Five Questions for Gillian Sze

Posted on: 9 October, 2019

Category: Featured Member, Fresh Pages Diversity Initiative

In this fifth edition of the ‘Five Questions for…’ series, featuring conversations with QWF Members about their practice and community, our Communications Assistant Audrey Meubus had questions for Gillian Szepoet, author and inaugural mentor for the Mairuth Sarsfield Mentorship, part of the QWF’s Fresh Pages Initiative.

Gillian Sze is the author of multiple poetry collections including Peeling RambutanRedrafting Winter, and Panicle, which were finalists for the QWF’s A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. She studied Creative Writing and English Literature and received a Ph.D. in Études anglaises from Université de Montréal. Originally from Winnipeg, she now resides in Montreal, where she teaches creative writing and literature.

First, congratulations on being selected as the mentor for the 2020 Mairuth Sarsfield Mentorship! What do you hope for your future mentee? 

Thank you! I was so honoured to be asked to serve as the inaugural mentor for this QWF project. I’m looking forward to working one on one with a new writer. I hope most to develop a supportive and collaborative relationship with my mentee. Mentorship isn’t just about advising, but is a wonderful chance for me to learn from someone else, too.

What is the best writing advice that you have received in your career so far? 

On sending out work: my first creative writing teacher, David Bergen, said, “Expect rejection, but assume that they’re wrong.”

On writing and editing: Mary di Michele told me that sometimes when you’re feeling stuck, you just need a change of scenery. (She was explaining why she wrote part of a poem under her kitchen table.)

How would you describe your writing practice? How has this practice evolved since your first book?

For most of my life I wrote constantly: mornings at a desk, a stretch of afternoon at a coffee shop, and at any hour of the night. Time was slower then. I felt like I had more of it. Writing poetry changed for me as a PhD student when academia demanded more of my attention and critical energy. My practice has certainly changed since becoming a mother. Those long swathes of time are more like frays. I write or compose lines in my head when I can: while nursing, on the bus, or in the dark next to a sleeping child (or two).

How would you explain poetry to someone who has never experienced the genre before? 

It’s like this: you have a basket of clean laundry – mostly fresh clothes and a large tangled bedsheet. The bedsheet is the first thing you take out to hang on the line. The basket is satisfyingly emptier. The bedsheet blows brightly in the breeze.

Lastly, can you tell us a bit about your upcoming children’s book? 

My first picture book, The Night is Deep and Wide, is a bedtime poem. Sleep was challenging for my son when he was a baby, but soothing bedtime stories seemed to work. I read enough of them to finally want to write my own. Toronto artist, Sue Todd, will be providing illustrations and the book will be published by Orca Book in Spring 2021.

Thank you, Gillian!
The deadline to apply for the Mairuth Sarsfield Mentorship for Underrepresented Writers is October 31st 2019. Full details available here. Ready to apply? Submit your application to