Shauna Oddleifson

(She, Her, Hers)

Communications and Marketing Specialist

Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies
Office: CCS 177
Phone: 250.807.9864


Faculty research promotion
Development of promotional material for recruitment purposes
Writing content for faculty, student and alumni profiles
Undergraduate program promotion
Student Recruitment, graduate and undergraduate
Alumni Relations
Support for events in FCCS (promotions, logistics, planning)
FCCS websites updates and content creation
Social media


Joanna Cockerline

Joanna Cockerline with her dog Charlie, enjoying the hiking opportunities on UBCO’s beautiful campus

Joanna Cockerline is cross-appointed in the Department of English and Cultural Studies and the Faculty of Management. Drawing on her love of literature and writing, she teaches English courses such as ENGL 112; based on her experience as a professional consultant for top Canadian and international firms, she shares her expertise in Management Communications courses. Additionally, she is the Program Director for the Go Global Tanzania – Community, Creativity, and Communications program that brings UBC students to East Africa. In addition to her teaching and private sector work, she is currently completing a novel focused on the homeless and sex work communities in Kelowna, inspired by her volunteer work with marginalized women who live and work on Kelowna’s streets.

We sat down with Joanna to find out a bit more about her teaching and research interests.

Tell us about your research interests.

My background is in critical theory, cultural studies, Canadian literature, East African literature, and creative writing, and I find these directions continue to inspire me. Most recently, I have been engaging with a lot of contemporary writing and human rights activism emerging out of East Africa, where there is a vibrant literary and activist scene. I regularly travel to Kenya and Tanzania to meet with authors who have since become dear friends, and am excited to share these connections via author visits in the context of Go Global Tanzania; I also share these insights in my other courses, bringing in international perspectives and a decolonizing lens.

A collage of Go Global Tanzania experiences, authors, and activists, such as Munira Hussein and Ndungi Githuku

Beyond my teaching at UBCO, I run my own consulting business, providing technical writing, editing, and professional communications courses to leading Canadian and international firms. I enjoy sharing the skills and strategies I apply in these contexts with my students to share industry insights and help professionalize their writing.

I’m also at work on a novel focused on the sex work and homeless communities in Kelowna. I love exploring ideas and perspectives from a creative point of view, and always enjoy it when my students approach me with their own writing ideas.

What kind of learning experiences do offer your students

In my English and Management Communications courses, I believe in giving students a lot of choice and freedom in their assignments so they can explore directions that matter to them. Within course parameters, I encourage my students to develop their own research essay topics and management communications projects so that they can pursue trajectories about which they truly care.

For Go Global Tanzania – Community, Creativity, and Communications, we are immersed in the local community, read a diverse range of East African literature, and have opportunities to participate in a wide range of cultural and environmental experiences; I also arrange for authors and human rights activists to visit us and share their insights in an intimate, conversational setting. In addition to immersing themselves in East African culture and literature, students have the opportunity to design and pursue self-directed projects, and can include creative pursuits such as creative writing, photography, and art as part of their learning. In the most recent program that ran, before Covid, students were so inspired they went on to write newspaper articles about their experiences, publish a chapbook of poetry, and hold an interactive photography, writing, and multi-media exhibit in UBCO’s FINA Gallery.

What most excites you about your field of work 

In the context of East African literature, the vibrant and emerging literary scene, particularly out of Nairobi, excites me, and I have really enjoyed getting to know a diverse range of authors personally, arranging for students to connect with them, and bringing their insights into my teaching.

When it comes to professional and technical writing and editing, I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to major engineering and environmental projects with a cumulative capital value of over $6 Billion – working with diverse interdisciplinary teams on innovative pursuits of all scales is exciting, and enables me to share these insights and strategies with my students.

Writing my novel, Still, has also been deeply rewarding, especially as I listen to the diverse voices on the street. Members of the sex work and homeless communities have become my friends over the years, and they are excited to see their perspectives reflected in the book as a way of making their perspectives heard. And the process of writing, of working with language, is continually inspiring.

I love seeing students make discoveries and explore their passions, encountering new ideas and pushing themselves to discover new capabilities. I’m always learning myself and encourage my students to take an open-minded, inquisitive approach to their learning and discovery.

