Student wins writing contest with intensely personal story
Mount student produces award-winning story with support of campus writers’ community
October 30, 2012, 8:09 PM AST
Last updated November 12, 2012, 5:25 PM AST
Crystal Vaughan wrote about a painful side of her family history and won an award for her short story, “Pieces.”
“I was going through something kind of crazy with my family at the time and it was on my mind a lot and it just seemed like the perfect thing to write about.”
She had learned that she was adopted at 13 and that her mother had two teen pregnancies, giving up both children for adoption. She interviewed her family members and collected these stories about her past.
Winning the top spot in the non-fiction category of this year’s Atlantic Writing Competition wasn’t easy. Crystal had been developing her writing skills since middle school, when she decided to become a writer. The creative writing community at Mount Saint Vincent University encouraged her ideas and provided mentorship.
Winning the competition brought an invitation to read at Word on the Street, the annual book and magazine festival held in Halifax in September.
“It was terrifying because public speaking is nerve-wracking for me. Also, it’s a very personal story so I was nervous about reading a part of it in front of strangers,” she says. “Plus, I’m my worst critic and don’t think anything I write is very good.”
Creative writing professor Clare Goulet, the Mount’s president, Ramona Lumpkin, and fellow students came out to support her. Vaughan wrote the story for Goulet’s creative writing class in fourth year.
“It’s really an honour to work with people when they’re making something that comes straight out of their own life,” Goulet says, “and that kind of lingers on and goes places that I never expected it would
or they never expected it would.”
Students were challenged to write a polyphonic non-fiction piece. Polyphonic stories include multiple voices that are given equal importance. The students used their own voice and the voices of two other people.
Vaughan included her family’s voices in the story but she doesn’t want them to read it. She worries it might upset them.
“That was a bit hard on my mother because she wants to read it, but everyone else understood,” says Vaughan. She says she might publish the story some day.
Clare Goulet heard students saying that they wanted opportunities to practise their writing after taking the course. She created the Voices Project in 2010, a writing group that meets once a month and brings in published local writers such as Rachel Lebowitz and Anne Simpson.
Meetings are held monthly at the Institute of Women, Gender, and Social Justice, which hosts events related to women’s issues. Lumpkin became president of the university in Oct. 2010 and participated in the Voices Project.
“It really fed my soul during that first year and I’m quite privileged to be a part of it,” says Lumpkin.
Goulet led the Voices Project for two years before becoming busy with other work. She says it’s important for students to find mentors and they should study the work of authors they love.
Vaughan had organized a writers group that met over summer break and she decided to lead the Voices Project this year. Vaughan’s advice to students is to make time in their busy lives for writing.
That’s what she’s doing. Vaughan is an administrative assistant, a teaching assistant for writing courses in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Engineering and she’s working on a novel.