As we look forward to Alumni Weekend (Sept 22-25, 2016), the Faculty of Arts is proud to share the stories of our inspiring alumni award winners!
Jason Lee Norman (’06 BA) is always looking for ways to stimulate and grow the literary community in Edmonton. You may have seen his #yegwords coffee sleeves, featuring the short (very short) stories and poems of local writers, or his critically-acclaimed anthology series 40 Below: Edmonton’s Winter Anthology and its 2015 sequel, 40 Below: Alberta’s Winter Anthology. He has his own small publishing concern – Wufniks Press (“a mishegoss of shiny new words”) and in his role as the 2014 Writer-in-Residence for the Edmonton Public Library, you may have even met him, seeking a few words of advice and encouragement.
“Jason is a literary man about town,” says friend and fellow writer Michael Hingston.
This writer, writers’ advocate and 2016 Alumni Horizon Award winner accepts the challenges, and the privileges, of building Edmonton’s literary community. The responsibility of such a public role, especially one that involves organizing open-stage events like the Words With Friends WordCrawl (“a love child of an orgy between a literary reading, a poetry slam, a songwriting showcase and a pub crawl”), is not taken lightly. And yet, he jokes, procrastination plagues his own personal writing, which thus far includes two well-received short fiction collections (Beautiful Girls & Famous Men and Americas) and numerous fiction and non-fiction contributions to local and national magazines.
“Classes were something I went to in between chapters. I was that guy.”
While balancing both sides of his literary brain can be tricky, each role feeds off the other. “The things I do outside of my own personal writing are to contribute to creating the type of literary community and literary world that I, as a writer, want to be a part of,” he says. “So the more successful I am in creating that world, then the more it inspires me to be better in my own writing and to write more often.”
Born and raised in the Edmonton area, Norman received his degree in English from UAlberta before heading off to England to get his Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester. He recalls his time at the U of A as rather solitary, where the books on the fifth floor of Rutherford North (he’s very specific about the location) were his “best friends.”
“Classes were something I went to in between chapters,” he says, in a biographical piece he wrote for Avenue Magazine. While in class, however, he asked a lot of questions. “I was that guy.”
His most well-known project to date – the 40 Below books volumes 1 & 2 – are the quintessential Jason Lee Norman venture: inclusive, inspired, a little cheeky and unabashedly proud. They embrace the local community of writers in Edmonton and Alberta, celebrating in essay, short story and poetry what many would like to ignore — our long, cold and entirely inevitable winters.
Every one of Norman’s literary adventures, including several upcoming publishing projects he will be “excited to share in the next few months,” have created opportunities for writers where none previously existed, placing our locally grown words and experiences directly in front of us. It’s a generosity of spirit that is helping to redefine Edmonton’s literary community and the very idea of what it means to be an Edmontonian.