At the time of this interview, Alix Ohlin is looking out into a dull, rainy afternoon, her desk surrounded by half-unpacked boxes as she begins the slow process of filling up the bookshelf in her new office. She has travelled west across the continent along with her husband, child, and dog to take up a new position as Chair of the UBC Creative Writing Program. Prior to UBC, Ohlin taught at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania and in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers in Swannanoa, North Carolina.
Though new to the West Coast (Ohlin was born and raised in Montreal), she makes a few wry jokes that reveal she is already observing some tropes in the stories of ‘Raincouver’. This coming summer Ohlin will have an opportunity to immerse herself in the department’s annual writing residency when she will be teaching fiction workshops over an intensive two-week period to students in the department’s MFA program.
Ohlin’s body of work includes the novel Inside (Knopf) and her story collection Signs and Wonders (Vintage) along with The Missing Person, and Babylon and Other Stories. Her work has also appeared in prestigious publications such as Best American Short Stories, Best New American Voices, The New Yorker, and on public radio’s Selected Shorts.
A: I tend to think more in terms of people-building than world-building. As soon as a character comes into focus for me, I can see the world they live in. Without that beating heart of character, not much happens for me in a story.
In your recent New Yorker story, Qaurantine, you write: “They swore to keep in better touch, but didn’t. Once Angela was back in Vancouver, her social-media accounts took a turn from organic cooking and home decorating to alternative health and New Age spirituality.” Would this by any chance mirror any of your own experiences transitioning to life in Vancouver?
A: Not yet, but I just got here! Check with me in a year and I’ll be doing chelation therapy.
A: I love finding common ground through writing and reading with people from all different kinds of backgrounds. Writing can be lonely work and teaching has always given me a sense of community that I really value. I’m looking forward to teaching on campus as well as online.
I hope they’ll learn — from their teachers, from each other, and from themselves — that their writing has great value.
A: I’d like them to know that the program will strive to give them the tools to write the work only they can write. I hope they’ll learn — from their teachers, from each other, and from themselves — that their writing has great value. I hope they’ll feel safe and supported so that they can take the creative risks they need to grow as artists.