen: Writing With Empathy" was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2018. She was the 2017-2018 Geoffrey and Margaret Andrew Fellow at UBC, and was chosen by Tanya Talaga to receive the RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Prize in 2018. Her short story "Unearth" was selected by Roxane Gay to appear in Best American Short Stories 2018. Another of her short stories, "Tracks," was longlisted for the Journey Prize and appeared in Best Canadian Stories 2018. Her book of essays, A Mind Spread Out On The Ground, is forthcoming from Doubleday Canada in March 2019.

Here is what Alicia Elliott had to say about her new position as our Mentor-in-Residence:

ROOM: What qualities are you looking for in a mentee?

AE: I want to work with someone who is passionate, curious and interested in trying new things. I'd prefer to work with someone who already recognizes that the first thing that they write is often not the best thing, and therefore will most likely need finessing, but I understand that newer writers have to learn that somewhere. Why not with me?

ROOM: What kind of writing are you excited by?

AE: I'm excited by work that excites the writer. There's an energy to excited writing that can't be faked. It draws readers in and encourages them to open themselves up to writing, experiences, forms and ideas that they might not have been open to otherwise. I'm excited by challenging writing—challenging to me, challenging to society, challenging to convention, but most importantly, challenging to the writer themselves. I'm excited by writing that takes risks, that is soft when convention says it should be hard, or is hard when convention says it should be soft.

ROOM: How do you hope to approach mentoring emerging writers through this program?

AE: I want to get to know the goals of the writer right off the bat so we can make a plan. From there, I want to help them figure out whatever they feel they need: help with form, help with structure, help with content, editing, applying for grants, etc. It's important the writer knows what they want to get out of working with me so we can work towards achieving those goals together. I'm hoping that the writer feels supported throughout the process, and that they come out a better, more confident writer with an understanding of the literary tools at their disposal.

ROOM: What do you hope to accomplish by the end of your time with a mentee?

AE: It depends on what they're hoping to accomplish. If they want to work on editing a particular piece until it's ready to be sent out, than I want to work with them on it until it feels ready. Then I want to help them figure out the best avenues for that piece, and hopefully it'll be published. If they want to work on something else—like developing their self-editing abilities, for examplethen I want to work with them on how to distance themselves from their work enough to be able to edit effectively. If they want help figuring out how to write pitches, or manuscript proposals, I want to help them with that. Either way, I hope by the end of my time with a mentee, they feel more confident in their abilities and their work, and that they know I'll always be there to cheer them on. I hope they feel like it was a valuable, nourishing experience.

ROOM: What genre/s will you be working within throughout your tenure?

AE: Fiction and creative nonfiction. While I love poetry, I don't feel confident in my ability to mentor a poet in the way that they need and deserve.

“It's Canadian, feminist, and one of my favourite things ever.”

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