The Bolo Tie Collective is a MacEwan University club with a truly unique name. One would be forgiven for thinking the club to be a country-western appreciation group, but the collective is actually made up of students who write and edit fiction together — a first in MacEwan history.
The club’s name was inspired by a portrait that sits halfway between the English and Communication Studies department offices. In it, Dr. John Walter Grant MacEwan wears one of his iconic bolo ties.
Shawn Hamm, founder of the Bolo Tie club, began the initiative a year and a half ago as a means of creating opportunities for aspiring professional writers. He started the collective with the vision of publishing a student anthology of fiction.
“In the beginning, we aimed for 50 short stories, which was lofty,” Hamm said. “In the end, we came out with 40 short stories and five book reviews.”
Before its creation, there were no organized outlets for students to write fiction and receive guidance from faculty and their peers. Previous publications existed for students from either English or communications, but these were centered around academic writing and nonfiction. These clubs often took more than two years to publish anything, even with faculty assistance.
The collective, however, has already published their first anthology, and is currently working on a second volume of short stories.
“One of the biggest innovations of Bolo Tie is the fact that it’s drawing from both (English and communications),” said Peter Roccia, a faculty advisor for the club from MacEwan’s Bachelor of Communications program. “The (reason) publications I worked on in professional writing disappeared is because they could draw from only one (department).”
Roccia has seen many other writers’ guilds come and go at MacEwan, but none of them were quite like the Bolo Tie Collective. From his experience, publications tended to be led by the programs they were associated with: executed by classes and promoted by instructors. The downside of it all was a fleeting interest in the literary works of the students.
“One of the great things about Bolo Tie is they’re a student-driven movement, which thrilled me to know,” Roccia said. “I think there will come a time where you will have a shelf with a good chunk of Bolo Tie Collective volumes on it, and that will be a testament to students who have worked on it.”
While most of its 40 contributors come from the English and communications departments, Bolo Tie is an open platform for fiction writers of any discipline, as well as external community members and MacEwan alumni. This means students don’t have to stop participating in the initiative once they finish their degrees.
Hamm explained that students who have a passion for writing creative fiction are often intimidated by the economics of becoming a professional writer.
“You can’t just live off being a professional writer,” Hamm said. “Even if you catch lightning in a bottle, you still need something else to survive.”
“It seems like fellow English students, after we graduate, there is a shell-shock of what to do and where to find a job,” he said. “I wanted to create something that students could be a part of after they graduate.”
The collective met with great success when they unveiled their first anthology back in November, with the limited number of available copies flying off the shelves of MacEwan’s bookstore the night the book launched.
In the wake of such a high point for the club, Hamm had a few words to say about what the launch of the anthology meant for its future.
“What this book came down to was not just creating a creative writing community within just the school, but one that can leak out and expand into all of Edmonton.”
Cover photo supplied.