What do you enjoy about living here and working at UBC Okanagan

At UBCO, I love the freedom we have to design programs and courses that let students explore their interests and develop the skills they need to succeed in university and beyond.

As for living here, I absolutely love it. I am in love with the landscape and feel a deep connection with the land, from its mountains to its desert climate to its trees to its lake. I’m always hiking, writing outdoors, and enjoying landscape and wildlife photography. There are so many incredible places to explore and enjoy, and I would encourage all students to get outside and get to know this beautiful unceded Syilx Territory that we are privileged to call home. It’s an incredible place to live and learn.

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the CAS Book Prize for 2022 is Zoe Wineck for “Making the Connection: An Exercise in Moral Comparisons, Invoking Compassion and Deconstructing Killability”.

Dr. Castricano notes that Zoe’s essay offers a compelling reflection on the way that “comparisons and metaphors, for example, the PETA campaign “Holocaust on Your Plate,” invoke prohibitive emotional reactions that can shut down the critical thinking process. Seriously considering the anger, trauma, and the limits of emotional reactions when analyzing the value of comparisons of oppression and suffering is a requirement to this work.” Zoe’s paper draws upon visual images and other comparisons to genocide and enslavement to discuss how “the two legacy evils in modern human history, instrumentally narrativized to fit many struggles, are still dreaded in the animal liberation context.”

Zoe WineckZoe Wineck (she/they) is a fourth-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations at UBCO. She was initially most interested in studying Genocide, Human Rights and Transitional Justice. However, after three friends had suggested she take Jodey Castricano’s ENGL 457: Posthumanism and Critical Animal Studies seminar, Zoe realized she could start answering one of her many burning questions: If no animal’s life was of lesser value than any other being would there be Genocide? Recently, Zoe has been using Critical Animal studies to bridge the gaps they have found in their degree. Zoe hopes to do the same in Germany next semester, where they assume the same gaps exist. If anything comes from their work, Zoe hopes it brings a new level of consideration for non-human animal lives to their anthropocentric degree. When Zoe is not reading about absolutely dreadful current and historical events, she spends her time learning German, snowboarding, skateboarding and baking the best (secretly vegan) Challah her family has ever had.

The Book Prize for CAS is Hidden: Animals in the Anthropocene (Joanne McArthur & Keith Wilson, Eds, We Animals Media, 2020)

The successful SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarships-Master’s (CGS M) Program award recipients were announced in April 2022. We are proud to share that two of our master’s of fine arts students and one masters student in the IGS sustainability theme have received the CGS-M, which provides financial support to graduate students who demonstrate a high standard of achievement in undergraduate and early graduate studies.

“Congratulations to this year’s masters SSHRC awardees! These prestigious awards support students through their Master’s degrees with predictable funding, and enhance their CV for future academic and job applications.” Says Greg Garrard, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies.

Below are the recipient from our Masters of Fine Arts with a summary of their research.

Claire Miller-Harder Masters of Fine Arts student Claire Miller-Harder has been awarded a SSHRC CGS-M fellowship for her MFA creative writing project, titled One Acre of Land on Mars. Miller-Harder is completing an MFA with a specialization in Creative Writing, with supervisor Nancy Holmes, and committee members Anne Fleming and Lisa Grekul.

Here is a summary of Claire’s research proposal: “My proposed thesis is a collection of linked short stories that explore the intersections between female Mennonite identity and issues of deviance, such as queerness, infertility, mental illness, and suicide. In “Visitant,” Iris struggles with infertility in the shadow of her midwife-healer grandmother. In “As Blue as This,” Rachel visits an aquarium while pondering a suicide pact proposed by her friend Louise. In “Pomelo,” a teenager returns from the psychiatric ward to find she is haunted by Elvis. We return to Rachel in “Where We’re Going” as she grieves Louise while dealing with end-times anxiety. By illuminating how Mennonite women find belonging through forms of deviancy, this project discovers new ways of looking at entrapment and liberation.”

