Ghosts in our hearts | Work of Arts
Ghosts in our hearts | Work of Arts

Ghosts in our hearts

History & Classics professor Selina Stewart reflects on the danger of things left unsaid

Selina Stewart, associate professor of History & Classics, was recently awarded a Cécile E. Mactaggart Travel Award for Narrative Writing for her creative nonfiction story, “A Hallowe’en Meditation,” a reflection on homosexuality in the mid-20th century.stewart

This award is given annually to both an undergraduate student and a teaching staff member in the Faculty of Arts. The winners receive up to $12,000 each to fund travel that will provide a stimulating educational and cultural experience.

We caught up with Selina (left in the photo) to find out more about her winning story and her travel plans.


Q: Have you always enjoyed this type of writing (creative nonfiction)?

A: Not exactly. I can recall writing only one other example – an essay I submitted for the Mactaggart Writing Award many years ago. No, creative nonfiction and I are pretty much strangers to each other.


Q: How would you describe your essay?

A: I don’t want to describe it much before people have had a chance to read it, but the title (“A Hallowe’en Meditation”) suggests ghosts, and that’s what seems to me to be the main element. I’ve always felt as if I was living with a number of them, and I thought I’d better give them airtime. They clamour at you for years, and you have to let them out of the cage at some point.


Q: What inspired you to write it?

A: I believe it was a recognition of the risks of not communicating certain things. There are dangers associated with living with ghosts – as charming as they may be – and one is that of being out of tune with more common realities and the majority of people who (may) live in them. The danger of not communicating backgrounds, perceptions, uncommon experiences, even childhood monsters, is quite real, it seems to me. These are dangerous things to hide.


Q: What does winning this award mean to you?

A: I suppose one of the things it means is that the people I grew up with have a new and independent existence in a different time. Whether they’re living again in some sense, or “out of the cage” in a ghostly sense, I don’t know. But it is a marvelous feeling. I’m not sure who is being liberated here – them or me; perhaps both. But the mere fact of writing about them wouldn’t have had nearly as powerful result as that of their appearing to others, which is what the award achieves. I’m very glad that other people will meet them, and very grateful.


Q: Where do you plan to travel with your prize money?

A: I’m planning to travel to Europe to the places mentioned in the essay, with my two daughters who have never met a relative on my side of the family, or seen where some of them grew up; now they will be able to fill in at least some of the gaps. A bit of family, and other, history.


To read the winning story, click here.

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