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New writers-in-residence at Edmonton-area libraries excited to get started

Premee Mohamed, left, and Katie Bickell will serve as the 2024 writers-in-residence at the Edmonton, St. Albert and Strathcona County public libraries. (Premee Mohamed/Katie Bickell - image credit)
Premee Mohamed, left, and Katie Bickell will serve as the 2024 writers-in-residence at the Edmonton, St. Albert and Strathcona County public libraries. (Premee Mohamed/Katie Bickell - image credit)

Libraries played a pivotal role in the writing journeys of Alberta authors Premee Mohamed and Katie Bickell.

Now the duo are excited to nurture other writers' aspirations as the 2024 writers-in-residence at the Strathcona County, St. Albert and Edmonton public libraries. They were named to the positions this week.

Mohamed and Bickell will offer free programs and one-on-one support to writers of all ages and experience levels.

"I was raised pretty much by the St. Albert Public Library," said Mohamed, author of five speculative-fiction titles including The Annual Migration of Clouds, which won the 2022 Aurora Award for Best Novelette/Novella.

The Indo-Caribbean Edmontonian recalled spotting The Hobbit from a library shelf at age six. It launched a lifelong relationship with reading and libraries that she said "kept me alive, fed my soul and educated me."

Mohamed looks forward to drawing from the richness of Indigenous storytelling, video games, and "our huge spoken-word poetry community" in her second-floor office at the Stanley A. Milner Library in downtown Edmonton.

Set in a time after climate disasters have destroyed most of civilization, an Alberta woman infected with a mysterious parasite has to choose between her community and her own future.
Set in a time after climate disasters have destroyed most of civilization, an Alberta woman infected with a mysterious parasite has to choose between her community and her own future.

The Annual Migration of Clouds won 2022 Aurora Award For Best Novelette/Novella. (Veronica Park)

"I would like to bring people into the library that maybe aren't aware of all its resources and I hope maybe kick-start some people's creative lives," Mohamed said.

Growing up as one of the only immigrant kids of colour in her St. Albert school in the '80s and '90s, Mohamed said exploring colonization, anti-colonization and power imbalances is a major theme of her work.

"This idea that there are always going to be these powers that think they should own everything, that think they should exploit everything, that think they should do whatever they want with people that they have already conquered, that appears in my work a lot," Mohamed said.

Sherwood Park's Bickell will support writers at the Strathcona County Library in the first half of 2024 and then move over to the St. Albert Library.

Mentorship from Margaret Macpherson, a regional library writer-in-residence in 2014, launched a professional writing career for Bickell.

"Finally, there was somebody who could write, who could read these stories I had scribbled while my kids napped," she said.

"So I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to be able to find those baby writers who might just be writing alone, and reach out my hand like Margaret did for me."

Bickell's debut novel Always Brave, Sometimes Kind won the 2021 Alberta Literary Awards' George Bugnet Award for Fiction.

'Read more than you're currently reading'

Both authors come to professional writing via other careers.

Bickell, who used to teach preschool, hopes those who want to hone their craft take advantage of the mentoring services being offered: "We can help you get your foot in the door."

Mohamed's advice for aspiring writers? Read. A lot.

"Read more than you're currently reading," said Mohamed, who spent two decades in environmental science.

"Read in genres you don't normally read, Read authors you don't think you would normally pick up. At least check the book out and give it a try. Because the best writers I know are the best readers I know."

 

The residency program, which has been running for a decade, is a collaboration between libraries in the Metro Edmonton Federation of Libraries.

"Premee Mohamed's residency marks a celebration of her outstanding literary accomplishments, and we eagerly anticipate the inspiration she will impart to the writers within our dynamic community,"  Edmonton Public Library CEO Pilar Martinez said in a news release.

Growing up as one of the only immigrant kids of colour in her St. Albert school in the '80s and '90s, Mohamed said exploring colonization, anti-colonization and power imbalances is a major theme of her work.

"This idea that there are always going to be these powers that think they should own everything, that think they should exploit everything, that think they should do whatever they want with people that they have already conquered, that appears in my work a lot," she said.

Outgoing 2023 writers-in-residence Tololwa Mollel and Kate Boorman worked with numerous aspiring and experienced writers, EPL said.