Shimshon Obadia

First year Masters of Fine Arts student Shimshon Obadia has been awarded a SSHRC CGS-M for their interdisciplinary MFA research titled, Queer Sounds in the Substructure: Queering Space with Locative Digital Stories. Obadia is completing an MFA with a specialization in Interdisciplinary Studies, with supervisor Michael V. Smith and committee members are Kevin Chong, and Megan Smith

Here is a summary of Shimshon’s research project: “Queer Sounds in the Substructure is a public art installation that embodies a queer presence in the conservative small city of Kelowna, BC. This project uses site-specific interactive lyric non-fiction storytelling informed by my personal history living here as a trans person who struggled to come out for years. This work addresses a problem highlighted in UBCO’s latest Report on Diversity which asserted that members of the LGBTQ+ community feel severely alienated in Kelowna due to an imposing cis/heteronormative culture. I’m attempting to improve this situation by examining how hearing queer stories in public places might generate a sense of belonging for folk like me.”

Chhavi MathurMasters student Chhavi Mathur has been awarded a SSHRC CGS-M for her interdisciplinary MA research titled, Picturing Paradise: An Ecocritical Study of Literature in the Okanagan. Mathur is in the IGS program Sustainability theme, and is supervised by Dr. Greg Garrard along with committee member Dr. Lisa Grekul.

Here is a summary of Chhavi’s research project: “While the Okanagan Valley is the traditional unceded territory of, primarily, the Sylix people, successive phases of settler colonialism in this area have altered the landscape in significant ways, particularly through the establishment and growth of its fruit, tourism and wine industries. Through my research on literature from the Okanagan Valley, from between 1892 and the present, I will be exploring the shifting perceptions, imagination, and entangled cultural-material history of the landscape.”


Masters student Brianne Christensen has been awarded a SSHRC CGS-M Fellowship for her MA research titled, Hospitality in Crisis: New Sincerity and Receiving the Stranger in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet. Christensen is in the Masters in English program, and is supervised by Dr. Jennifer Gustar along with committee members Dr. George Grinnell and Dr. Margaret Reeves.

Here is a summary of Christensen’s research project: “Hospitality suggests the process of welcoming, whether into a home, a community, or a nation. By engaging with critical theories of hospitality and migration ethics to compliment my textual analysis, I will explore how Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet reflects the (in)hospitality extended to migrants in post-Brexit Britain, which serves as a synecdoche for our global condition. My study of hospitality also locates Smith’s work in the growing corpus of New Sincerity literature and, in so doing, theorizes authorship in a time of global crises, during which the author cannot afford postmodern                                                             distance.”


Miles Thorogood working with students on app development

Creative tasks, such as graphic design, video production, game design, and music-making have grown to be the leading professional use of computers, besides communication. Recent initiatives in artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning are driving a renaissance in how creative tasks are carried out by amateurs and professionals alike.

With this in mind, Dr. Miles Thorogood is working to establish a new lab, the Sonic Production, Intelligence, Research, and Applications Lab (SPIRAL), supported by Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

CFI gives infrastructure funding to create research centres and labs on campus, which can include renovating or building space, the purchase of equipment and software as well as operational funds to get spaces up and running.

SPIRAL will be located in the new Innovation Annex Building as part of the cutting-edge research infrastructure being developed at UBCO. With this funding, the space will be renovated and equipment will be purchased to include a 900 sqft performance and immersive experience space, a dedicated sound control room – boasting a 36-channel audio dispersion system, 10 ft high-definition video projection, and VR headsets for media production and perception focussed research.

It is widely recognized that augmenting and simulating human creativity is the next frontier in, explains Thorogood. “I am interested in exploring sound design to develop state of the art models and algorithms for developing new computational tools in the video game, animation and virtual reality industries.”

Dr. Thorogood is an assistant professor teaching media studies, with a background in audio engineering, computer science, and music information retrieval.

“The goal with this new space is to research and develop new computational models to simulate cognitive tasks of the creative process in sound design,” he says.

Projects in SPIRAL will focus on the development of the next generation of A.I. computer-assisted tools for sound design production in the growing field of video games and virtual reality.

“We will work to align sound design with current trends in creative A.I. by developing new state of the art sound analysis and generation algorithms and innovative production tools,” he says.

