The Writer in Residence at MacEwan University is a prominent writer or creator, usually from Edmonton, who takes up a position to assist aspiring student writers on their creative journeys. Darrin Hagen, the mentor for 2021, has some big goals he is hoping to accomplish, and he is humbled and thrilled to have been invited to share his experiences and advice with MacEwan’s students. He was able to spare some time to chat with the griff about his plans for the role.
Looking into your past a little bit, I know that you’re a playwright, author, queer historian, among other things. What is your favourite role to play of all of those, or others?
Darrin Hagen: Oh dear, it changes by project. When you write a play, and you’re on stage, and the audience is clapping and laughing at the right places, it’s like, “this is the best life in the world!” But when you’re at home, working by yourself, and you crack a hard piece of history, and you know, you’re writing in solitary, you go, “wow, this is the best life.” I love the queer history stuff; it fascinates me and keeps me moving forward because I know that there’s no end to it.
It sounds like you’re very passionate about all of your projects, which is very cool.
DH: You know, it’s interesting, I think people don’t realise that, when we talk about history, it’s not something that’s dead and passed, it’s actually what we’re living through now …. So, right now, one of the big projects I’m working on is the Pisces Bathhouse raid story. It’s the 40th anniversary of the raid in May, and I moved to Edmonton just after it. I moved to an Edmonton that was reeling in the aftermath of this huge, sort of, justice overreach, just this invasion of privacy and invasion of human rights. And then the AIDS epidemic hit right after that, so I’ve realized, after we all lived through that, that I am living through history and that there are stories that need to be told.
What, overall, inspires your writing?
DH: There’s a few things. Like, for theatre, I love comedy. I love the sound of laughter, and being onstage as a performer and doing comedy is an amazing experience and a real rush. But the creative spirit is my passion. And that applies whether I’m working on comedy for the stage or working on drama for the stage, or whether I’m working on queer history, or whether I’m working on music or photography… I’m like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, or a honeybee, because if I get bored of one thing, I can move to the other.
What is one of your favourite experiences or things you’ve written about?
DH: Oh no, that’s just too huge a question, because that’s like saying, “which kid is your favourite?” …. I think every piece of writing has its own rules and its own moment when you’re in love with it, and its own moment where you hate it.
What do you hope to accomplish as Writer in Residence at MacEwan?
DH: I’m doing a lot of work with Kris Wells and the Queer History Project. So, one of my goals is to just keep collecting stories. But, also, my other thing that I want to achieve is to be able to tell writers how wonderful it is that they’re writing. Working with writers who come to you for advice is really exciting, because it makes me a better writer. Sometimes you don’t know that you know things until you have to explain them to someone else, or sometimes people ask you questions that you don’t know the answer to, so you have to go learn. You have to go do the research and figure out what they need. Yeah, it’s just something about working with other peoples’ writing. It’s hard to describe, but it influences my own writing in a huge way. Even if it’s just, “look how brave this person is being, I need to remember this moment.” Writing takes courage …. You’d be surprised how exciting it can be to have someone else just kind of go through your work and treat it like it’s important, because it is.
Lastly, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, and what do you want to say to MacEwan’s aspiring writers?
DH: Oh, I will never forget, when I first started… my friend Christy Harcourt, who used to be the host of CJSR’s GayWire … asked “Was that your first story? … Do me a favour — keep writing.” And that moment is a moment that I have held onto all these years because that’s really all we have to do, is just keep writing. And so, my advice to aspiring writers is just to keep writing. It might not work the first time, it might get frustrating, it might stop and get put on a back burner for two years; then write something else. Just keep writing, because a writer doesn’t talk about writing; a writer writes.
Edited for length and clarity. Image courtesy of EPIC Photography.