Category Archives: down time

The X-Page Moves Online

We’ve covered The X-Page: A Storytelling Workshop on the UWaterloo English blog before–both Carrie Snyder, who teaches Creative Writing at UWaterloo, and Dr. Lamees Al Ethari (alumna and faculty) are among the founders. According to their site “The X Page is a community arts initiative that connects women who are immigrants or refugees with artists who assist and mentor them in writing and performing their own stories…. Throughout the 12-week writing and performance workshop, participants develop a personal narrative, and work collaboratively to bring their individual stories together into a cohesive presentation. The project culminates with a performance before a live theatre audience.” However, nothing is simple right now, and so the stories cannot be staged. Instead they will appear on the website of The New Quarterly, a literary magazine house on campus. Join us and read them here.

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.

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?


Local Black History: Meet Major Harding

Queen's Bush Marker
As part of Black History Month, Words in Place is publishing profiles of forgotten figures from local Black History. Today’s subject is Major Harding, another resident of the Queen’s Bush settlement.

Before arriving in Queen’s Bush, the life of Major Harding was hardly uneventful. Born in Virginia, he resided in Nashville, Tennessee, the property of William Harding, a member of the largest slave-holding family in Nashville. The Hardings had arrived in Nashville from Virginia in the early nineteenth century, and were somewhat unusual, refusing to employ overseers and managing their lands themselves. For whatever reason, Major Jones, as he was then known, was allowed to purchase himself from the Harding family in 1833:

David Harding, Davidson County, to Tennessee Assembly, 1833

To the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee now in Session

The Petition of David Morris Harding a citizen of the county of Davidson & State aforsaid

Represents to your Honorable body that he is at this time in possession of a certain negro man named Major who was formerly the property of the late William Harding the Brother of your Petitioner—that his said Brother in his lifetime had designed and intended to emancipate slave Major in consequences of his long and faithful services—but that his intentions were frustrated by the death of his said Brother who died suddenly and without having made a Will—After his death, in making distribution of his property said slave was distributed to the Wife of my said Brother, and she being willing that said slave might be enabled to obtain his freedom as his master had intended agreed that as he had been valued to her at the sum of Four Hundred Dollars your Petitioner, might take him at that price, with a view to secure him his freedom—Your Petitioner states to your honorable honot that the said slave has paid to him the said sum of Four Hundred Dollars, and he is now desirous that he may be emancipated, and he represents that said Slave Major, is about Thirty five years old, that he has been a most valuable and faithful slave, that he is strictly honest, sober, and industrious, and in fact a man of uncommonly good character for a man of his color, and your petitioner entertains no doubt that if emancipated he will make, an orderly and respectable Citizen, wherefore he prays your Honorable Body to pass an act emancipating said slave Major and as in duty bound he will ever pray &c.

David M. Harding
September 27th, 1833

Somehow, it feels like we have only half the story. Clearly William Harding’s wife was not willing to fulfill her husband’s promise. Nor was David Harding bound to do so, yet he appears to have invested significant time and effort in securing Major’s freedom. Like most who held legal title to those enslaved, the Hardings protected their investments: African American fugitive Henry Thomas recounted an uncomfortable meeting in the 1830s with another Harding brother, William Giles Harding, who had travelled all the way from Nashville to Buffalo hoping to recapture a fugitive from slavery. Freeing a productive worker such as Major constituted a financial loss. Moreover, $400 was less than a trusted individual such as Major Jones would have been valued at on the Tennessee market, where the base was probably closer to $600.

So what made Major exceptional? After all, many enslaved people were capable of earning the money necessary to secure their purchase; few were allowed the time to do so. Like an estimated 10% of those Harding enslaved, Major was classified as “mulatto.” But William Harding was not Major’s father, as they were of an age. (This does not, of course, discount the possibility of fraternal relations.) Ultimately, unless more research in the extensive Harding archives turns up an answer, we will never know.

