Thank you to Talent Trust scholarship recipient and writer K.R. Byggdin, for sharing their touching work with us! And for also sharing their reflections on their art.
K.R. Byggdin grew up on the Prairies and now calls K’jipuktuk (Halifax) home. Their writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Grain, The Antigonish Review, The Quilliad, The Trinity Review, and several anthologies. They are currently studying Creative Writing and English Literature at Dalhousie University.
This reading is excerpted from a short story called “Home,” which won the Sheldon Currie Fiction Prize and was published in issue 195 of The Antigonish Review.
My partner and I moved to Nova Scotia in 2015, and I was struck by the subtle differences between visiting as a tourist and coming here to live.
One day as we were driving from Halifax to Yarmouth to visit family, the line about black versus pink milk cartons popped into my head and I just started to jot down ideas on my phone. It ended up becoming my first published piece, and I still resonate with the tensions and themes of this narrative today.
What are your earliest memories of your art?
I’ve been interested in storytelling from a very young age. My earliest efforts at writing involved a lot of “fanfic,” retellings of Franklin the Turtle or Star Wars. This kind of copycat writing could only take me so far, though. After one particularly bossy backyard production of The Little Mermaid in which I served as playwright, director, and performed several of the (best) parts, my cousins declared they never wanted to play dress up with me again!
It wasn’t until after high school when I read A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews that it hit me: I didn’t have to imitate anyone else. The stories I wrote could be rooted in my personal geography and experience. That was a real game changer for me.
How have you managed practicing your art during the pandemic?
First and foremost, any kind of structure or schedule had to go out the window. At the start of the pandemic I was often beating myself up for not writing every day because I had all this “free time.” But of course, that was nonsense. Battling constant anxiety and uncertainty uses up a lot of energy.
It’s so important to be kind to yourself and give yourself room to grieve these changes and zone out for a bit when needed. Interestingly, it was only once I let the idea of a consistent writing schedule go that I felt free to be creative again. I’m only writing when I feel up to it right now and I have produced a couple of stories I’m really proud of. But I’m also trying to go gently, to listen to myself when I’ve had enough and just veg out with a couple episodes of The Great Canadian Baking Show.
Who are your mentors and how have they influenced your art and/or career?
I’m currently working on a novel, and last year I was incredibly fortunate to participate in both the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia’s Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program with Jacqueline Dumas and the Banff Centre’s Emerging Writers Intensive with Joshua Whitehead.
Jacqui pushed me deeper into my story and helped me to fully enter the headspace of my characters and the world they were inhabiting. She didn’t hold back on her critiques or her encouragements, and I left the WFNS program with a novel that was lightyears beyond the first draft I developed on my own.
With Josh I was able to flesh out my protagonist more, focussing on embodying his emotions with physical actions and crafting dialogue to pull readers into a moment. Our time together was brief, but I learned so much from him and my fellow cohort of emerging writers that will stick with me always. I am so grateful and humbled by the mentorship and care Jacqui and Josh showed me and my work.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years, in relation to your art?
Well I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’d love to get a book-length project published at some point! But I also want to continually grow as a writer and creative person, wherever those opportunities arise.
There are so many writers in Canada producing absolutely astounding work right now—Catherine Hernandez, Casey Plett, Zalika Reid-Benta, Katherena Vermette, truly the list goes on—and I feel I learn so much about the craft of storytelling by reading and sitting with their work.
Every time I submit to a literary magazine it’s a learning experience, whether my work is accepted or, much more frequently, rejected. I’ve attended some really great workshops with WFNS that helped me get a sense of all the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into being a writer outside of the writing itself.
I’m also grateful for the support of the Nova Scotia Talent Trust as I go back to school to study creative writing. Overall, in the next five years and beyond, I want to deepen my understanding of how to write authentically and courageously.
As a queer and non-binary writer, I also want to put more stories out into the world that will resonate with and better represent people like me.
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