The English and Drama Student Society, in collaboration with the Department of English and Drama, is set to launch the fourth volume of their undergraduate journal, With Caffeine and Careful Thought, in March 2018. With the theme of survival at the core of this project, the journal aims to expose the UTM community to experiences of physical, spiritual, and mental endurance through its collection of academic essays, poetry, and short fiction.
Shalini Nanayakkara, a fourth-year English and professional writing and communication major at UTM, and current editor-in-chief of the journal, explains in a interview with The Medium, that the Canada 150 events inspired the creation of the theme. The July 2017 celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday sparked controversy throughout the country. Some Canadians linked the occasion to colonialist ideologies, while others criticized the country’s failure to acknowledge Indigenous communities, who have lived on Canadian soil for over 150 years. Survival, Nanayakkara notes, can serve dual purposes: the theme can offer a method of celebration or an outlet to critique current worldly issues.
“Survival is broad enough where it’s not inhibiting for people in terms of creativity or in terms of what literature they’re focusing on in their essay. Everyone who has come to Canada has dealt with [survival], or anyone who lives here, if they’ve emigrated recently or if they’ve been here for hundreds of generations, it’s kind of something that everyone can relate with,” Nanayakkara says. “Canadian literature is very much engrained with survival, whether it’s English-British, Indigenous, or Japanese-Canadian writing.”
In past years, the journal, created by professor Chester Scoville and professor Lawrence Switzky, focused primarily on publishing academic literary essays. However, the EDSS have recently introduced the opportunity for students to submit pieces of creative writing. This year, the journal will accept submissions for work, centred around multiple themes of survival. They range from physical survival, such as domestic violence, to an individual’s metaphorical survival in university, to the analysis of survival in politics, gender studies, or diaspora. Priority is given to contributions from students in the English and drama departments, but students in other faculties are allowed to submit pieces or to apply for editing positions.
For the selection process, the team consists of EDSS members and specific faculty, including professor Liza Blake, professor Jacob Ross-Gallagher, and department chair Alexandra Gillespie.
During the selection process, the team, consisting of EDSS members and specific faculty, including professor Liza Blake, professor Jacob Ross-Gallagher, and department chair Alexandra Gillespie, will look for well-edited, high quality, and evocative pieces, and determine how each submission adheres to the theme and what role that piece can play within the collection. From there, editors will attend editing workshops and begin to work one-on-one with authors to collaboratively refine each text.
For Nanayakkara, the voice and emotionality of literary writing is what differentiates it from scientific or business writing. Ultimately, she explains that the goal of literary writing is to tell a story or ask the audience to think about their life. Nanayakkara compares an instruction manual to a poem; one serves the purpose of educational value, while the value of the other is dependent upon a reader’s interpretation of the piece.
Nanayakkara mentions how friends and family of students pursing an English degree frequently ask the same questions: why are you studying English? What are you going to do in the “real world” with that degree? But Nanayakkara believes that the humanities in general help people to understand and think critically about current events.
The rift between the sciences and humanities has frequently been debated upon. As Nanayakkara highlights the development of critical thinking, other observers have often mentioned a complementarity of perspectives between the two. The New Yorker describes how Steve Jobs attributed the ultimate success of the Pixar animation company to this very synergy by saying, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
“If you really think about it, the way we perceive the world is through narrative. We each tell a story about ourselves or other people, which may boil down to stereotypes, for example. And having an English degree is all about critiquing those narratives that we tell ourselves, and being self-aware of what’s going on in the world,” she explains. “The idea of literature might not be necessary for physical survival, but instead for spiritual and mental survival. It’s really important to express yourself and for people to read other’s experiences.”
Carl Kersey, a third-year English specialist and current vice-president of the EDSS, explains his perspective on the journal’s theme of survival by relating it to the longstanding history of humanities as a discipline.
“I actually connect it to the survival of humanities in a society that seems to be heading more and more towards sciences. We ask, ‘why are we studying humanities?’ but at the same time we are surviving and have been surviving for thousands of years. We are one of the oldest forms of study,” he says. “I think that’s something that needs to be celebrated. It’s all about interpretation.”
The submission deadline for With Caffeine and Careful Thought is November 3rd of 2017.