Mental Health in a Pandemic


If you haven’t checked our UWaterloo English Facebook page recently, I’ve been posting resources on COVID-19 and Mental Health. For those not on Facebook, here are some of the selections:

How to avoid bad habits during social distancing and isolation (CBC)

8 Tips to Manage Your Coronavirus and Social Distancing Anxiety, According to an Expert (MentalFloss)

The Coronavirus Could Cause a Social Recession (The Atlantic)

Seven tips for staying grounded as the world grapples with COVID-19 (U of T News)

Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic (CAMH)

5 Tips for College Success in Coronavirus Times (Psychology Today)

Protecting Your Mental Health During the Coronoavirus Outbreak (AFSP)

And a reminder that our own university services are providing urgent care by phone, and have links to more resources. See Campus Wellness.

Please feel free to add more in the comments. Stay safe everyone.

My Open Letter to my students

pickle forks2020

Note this is my letter–others will say different things, and have different opinions. I don’t speak for the department or my colleagues. I would just urge everyone to be kind to themselves, and extend that to others.

Dear all,

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to say to you. Like many, I am finding it difficult to concentrate on everything that needs to be done, even as I am overwhelmed with responsibilities.

There is anxiety about what this means for the immediate future, as well as the long term. On top of that are worries about family members, economics, opportunities. There is so much going on that I have yet to find a way to synthesize it and consider the implications.

Beyond this, part of me feels like I need to mourn the future that won’t unfold as anticipated. We all had plans for next month, next year, four years from now. Plans have a way of became familiar narratives we take for granted–but now the rug has been pulled out from underneath us. Being unexpectedly unmoored can be paralyzing, and it is hard to regroup and plan anew, especially as we don’t yet know what we will be navigating.

There are two things I can suggest right now: one is acknowledge you may need time to recover and recognize that rethinking the future will take time. Make time for things you find affirming–read your favorite books from childhood, arrange online dates with friends, or watch favorite movies virtually together. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t think you need to set huge goals–I don’t care what Isaac Newton accomplished when he was social distancing during a pandemic. Your only goal right now should be to get through this.

The other suggestion is to learn: how have people banded together historically in times of crisis? Look for how people did this historically, and how people are doing it now, singing on balconies, sewing masks, turning breweries to making sanitizer, creating window scavenger hunts for children. If you feel helpless, you aren’t. There is something you can do to feel you have some control, or some influence in the lives of others–even if it’s just reaching out to make someone else feel less alone.

In the end, you are going to remember the anxiety, but you will also remember the good things you did to get through this. And in our present moment, knowing that you are participating in helping others may make this easier.

That said, if you are feeling overwhelmed, that’s normal too, and valid–no one got through the 1918 Spanish Flu without feeling some combination of anxiety, depression, or defeat. I’ve been posting resources on dealing with these on the UWaterloo English Facebook page.

Above all, be kind to yourself, be responsible, social distance.

Sincerely, Professor Jennifer Harris

Children at home? An Easy English & History Activity (which involves grandparents)


Many are working from home right now while also trying to keep children occupied. People are generating and sharing activities, ideas, and more (ex. Facebook group Kid Quarantine Resources). Here’s what one English Professor at UWaterloo (me) is doing. It combines English and History, while also including interactions with grandparents and others who are self-isolating.

The plan is this: search your house for age-appropriate novels set in historical periods. I was lucky to have a box of suitable books in the attic. Well, mostly suitable–I weeded out the ones about plagues, and the remaining books weren’t as ethnically diverse as I would have liked, but we’ll make up for it later. Then I generated a work sheet that brings in Freytag’s Pyramid (see below). The idea is that the children read the book, fill the sheet out, and do some independent research. Then they send a copy to a grandparent, and a day later have a phone call or Skype to discuss it together. We’ll do related activities as well–at least one trebuchet is getting built this week!



Novel title: ________________________________________________________________________

Time period and location: ____________________________________________________________

Date of publication of the book: _______________________________________________________

Plot the novel on Freytag’s Pyramid


What makes this conflict compelling?

Who is the protagonist? ______________________________________________________________

Who is the antagonist? _______________________________________________________________

What form is the narration?    First person.        Second person.             Third person.

What are three things about this historical period you are going to look up?




What have you learned looking those things up?


Spill the Tea! March 11th and 12th

TeacupSpill the Tea! An English Undergraduate Event, March 11th and 12th, 2:30-4:30pm, in The Project Cube (HH 2034)

Are you an upper-year English student? The English Undergraduate Department wants to hear your voice! Hang out with tea and snacks to share your thoughts about our program, good and bad, as much or as little as you’d like. We’re looking to improve, and anything helps.

This event is being hosted by your English Undergraduate Committee Student Reps, Mahum Jafari and Dante Diaco, who are exceptionally eager to bring your ideas to the department.

Come to The Project Cube (HH 2034) anytime between 2:30pm and 4:30pm on Wednesday or Thursday this week to spill the tea — we hope to see you there!

