Acclaimed poet Leah Horlick is working on her first novel as writer-in-residence at U of C

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The Dybbuk is a 108-year-old Yiddish play based on a villainous character from Jewish folklore.

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S. Ansky’s play centers on a malevolent male spirit who possesses a young woman on her wedding day. It has been adapted in various forms over the years, including a 1938 Polish film, and is considered a classic of Yiddish theater that is still performed today. Opinions vary as to whether it is a love story, a tragedy, or perhaps a tragic love story.

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Either way, it’s definitely not a light prank. But poet Leah Horlick says she chose it as the basis for her debut novel because it would be a break from the dark narrative of her latest poetry book, 2021’s Moldovan Hotel.

“My book will explore what would happen if someone tried to be possessed by the dybbuk on purpose, which is also a theme of the original play,” says Horlick. “I would like to play around with it a bit. Mainly because my last book was very Holocaust-centric. So I’m excited to explore some themes in Jewish tradition that aren’t related to trauma to give myself a little break after seven years of working on a book that was a collection about the Holocaust.

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Horlick will have a major advantage as she works on her first novel: Time. As the new Writer-in-Residence of the University of Calgary’s Distinguished Writers Program, the poet will be consulting with local writers about their manuscripts over the next year. Unlike many similar programs, the U of C does not require a teaching component. That should give Horlick plenty of time to work on not just his novel, but a new collection of poetry as well.

She also thinks trying something new will benefit those who turn to her for advice.

“I think a lot of people who will hopefully seek me out for manuscript consultations will also be working outside of their comfort zone and working on new things,” she says. “So it will be an exciting way to level our playing field.”

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On Monday, Horlick and outgoing writer-in-residence, Calgary graphic novelist Teresa Wong, will take part in the traditional Hello/Goodbye event, where the two will offer samples of their work to the cSpace King Edward Studio Theatre.

Horlick has spent most of the last decade in Vancouver, but moved to Calgary just over two years ago. In July, she returned to her hometown of Saskatoon, only to be informed earlier this month that she had been chosen as this year’s writer-in-residence. It came after the original selection for the 2022/23 season, Marjorie Celona, ​​stepped down from her role at the end of September to focus on personal matters.

Horlick says she will split her time between Saskatoon and Calgary, which means she will spend a few weeks at the U of C doing in-person manuscript consultations, but will otherwise conduct online meetings.

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After earning her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, she published her first book of poetry, Riot Lung in 2012. But it was her sequel, 2015’s For Your Own Good, which established the poet in contemporary feminist and lesbian poetry. The collection has been described as a fictionalized autobiography that focuses on the narrator’s survival of domestic and sexual abuse in a lesbian relationship. He would go on to be named a 2016 Stonewall Honors by the American Library Association and win the Dayne Ogilvie Award for Emerging LGBT Writers.

Released last year, Moldovan Hotel was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award and the Raymond Souster Award. Horlick traveled to Romania to explore the displacement of her Jewish ancestors and the intergenerational impact of the Holocaust. It was during her seven years of research that Horlick discovered Ansky’s The Dybbuk and vowed to return to it when she had time.

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Although most of her work has been devoted to poetry, Horlick chose experimental fiction as one of the genres she hoped to explore when applying to UBC’s MFA program. She studied with Maureen Medved, author of The Tracey Fragments in 2007, but has yet to explore prose writing.

“My books came out pretty quickly, which is more a reflection of the publishing industry than how quickly they were written,” she says. “So to have the chance to finally review this, dust off this training and see what is possible, what is difficult and what is challenging, seems like a really amazing opportunity to explore during residency. It’s a lot of time and a lot of new learning for me, so I want to use the time I have during residency for things like that.

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When it comes to manuscript viewing, Horlick says the definition of the role is broad.

“People are welcome to chat about their careers or if they don’t know where to go,” she says. “I feel like I didn’t have many opportunities before I entered the MFA program to meet people who are making a living as artists. So if people have questions like that or aren’t quite sure where to start, that’s something I really enjoy working with people at all levels.

Hello/Goodbye featuring U of C Writer-in-Residence Leah Horlick and outgoing Writer-in-Residence Teresa Wong will take place October 17 at the cSpace King Edward Studio Theatre. Doors open at 6 a.m. Admission is free but registration is required. To register, visit go.ucalgary.ca/2022-10-17-HelloGoodbye-2022_Registration.html

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