The impact of Dr. Thorogood’s research has the potential to transform industry. Instead of searching through hundreds of hours of recordings to retrieved small sections of audio that fulfill criteria based on creative selection, a sound designer will simply set the parameters of what they are seeking in terms of salient criteria and the machine will return alternatives in mere seconds. Producers of VR and augmented reality can enter descriptions of the environment and the machine will generate appropriate immersive sound. Video game developers will label objects in the environment and autonomously generate the sound scene that also responds to player and narrative.

Naben Ruthnum with contest winners Stephanie Plumb, Manjinder Sidhu-Kong and Laura Foisy

Writer in Residence Naben Ruthnum was the judge for the 24th annual Okanagan Short Story Contest, and announced the 4 finalists at a public event on March 31st with each of the writers reading a part of their story. The event was held in-person at the Okanagan Regional Library with guests still able to attend virtually.

The annual contest, organized by the Creative Writing program in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies (FCCS), is a writing competition open to fiction writers in British Columbia’s Southern Interior. Writers submit their stories, which are then read, anonymously, by faculty, and the shortlisted stories are sent to a guest judge to choose the winners in the adult and high school categories.

Manjinder Sidhu-Kong took the top prize with her story, Wax Off. Manjinder lives in Penticton BC, she is currently in the MFA program at UBCO with a specialization in Creative Writing, and is on track to complete her program this spring.

“This is a complex story about individuality, what children take and what they give, communication between very different women, and sexuality, in a setting that combines earthiness and cosmetic perfection,” says Ruthnum.

Second place went to Animal Sounds and Smells by Laura Foisy from Cherryville BC.

“The character, landscape, and specificity of detail merge in this gracefully told and carefully observed story,” commented Ruthnum.

Local Kelowna resident Stephanie Plumb took third place with her story The Sound of the Sea.

“A haunting story tinged with the fantastic, deeply grounded in an expansive idea of family love,” explained Ruthnum.

The high-school category was won by Frances Myers Lynch, from L.V. Rodgers Secondary School in Nelson BC. Ruthnum said that her story, Bird Bones is story that isn’t just promising—which it is—but evidence of a talent that is already strong.

“Vivid descriptions, convincing dialogue, and haunting imagery that tie into the underlying sadness of this effective tale make this a memorable read.”

The first-place writer received $1,000 plus a one-week retreat at The Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre in Kelowna; second-place winner received $400 and third-place received $200. The top high school student received a $200 prize. Co-sponsors of the contest are FCCS, TD and the Central Okanagan Foundation.

View the full shortlist for this year’s contest

Megan Smith and Gao Yujie viewing the installation in the Visualization and Emerging Media Studio

With the goal to increase public exposure to space traffic density, Dr. Megan Smith and PhD student Gao Yujie have created All the Stars We Cannot See, an immersive installation geographically situates participants in a virtual sky where they can gaze up in real time at over 25,000 satellites as they fly overhead. Smith and Gao are working to render visible the impact of satellite density in the sky, and to share information on the presence of technology surveillance globally.

This work helps to build opportunity for discussion on the impact of Space colonization, and bring awareness to the political and economic driving forces that are currently occupying Space, explains Megan Smith, Associate Professor of Media Studies in the Department of Creative Studies.

“One of the things that brought us to this project is the social media fever that is going on with so much communication and images transferring between people,” Smith notes.

People are constantly connected through their devices, so they wanted to ask some more pertinent questions; how is the use of this tech affecting us and how could they build upon that in some way.

“We looked up into the sky for answers, as we know satellites play a very active role in relaying our communications, and we wondered how many satellites are up there, anyway?”

There has been a massive growth of technology launched into space, and this project visualizes that content. The artwork is produced by pulling real-time data from using their Application Programming Interface (API). Once the real-time data flows into the program, they work with the satellite footprint – latitude, longitude and altitude formatted into decimal degrees. The data being pulled from the satellites is rendered on 30-foot rounded screens in the Visualization and Emerging Media Studio (VEMS) here at UBCO, so a viewer can sit in the space to really take in the entire experience.

“The first time we put our visuals on the big screen, my perception of the project scope changed.  It felt like all these satellites were coming to you and I was surprised to enjoy the moment of moving through the screen with the satellites,” says Gao.

She adds, that it is hard to explain how incredible it feels to be surrounded by this satellite data.