Evan Munday: Alumnus, Author… Publishing?

Evan Munday
This is another post where we revisit alumni we have profiled in the past, as a way of looking at how careers evolve. In this case we follow-up with Evan Munday, who we last profiled in 2014, when he had been nominated for an award for his  children’s series, The Dead Kid Detective Agency, which features episodes from Canadian history. His life has definitely changed! Thanks to Evan for participating.

JLH: It’s been six years since we chatted with you last; how has your career progressed?
EM: I’ve stuck with the whole book publishing thing. There are now two additional books in my Dead Kid Detective Agency series (Loyalist to a Fault and Connect the Scotts). I did a stint as festival director at The Word On the Street Toronto festival, and – for over two years – I’ve worked as Publicity Manager on books for young readers at Penguin Random House Canada. I’m still in the book publicity business, but have moved to a larger publishing house, and has focused on kids’ books: from picture books to young adult.

JLH: Is this a direction you anticipated? Was it a logical move, or did it just feel organic?
EM: It wasn’t one I had anticipated, but since I was writing kids’ books on the side, it did make a fair amount of sense. I was working within that children’s publishing sphere as an author, so the hiring folks at Penguin Random House – reasonably – felt I might do an okay job handling some publicity in that sphere, as well. That said, after the festival job, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to continue working in book publicity – it can be physically and emotionally draining, as fun as it sometimes is – but the kids’ book world presented new challenges.

JLH: Was there a steep learning curve? What do you wish you’d known beforehand?
EM: Publicity for children’s books, as you can imagine, can be very different from adult books. There are different media contacts and venues, different types of events, so there was a lot to learn. I had experienced some of these things as an author, though, so I wasn’t starting from scratch. That said, I wish I’d known how big the YA festival circuit is in the U.S. Canada has book festivals with YA programming, but only about one dedicated YA festival. But south of the border, there are a whole number of large festivals – often taking over massive high schools for a weekend – featuring the biggest names in young adult fiction. That was something of a revelation to me.

JLH: How has it been balancing your identity as a writer with your position in publishing? Do you find there are perks as a writer to being publishing?
EM: That’s hard to say as I haven’t written all that much since taking up this current position – though that has little to do with the work. More importantly, I recently became a father, which means that writing books has taken a bit of a backseat. (Sleep has somehow become more coveted than writing time.) That said, I wrote all my previous books while working full time in publishing, so it’s just a matter of setting aside some time for my own writing. Sometimes, there’s a temptation to act as your own publicist for your books – after all, you know what to do, right? But I try to make sure I’m supporting my great publicist at ECW Press, and doing what I can without stepping on anyone’s toes. Of course, there are perks to being a writer who knows how the other side of the ‘curtain’ works: you know who to suggest your publicist send books to, you know (to some degree) what works in promoting books and what’s largely a waste of time. I would say the greatest advantage is that it gives you realistic expectations about writing. If an author doesn’t know how publishing works, they may not realize how few books are reviewed in media, how difficult it is for your book to wind up on a table in a bookstore. Having realistic expectations can make everything a more pleasant, less stressful experience.

JLH: Finally, because I do like to ask, what are you reading for fun?
EM: Probably not the answer you’re expecting, but I am finally reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I’ve listened to the Kate Bush song for years, so I figured now is time to hear what all this fuss is about! (It’s really great – a real page-turner! I don’t know why I waited so long.) But I can recommend few more recent books, as well. The Cursed Hermit, the second Hobtown Mystery Story by Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes, is one of the best, weirdest comic series in a long time. Like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew written by David Lynch and directed by Guy Maddin. And Andre Alexis’s Days by Moonlight is a wild, mind-altering road trip into rural Ontario unlike anything you’ve ever read. Finally, Amanda Leduc’s Disfigured looks at fairy and folktales (some you know well, some you’ve never heard of) through the lens of disability, and if you – like me – like nothing more than analyzing stories, figuring out what they’re telling us and why – you will love this book.


Alumna Sarasvathi Kannan wins HeForShe Contest

Congratulations to UWaterloo English alumna Sarasvathi Kannan, who participated in the HeForShe writing contest, winning not one but two categories! In Poetry, her piece “The Student and the Goose” was awarded; in fiction, it was “Divine Intervention.” You can read her award-winning pieces on the HeForShe website. The HeForShe competition is open to students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Other English Department people contributed to the anthology this year, from undergraduates Juliana Suderman, Nadia Formisano, and Julia Cowderoy to PhD alumnus Morteza Dehghani.

Women’s Day Event


On March 8th at 3pm UWaterloo English will be represented at Home Truths: Women’s Day Celebration at the Registry Theatre at 3pm. The event is sponsored in part by The New Quarterly, a literary journal housed at St. Jerome’s, University of Waterloo. English’s Dr. Lamees Al Ethari, will be there, as will members of The X Page Project, which she and novelist Carrie Snyder–known to many as an instructor in our department–oversee.