Local author Francine Cunningham is this year's Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Calgary. This position is highly sought out by writers across the country and is one of the best positions for a writer in Canada.

Cunningham is an award-winning writer with several published books, including her book of poems "On/Me" and her book of short stories "God Isn't Here Today." "On/Me" was nominated for several top awards like The BC and Yukon Book Prize, the Indigenous Voices Award, and the Vancouver Book Award. "God Isn't Here Today" was a finalist for the 2023 Indigenous Voices Award, and she was only one of five Canadian writers nominated for the Carol Shield's Prize for Fiction, a prize that recognizes the best female writers across Canada and the United States.

Cunningham said she was elated to earn the position of being the U of C's Distinguished Writer in Residence, as it not only is a huge honour, but it also offers her stability as a writer in a field that can often be quite volatile. As for what exactly the position entails, Cunningham explained she'll help students improve their writing, and also work on engaging and encouraging the community to write through various events. The position also offers her an opportunity to further work on her next manuscript, which she describes as "a poetry-essay sort of memoir hybrid."

bookThe cover of "God Isn't Here Today," one of Cunningham's most acclaimed works

Cunningham's work can touch on many themes, as she doesn't limit herself to just one genre, but her Indigenous background definitely plays a big role in her work.

"In my book of poetry, I really wrote it for Indigenous youth. Being in so many conversations with youth, them talking about their identity and how they feel and their culture, I wanted to write a book that let them know it was ok to talk about that stuff," she said.

"The novel that I'm sort of working on right now is about a young Indigenous girl who is in a psychiatric facility, and she's sort of learning through the help of some elders that are visiting her in the centre and her own family how to sort of come out of the mental space that she's in for healing and stuff," she continued.

This is on top of other influences, like stories regarding the Cree trickster figure of Wisakedjak and other Cree figures. Beyond Indigenous influences, Cunningham said her experiences travelling around the country also directly impact her work, such as poems about the various landscapes she's seen and the contrast between places like the Yukon and Alberta.

Regarding "God Isn't Here Today," Cunningham explained this work diverts quite heavily from what may be expected, but that's one of the things she loves about it and it helps it stand out. The unique aspects of this work are even more prominent when you consider it was still nominated for the prestigious Carol Shield's Prize for Fiction.

"(God Isn't Here Today) is maybe not what most people would consider like classic high literature. it is a book of short fiction which isn't always considered, and then it was a book of speculative horror and really dark fiction, which again is not typical to be nominated for these bigger awards. So I was super excited about that." 

bookThe cover of her children's book "What if Bedtime Didn't Exist."

While Cunningham's work can span many genres and mediums, one common theme that appears in some of her books is relatability. Explaining that she likes stories with "a core group of people that are set in some small situation," Cunningham takes a strong interest in people and the relationships we forge.

"I have a story in my collection that's set in an apartment complex and we never go outside of the complex for the story. And it's a lot of the residents meeting in the elevator, a lot of the story takes place in the elevator because I just feel like that's where people would meet in a complex. I just love that it's such a closed space, it allows for you to focus more on the development of the inner characters because you're not so focused on the outer world that they're in." 

While she travels often and will be quite busy with her new role at the U of C, Cunningham said she does offer her expertise to local writers that are looking for ways to strengthen their writing, and you can get in contact with Cunningham through her website Francinecunningham.ca.

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