To be human is to talk about the weather. In Southern California they talk about the sun. In Manchester they talk about the rain. Here in Edmonton, the topic on everyone’s tongue is the freezing winters.
Jason Lee Norman (’06 BA, English) is not immune to the habit. Born and raised in Fort Saskatchewan, he shares our northern predilection for talking about the weather. And as a writer, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that he would apply his skills to the topic, bringing together an anthology about Edmonton’s deep freeze. As with much of his work, it started at the title.
“I thought, ‘it’s called 40 Below. How can it not succeed?’”
He got the idea two years ago after meeting with former Edmonton Public Library (EPL) Writer in Residence Jocelyn Brown. Their discussion touched multiple topics, but on the ride home, inspiration hit him: “I was driving home and thought, ‘Oh, an anthology,’” says Norman. “The one thing I always loved about Edmonton was the season. Winter is part of who we are.”
The irony is that Brown helped to inspire 40 Below; now, two years later, Norman is doing the same for Edmonton’s bards, wordsmiths and novelists as the latest Writer in Residence at EPL. His office, tucked into a corner on the second floor of the Stanley A. Milner branch, is where he doles out advice to the city’s aspiring and published writers. It seems a natural fit for a writer known for his propensity for networking.
Norman is one of the founders of Words with Friends, a meeting place for the city’s writers to discuss their ideas and share their work. The idea of gathering together local writers was an outgrowth of Norman’s time at the University of Manchester, where he got a masters in Creative Writing.
“I think I just hit the jackpot with the people that I met. They were great people and great friends. I wanted to be around them as writers. It was so energizing. It didn’t matter how late the nights got. When I came back I was starved for those bonds,” says Norman.
He knew he wanted to continue to meet with writers and discuss their trade, but without any place to bounce ideas around, Norman was forced to take matters into his own hands. He started Words with Friends in 2011 with Kasia Gawlak (`00 BA, English), a poet and fellow lyricist.
Norman’s time as Writer in Residence is not just about helping fellow writers; it’s also a chance for him to spend time on his own projects. He says he’s working on a novel, but won’t divulge the details.
The most Norman will say is it involves bridges — and possibly Edmonton. “I keep toying with the idea of Edmonton. In one way or another, whether it’s by name or not, it’s time to write about my experience living in this city, especially now that everything seems to be going well.”
Jason Lee Norman’s website
Words with Friends
40 Below Project