How Major raised the money is another issue: he may have borrowed it, he may have made an arrangement with William. This would have been made more difficult by the fact that Major was supporting his free family. By his own account, he was married in 1820 to a free woman, Maria. Maria’s free status would ensure their children were born free, as status was conveyed through the mother. The 1840 Census of Nashville for Major Jones accords with the children Major Harding would bring to Canada (though there may have been a son, also named Major Jones, who remained in the US and was enumerated in the 1870 Census).

Some time following the birth of Rachel in Nashville around 1844, Major and his family relocated north, where in 1847 he and his son Robert appear on the Queen’s Bush petition under the name Harding. His son Robert later dated the relocation to 1850, raising the possibility they lived between Canada and the United States. There are a number of reasons the family may have taken the name Harding: it may have signaled their connection to Nashville to family and friends seeking them; it might have been a matter of gratitude; it might have been a matter of a legitimate claim to the patronymic. Ultimately, we will never know. But is under this name—occasionally misspelled—that they are recorded in the Queen’s Bush, and later in Kent County.

In all probability Harding did not arrive with savings, having used his earnings to purchase or pay off his freedom and support his family. Harding was clearly an ambitious and strategic man, bringing his son Robert with him to secure additional land. His story demonstrates how difficult it might be for men with families to establish themselves when deprived of resources. Unlike others, his family remained in Canada following the U. S. Civil War. Daughter Martha married Thomas Parks in 1864; N. Harding (possibly Nelson) may have married a woman named Jane; Robert Harding married first Cecilia Zebbs and then Elizabeth Travis; Rachel Harding married William Palmer in 1865.

Sources consulted
Census of Canada (1851, 1861, 1911); United States Census (1840, 1870);  Linda Brown-Kubisch, The Queen’s Bush Settlement: Black Pioneers, 1839-1865 (2004); Ridley Wills, II, The History of Belle Meade Mansion, Plantation and Stud (1991); Loren Schweninger, ed. The Southern Debate Over Slavery: Petitions to Southern legislatures, 1778-1864 (2001); Dan Walker et. al. The Marriage Registers of Upper Canada/Canada West (1995).

Author: Dr. Jennifer Harris, Department of English Language and Literature
Image Credit

Satisfying Books About Snow

It has arrived: UWaterloo is blanketed with snow. This isn’t just a dusting: across the city you can hear the sound of scraping shovels. From Canadian classics (that famous snowball), to the year of no summer, and a trip through the wardrobe, there are snowy books for every reader.


Fifth Business, Robertson Davies
The most famous snowball in literature, one which resonates across an entire series, makes its first appearance here.

Washington Black, Esi Edugyan
The winner of the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, this neo-slave narrative was also a finalist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize and the 2018 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Born in slavery in Barbados in the 1800s, Black escapes with an uneven white patron, following him to the Arctic.

Moon of the Crusted Snow, Waubgeshig Rice
A dystopian novel about a northern Anishinaabe community which loses power as winter sets in—chaos ensues, aggravated by white travelers from the south who appear to be escaping their own cataclysmic event. Rice is host of the CBC Radio show Up North; this novel received the 2019 Evergreen Award.

Split Tooth, Tanya Tagaq
Winner of the 2019 Indigenous Voices Award for Published Prose in English ,and Longlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Split Tooth combines mythology, philosophy, and narrative in its tale of a pregnant teenager. The structure itself reproduces the rhythms of life above the Arctic tree line.

Almost a Full Moon, Hawksley Workman
Based on Workman’s song of the same name from his 2001 Christmas album, this children’s book imagines a crisp winter evening. As guests arrive from far and beyond, a boy and an older woman prepare soup to feed all.

Younger Readers

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
Keats received the 1963 Caldecott Medal for The Snowy Day, in which a young boy finds pleasure in doing all of those things one does in the first snowfall: walking with your toes pointed out, dragging a stick, smuggling a snowball into the house….

