Andrew Westoll: Grimsby Author Series

img_2206It has been a hectic week and I have been slow following up on the second insightful author of Monday’s Grimsby Author Series.  Andrew Westoll, author and professor of creative writing,  did not start out to be a writer.  He began his career as a primatologist in the South American rainforest but quickly realized that the life of a scientist was not for him.  He learned that he loved weaving science and writing together.  It is a connection between the two words and he feels that he is a “fan of how science and literature both use metaphor deeply”.

“Scientists and writers, one thing they have in common is the ability to observe.”

Like Amy Stuart, Andrew commented on the large and enthusiastic audience.  He thanked his fellow author, Amy Stuart, for being the first to offer a blurb for his first novel.  He had previously been a feature writer and has written a memoir call The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary (my newly signed copy is in my TBR pile) which described a summer spent at the sanctuary which was a refuge for 13 chimpanzees.

He shared that he was given an Edna Staebler residency at Laurier University in 2013 (some of you might remember her cookbook series of Food that really Schmecks – I know that I have made her blueberry muffins many times when I still lived at home).  He laughed that the concept for the residency was to write non-fiction in the spirit of the belated Staebler.  Instead of channelling Staebler, “Stanley leapt into my mind out of nowhere!”  He told no one that he was writing fiction and joked that he hoped that he would not get kicked out of the beautiful home.

“Is Stanley the guy that I might have become if I didn’t leave the jungle?”

There were some great questions Andrew admitted that the setting of The Jungle South of the Mountain was highly autobiographical while the events that happened to Stanley were not.  He described life in the jungle as very mundane, collecting data to be monotonous yet he had to add some tension to the book which was based on the time the he witnessed a harpy eagle attack on monkeys.

He wanted to be respectful to the people living in Suriname so instead of writing the creation stories of the actual descendants of the West African slave trade he fictionalized his tribe and the “magical realism snuck up on me“.  Although he talked about living in the jungle as “benign” he also told the audience that he was afraid of the snakes which would rear up when surprised, admitting that he still jumps thinking there is a snake when he sees a stick on the sidewalk.

I bet his students have a wonderful time in his classes if he uses his experiences to teach writing.  I would certainly be interested in auditing a class sometimes.  It was great to hear about his novel and I am happy to have a signed copy of The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary.  it will be interesting to learn more about the 13 chimps that are pictured inside.

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