MOUNT ROYAL UNIVERSITY
Professor Natalie Meisner published four times in one year
January 7, 2020 by Education News Canada
It has been a very big year for Natalie Meisner, PhD. The English and creative writing professor at Mount Royal University is a poet, playwright and author who has published three works in the span of a mere few months, with one more coming in 2020. Even just one publication every few years is a major accomplishment for any writer, so this veritable avalanche of printed works is unusual and significant.
Meisner credits the inspiration provided by both her students and the academic environment at Mount Royal as instrumental in her continued success. She says the constant contact with students and educators with a true passion for their work has not only made her a better writer, but also a better teacher and a better person. Educators should be consistently challenged to expand their knowledge base, Meisner believes, and that collaborating with students and peers in order to surrender to the creative process has placed her in a position to truly immerse herself in life and learning.
“When I’m leaning into my students’ work, then I learn just as much about it, about what is lively for them right now. And then it spills back into my own work. It’s a fancy way of saying it keeps you fresh.”
As she works with each student on their projects, Meisner has to study what is making students “tick” these days, what their issues and concerns are. This keeps her in touch, and not just for this generation. She says the context will provide her important perspective for many generations after.
As uncommon as Meisner’s quartet of publications is, it might also be a bit of a coincidence. They each took a different amount of time to complete, however, she says, “They all decided to land or come to roost at the same time.”
In addition to her series of publications, Meisner has noticed herself immersed in how story, narrative and creative writing can be harnessed for community development.
“It seems that story is what’s needed today,” Meisner says. “When you tell a better story, it seems to sort of gather legs. It seems to be not just a resilience-building tool, but it’s like you can actually change the world with better stories.” She has been involving students in a writing project with Calgary Immigrant Services, working with those new to Canada on telling their narratives. This is the 2019/2020 version of the Life Writing project, which was formerly been a partnership with United Active Living’s Garrison Green residence. Along the same lines, Meisner has been working on a unit of creative nonfiction with MRU’s graduating cohort of nurses, resulting in “impressive” works which may be published. In the process of writing, Meisner says she witnesses her students in gain self-knowledge, find power and build inner strength.
Publication #1: Baddie One Shoe
Baddie One Shoe (Frontenac House, 2019) is Meisner’s latest collection of poems. She says it seemed to write itself, a “spooky and fun” experience. It is an ode to all the tough, bold and brash women out there who are unafraid of consequences and unwilling to accept the status quo. There are women Meisner has known, women Meisner hasn’t, and they join forces in her collection to, in many amusing ways, rail against injustice while somehow also making it seem like everything is going to be OK at the same time.
“This book really felt like it came from a different voice, or a different place than a lot of my other writing,” Meisner says. “I sort of say it’s been written by an alter ego.”
It’s an angry and often very funny alter ego, who Meisner admits she recognized, one that she wanted to give space and room to speak. “My roots were in indie theatre and spoken word in Halifax many moons ago. And that sort of younger self was, I guess, fiery-er or the modes of expression were more, for lack of a better word, punk rock. This voice just had to take this back seat to the reasonable,’ self we bring to work and life every day. You know, the one who is always looking for collegiality, understanding, common ground.”
Publication #2: My Mommy, My Mama, My Brother & Me
The first crack at a children’s novel for Meisner, My Mommy, My Mama, My Brother & Me reflects on Meisner’s own little family, which is made up of two moms and two sons. As part of a collection cultivated by OurShelves, which specializes in curating children’s books featuring diverse characters, Meisner’s work and others received a very cool shout-out from Calgary’s own Tegan and Sara.
The point of the book was not to focus on the different family structures presented, but on their love for each other, nature and for their community.
“A lot of gay and lesbian children’s books from the past have sort of problematized it,” Meisner says. “And based on the research that I did, I don’t think that’s what kids in this reading group need, is to see kind of it made a problem and then the other kids come around to it.”
What children need is just to see different types of lives modelled, and then they can make their own choices, she says. “They just need to see different coloured families, differently composed families and they need to, you know, feel safety and security in their family unit no matter how it looks.”
Publication #3: Boom Baby
It is unusual for plays to be published for distribution, but that is exactly what will happen with Meisner’s Boom Baby.
Boom Baby is about a Cape Breton Island resident named Iona who, when having trouble finding work at home, takes a class to become a loader-operator and heads west to Alberta to work in the camps. The play, which won both the Canadian National Playwriting Award and the Alberta Playwriting Competition Grand Prize in 2019, will be put into print by Playwrights Canada Press.
Publication #4: Legislating Love: The Everett Klippert Story
Another of Meisner’s plays, Legislating Love: The Everett Klippert Story has been published by U of C press as part of their Brave & Brilliant Series. Commissioned by Third Street Theatre, Legislating Love is an ode to Everett Klippert, an individual who is a clear example of the systemic oppression faced by LGBTQ2+ members. Once a popular bus driver in Calgary, Klippert was last person in Canada to be tried and convicted under legislation allowing for the jailing of homosexual individuals.
Having your play printed is significant, Meisner says, as this is how they “get legs.” It allows them to be disseminated into many different theatre markets, increasing their longevity. They may even be studied by others playwrights and students.
David Hyttenrauch, chair of the Department of English, Languages and Cultures at Mount Royal, says about Meisner’s accomplishments: “Natalie’s publications this year mark her growing national reputation for creative and socially engaged work.”
He goes on to add, “The sheer breadth of her recent writing in drama, poetry and children’s literature is unique. She continues to inspire MRU as director of change-making, and inspire her students with first-hand knowledge of Canadian theatre and a commitment to community engagement.”
By Michelle Bodnar