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
In which banishing eternal winter becomes an epic battle, and we all wish for a place as cozy as Mr. Tumnus’s to keep warm, and a coat from the wardrobe to protect us from the elements.

Over and Under the Snow, Kate Messner
As a father and daughter ski through a wood—swoosh! down, down, faster, faster—readers peep into the “secret kingdom” under the snow, and learn about how animals survive the winter.

The Snow Day, Komako Sakai
There is so much snow that kindergarten was cancelled, and a father’s flight delayed. A mother and daughter spend the day doing the quiet things one does on a snow day.

Snow, Uri Shulevitz
Drawing on Shulevitz’s memories of pre-Holocaust Europe, Snow captures the magic of the first snowfall: “It’s snowing, said boy with dog. “It’s only a snowflake,” said grandfather with beard. Snow was named a 1998 New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year and a 1999 Caldecott Honor Book.


Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the novel takes up the anti-Japanese sentiment of World War 2, and its ongoing resonance in the lives of a small community in Washington state as they negotiate a possible murder.

Pym, Mat Johnson
In this wildly satiric and experimental novel, Johnson takes up Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, traversing the metaphorical landscape of American politics and racial identity, complete with a voyage to Antarctica. Mind the Snow Honkies.

Snow, Ruth Kirk
A non-fiction book about snow, which will increase your appreciation of it as a force of nature, as well as the variety of creative ways humans have interacted with it.

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Many have claimed that The Left Hand of Darkness changed everything in science fiction—published in 1969, it won the Hugo Award with its portrait of an icebound planet where gender is not fixed.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Due to the eruption of Mount Tambor, 1816 became known as “the year without a summer”—it even snowed in July. And so there Shelley was, at Lake Geneva, in what was a year of winter—is it any surprise the novel ends with an ice floe?



Zombies: Monsters with Meaning

Not ready to say goodbye to Hallowe’en? Join us for Zombies: Monsters with Meaning with guest lecturers Arnold T. Blumberg (Dr. of the Dead) and Robert Smith (Mathematics, University of Ottawa).

Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg presents a whirlwind look back at 100 years of cinematic zombies and their evolution into a modern pop culture icon, with special attention to the ways in which Night of the Living Dead permanently impacted the media landscape. Robert Smith? (yes, he uses a question mark in his name) looks at zombies as a popular figure in pop culture/entertainment usually portrayed as being brought about through an outbreak or epidemic. Everyone is welcome to register* for this complimentary event.

Where: St. Jerome’s University’s Academic Centre
When: Friday, November 8, 2019, 7:30 p.m.

Zombies: Monsters with Meaning is the second event in the 2019-2020 Bridges Lecture Series. *Tickets are free, but a copy (electronic/hard) will be requested as you enter the Vanstone Lecture Hall.

Congratulations to Dr. Lamees Al Ethari

Congratulations to UWaterloo alumni and instructor Dr. Lamees Al Ethari, whose new book Waiting for the Rain: An Iraqi Memoir will be included in the Fall 2019 Mawenzi House Annual Book Launch. As the press writes, “In this memoir, Lamees Al Ethari traces her transition from an idyllic childhood in a large extended Iraqi family to the relative stability of an exilic family life in Canada. Through memory fragments, flights of poetry, diary entries, and her own art, the author reveals the trauma suffered by Iraqis, caused by three senseless wars, dehumanizing sanctions, a brutal dictatorship, and a foreign occupation. Finely observed, highly personal, and intensely moving, this account also gives testimony to the Iraqi people’s resilience and the humanity they manage to preserve in the face of adversity. It is the other voice, behind the news flashes.”

Date and Time
Tue, 12 November 2019
6:30 PM – 9:30 PM EST

Centre for Social Innovation – Annex
720 Bathurst Street
Toronto, ON M5S 2R4

Wildly Informative & Instructive Wild Writers Festival

WIld Writers Festival Banner

Three Scotiabank-Giller Prize nominees, two multi-award-winning authors, and one University of Waterloo English alumnus highlight the 2019 Wild Writers Literary Festival, November 1 to 3 in Waterloo and Kitchener.

