Brianna Ferguson completed her MFA in Creative Writing in 2022 at UBC Okanagan. In 2021, Mansfield Press published her first book of poetry, A Nihilist Walks into a Bar.
She is a writer and educator from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. She holds a Master of Fine Arts, a Bachelor of Education, and a Bachelor of Arts from UBC. Her poems and stories have appeared in various publications across North America and the U.K.
We met with Brianna to discuss her book and to get some insight on her writing process.
Tell us about your collection of poetry.
Several of the poems did come from a creative partnership with one of my colleagues in the MFA program, Andisha Sabri Carey. During the program, we started up a Twitter hashtag, PoToGo (Poetry to go) and challenged each other to tweet a new poem every alternating day for a month. Several of the poems I wrote during that time made it into the book. Another poem in the collection even came from a writing prompt created by a few of my colleagues in one of their classroom presentations. They had this beautiful presentation about water and how it factors into various works they were interested in. They prompted us to write about water, so of course I wrote about the playground conversations my friends and I used to have about how water is only ever recycled, so at one point all the water in our bodies was probably dinosaur urine.
What was your process in writing the book?
This collection, like so many other first collections, took shape over nearly a decade of writing and publishing and struggling along. Eventually, after years of writing, I realized a lot of my work tended to meditate on mortality and beer. There’s a book, I thought to myself, and here we are.
What was your experience working with an editor and publisher?
Working with Stuart Ross was a dream. As an editor, he who wasn’t afraid to tell me if he hated something or to cut whole sequences, and it was exactly the experience I always craved as a writer. Honestly, it was probably the most rewarding creative experience I’ve ever had. Nothing motivates me like tough love.
In terms of publication, I got really lucky. I sent my manuscript out to several publishers in January 2021, as part of my New Year’s resolutions, and by late February I had an acceptance from Mansfield. I only found Mansfield after seeing Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things and falling in love with the poem “Bonedog” which featured in it. I looked up the poem, found the author, found her publisher, and the rest is history.
Tell us about your time at UBCO as a student.
Being an undergrad at UBCO was easily one of the happiest times of my life. I spent six years after high school desperately wanting to go to school and worrying my high school grades wouldn’t allow me to without a bunch of upgrading. High school was the worst time of my life, and it showed in my grades. I finally applied, though, and managed to squeak in.
Right off the bat, I had Creative Writing 160 with Michael V. Smith, who immediately gave me the perfect blend of academia and friendship. I’m indebted to him for really honing my writing and cheering me on from day one. He’s a rare gem among human beings. Anderson Araujo was another prof whose classes I’d have given an arm to attend. He knows his stuff so completely, and he’s got so much passion for his material; I could listen to him for hours, probably even without a coffee on hand. Jennifer Gustar, Lisa Grekul, Matt Rader, I mean good lord – there are so many amazing people here.
You are teaching a first-year creative writing class here at UBCO this fall. How did you know you wanted to teach?
Loving UBCO as much as I do, professor-poet is the only job I’ve ever really wanted. I got my Bachelor of Education when I was living in Vancouver a few years back, so I could start to understand the profession – and of course, so I’d always have something to fall back on. I never dreamed I’d actually get to teach at UBCO, because why should I get exactly what I want? But then Matt Rader called me up one day and asked me to teach CRWR 160. If it weren’t for that call, I’d still be fretting away like I did before I applied to my BA. I only hope, now that I’m here, that I can do for my students what Michael and so many other profs did for me. Michael always let me write what I wanted while showing me how I could tweak it to appeal to a larger audience, or to hone the language. Never more than that. He let me splash around and learn things for myself, and it’s that teaching style that I want to bring to my own students. I don’t want to stifle anyone or try to make them into versions of my own creative self. I just want to create a space where people can be comfortable sharing ideas and having fun with writing. Writing is life, of course, but it’s also just writing. Nothing good ever came from taking things too seriously.