The hope for this project is that it will push audiences to ask questions about what is happening in space, as installed in the VEMS it gives us that wow factor that a starry night sky can provide. It is all encompassing feeling of awe.

“We want this to be a pathway to touch outer space so we can begin to understand impact of satellite density, potential surveillance, and the political and economical driving forces that are currently colonizing this new frontier,” says Smith.

This geographic data is stored within individual pixel R.G.B data to a lossless image – where each pixel of the image contains specified position data for a satellite at a specific moment. The data is updated every 15 seconds and enables the viewers to identify movement.

This work was presented at EVA London 2021, and Technarte Bilbao 2022. We welcome viewers to join us for a  drop-in demonstration on April 5th from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. in the Visualization and Emerging Media Studio (COM 107).

Megan Smith and Gao Yujie provide this synopsis of some of the research:


View this lecture from the Technarte Conference, in February 2022:

About the Artists and Researchers

Dr. Megan Smith is a UBC 2022 Killam Laureate, Associate Professor in Creative Technologies and the Coordinator of the Bachelor of Media Studies in FCCS. Her practice-based research probes systems for delivering syndicated data through narrative structure and she often works with virtual and augmented reality, geo-location, live-feed installation, and performance as methods for storytelling.

Gao Yujie is a fourth-year IGS Ph.D. student of Digital Arts and Humanities in FCCS. Her generative participatory performance work studies the materiality of duration and explores the elasticity of space and time in rule-based interactive environments.

Left to right: Katie Brown, Francisco Peña, Derek Carr, Michelle Bolduc

With funding from the UBC Okanagan-Exeter Excellence Catalyst Grant, Dr. Francisco Peña is working with a team of researchers from the University of Exeter and UBC Vancouver to continue the work of translating General e Grand Estoria (GGE), the most expansive 13th-century book written in Spanish.

Commissioned by King Alfonso X of Castile, a.k.a., “el Sabio” (the Wise), the book was compiled by various contributors from different major religions, writing history together. The resulting publication is the first, and only, version of the Bible in which Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and apocryphal interpretations are accepted.

This project positions the General e grand estoria within the multicultural context of its production and re-evaluates the role of Judaism and Islam, as well as the Graeco-roman classical traditions, in the birth of Spanish and European historical writing and the beginnings of vernacular fiction.

“We are creating a new methodology of study, involving digital media, creating new tools for innovative interdisciplinary study of the Middle Ages,” says Peña, Associate Professor in the Department of Languages and World Literatures.

He adds that the translation this book into English will make the text more accessible to the modern reader while still capturing the flavour of the mediaeval original. Divided into six parts, the General e Grand Estoria narrates human history, from creation to year zero, including the biblical and non-biblical past, and the Jewish and non-Jewish past.

The research team includes Francisco Peña (UBCO), Katie Brown (Exeter), Derek Carr (UBCV), and Michelle Bolduc (Exeter). They been working together for 4 years, digitalizing the book, which is now accessible to the group in a shared online platform. Translators will work in that platform to create a written translation of the text, so that in the end, a reader can select the chapter, see a photo of the original manuscript, and then be able to read the text that is being translated.

This project will recruit students onto the Masters of Arts Translation Studies at Exeter and provide them with specialist training in translating mediaeval Spanish in La Rioja, Spain. Those students will work on the translation of the GGE over the course of their MA, allowing them to broaden their language skills, intercultural understanding, and employability through involvement with an international, interdisciplinary team.

“This project provides work experience for students, so that when they graduate and go into the job market, they come with experience of project management and working within a team,” Peña explains.

This pilot will build the long-term commitments necessary to successfully pursue an SSHRC Partnership Grant, which will be the foundation of the larger GGE study, translation, and subsequent publications.

Find out more about the Confluence of Religious Cultures in Medieval Histography project.

Akeem Johnston

Akeem Johnston

Akeem Johnston completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in 2021 with a major in English, and is currently working as Brand Coordinator at Bylands Nurseries in West Kelowna. Akeem says, “I chose UBC’s Okanagan campus because I knew it would give me the best opportunity to explore my passions while determining what degree I wanted.”

We asked Akeem to tell us a little bit about his time here at UBCO and what he is doing now that he has graduated.