All three Scotiabank-Giller Prize nominees — David Bezmozgis (Immigrant City), Michael Crummey (The Innocents), and K.D. Miller (Late Breaking) — will read from and discuss their latest work at the Literary Brunch on Sunday, November 3 at the Rhapsody Barrel.

The two multi-award-winners — Elizabeth Hay and Kathy Page — will be in conversation with Eufemia Fantetti at the Opening Showcase on the evening of Friday, November 1 at the CIGI Auditorium. Last year, Elizabeth Hay won the Writers’ Trust prize for non-fiction for All Things Consoled and Kathy Page won the fiction prize for Dear Evelyn.

UWaterloo alumnus —George Elliott Clarke — will conduct a poetry masterclass and have a public conversation with Pamela Mordecai about poetry and healing on Saturday, November 2 at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Dr. Clarke served as the Poet Laureate of Toronto from 2012 to 2015 and as the Canadian Parliamentary Laureate in 2016-17.

Wild Writers, Waterloo Region’s premier literary event, features a star-studded ensemble of prominent Canadian writers, who will host panels, workshops, and performances for readers and writers of any age at any stage.

The Wild Writers Festival was created and is managed by The New Quarterly magazine. TNQ has been publishing the best of new Canadian writing — fiction, poetry, nonfiction, author interviews, and talk about writing — since 1981.

“The Wild Writers Festival is a must-attend event for everyone who loves exceptional reading and writing,” says Pamela Mulloy, TNQ editor and WWLF creative director.

Contact Pamela Mulloy at:; 519-884-8111, ext. 28290, or TNQ managing editor Emily Bednarz at:


Throaty Wipes: Meet Susan Holbrook

Screenshot 2019-09-23 16.42.45
The 2019 St. Jerome’s Reading series kicks off this autumn, Friday 25 October at 4:30pm, with the Governor General’s Award-nominated poet Susan Holbrook. Holbrook’s publications include GG-nominated and Trillium Book Award-nominated Throaty Wipes (Coach House 2016), Joy Is So Exhausting (Coach House 2009), which was shortlisted for the Trillium Award for Poetry, and misled (Red Deer 1999), which was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award and the Stephan G. Stephansson Award. Holbrook is also poetry editor at Coach House Books, which specializes in innovative Canadian writing.

St. Jerome’s University is located on the University of Waterloo campus. The reading will be help in SJ1 3027. All are welcome.


Submit to the HeForShe Writing Prize!

Screenshot 2018-03-08 16.02.08
Once again, it’s that time of year: the 2019 HeForShe Writing Contest is open.

“What impacts you in the present? What are you doing in the present to impact the future?”

In this final year of the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 writing contest, we invite the University of Waterloo community to share their ideas, expressions and visions on the theme of Legacy as it relates to intersectional gender equity. Imagine how your words and creative expressions might enact allyship, inspire others and propel action.

In this call for your poems, stories and personal essays, we hope you will consider how the idea of legacy brings us here, to this moment in the present, and also how our choices today impact generations to come. Legacy ties us to one another across time. It extends and traces the choices we make today backwards and forwards, across seasons and across centuries. As we look around us now and lean forward into the future of gender equity, how do you see the legacy we carry today and imagine the legacy we can create for the future?

A $500 prize will be awarded for the top submission in each category (poetry, creative non-fiction, and fiction). Selected submissions will also be included in a special University of Waterloo anthology on gender equity that will be published on March 6, 2020 at the International Women’s Day Dinner.

The contest is open to all Waterloo students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and submissions must not have been previously published. Pieces submitted as part of Waterloo course work will be accepted. Submissions can be made through our online submission form and are due October 1, 2019.