Tell us about your experience here at UBC Okanagan.

I had many highlights during my UBC experience, but three stand out. The friends I made at UBCO are important to me and have become some of my best friends over the past few years. I took a year off my studies to be part of the co-op program and had the opportunity to work at the university which became a jumpstart into my profession. The professors I connected with at UBCO helped me learn as much as possible about my writing while helping me gain skills that have proven valuable in my work environment. Margaret Reeves is a professor that made a difference and helped me immensely. She challenged me to become a better writer and to develop distinct arguments. I knew I could send her a thought-provoking idea and that she would help me create a congruent argument while allowing me the freedom to pursue the argument to its full extent. She also helped me with my career, as she was a reference during my co-op and she wrote me a letter of recommendation that helped me obtain my current position. I made sure to get a seat in her class every year and highly recommend other students do the same.

 Why did you choose to major in English?

When I entered UBCO, I knew I wanted an English degree, but I did not know what was possible with such a degree. During one of my first-year classes, a guest professor explained the relationship between an English degree and marketing, and that presentation convinced me to pursue marketing. Obtaining any degree is difficult and the road proved arduous at certain junctions, but my professors were very helpful and understanding which made the journey easier.

Tell us about your co-op experience.

I worked with the team in University Relations at UBCO as a social media manager during my co-op year. This position allowed me to learn about marketing tools to use social media to grow a business. Those same tools are useful for my current position, where I use sales marketing to help Bylands grow as a business. My English major is useful as I have to write and edit throughout the creative process, which is much easier with an English degree. The creativity that an English degree fleshes out of you is also very important for marketing, as I learned how to use my creativity as a tool to display my thoughts to the consumer. I also recommend co-op as an opportunity to determine if the career you imagine is something that you want. Working for UBCO further reinforced my future in marketing, but it also allowed me to focus on another career if necessary before I graduated.

What are you doing now that you have graduated?

My current position is the Brand Coordinator at Bylands Nurseries. I am the head of sales marketing, so I help develop marketing plans and determine the best ways to connect with our customers. I develop sales sheets and sales guides, as well as marketing plans to grow Byland’s presence. One of the most enjoyable parts of this job is the other things asked of me, as every day something new pops up on my desk and presents a unique challenge. I can navigate these challenges with the help of the awesome team of workers we have here at Bylands. There is a family atmosphere that became apparent from my first day onwards, and I am very thankful for the opportunity I have been given by Bylands.

Katherena Vermette. Photo credit: Vanda Fleury

The UBCO anti-racist book club is proud to host an artist talk with Katherena Vermette. On March 23rd, 2022, Vermette will discuss her most recent novel, The Strangers, publicly via zoom. Before the talk, Larissa Piva had the pleasure of sitting down with Katherena for an interview on her book and practice in general.

Larissa Piva is a graduate student in the MFA program with a specialization in Creative Writing. She is working as an academic assistant with Kevin Chong on the Anti-Racist Book Club and Reading Series.


The Strangers book cover. Design credit: Hamish Hamilton

The idea for The Strangers initially was a continuation of The Break, a further exploration of why and how Phoenix came to be the way she is; she was a train that I just had to follow. I also wanted to tell a family story, one that interlaced voices and braided family narrative while traversing generations. The story became this unfolding that I played with quite a bit. One of the really surprising things that surfaced from exploring their voices and lives was this idea of bodily choice. If you’re going to tell the story about family, talking about the person’s choices that brought the people into that family is an interesting thought. It became an obvious connection.

I was familiar with politics around pregnancy choice before, but I did some further research for the novel. I was unfortunately very much familiar with the body politics of Indigenous women specifically and their historical denial of choice. That became one of the main layers. The story unexpectedly became about institutions. Writing it that way came naturally but in editing, I then realized how horrifying the state’s imposition onto Indigenous families is and how so very few of us are unmarked from that heavy surveillance. The criticism and critiques of our ability to parent in our families also surprised me, so I did more research on prisons and the foster care system and followed it. I wanted to specifically explore the intersectionality between Indigenous and female. There are a lot of ideas around family, a lot of ideas around pregnancy and choice, bodily choice, which is not exclusive to women, but in this case, in this story it was important, and I really wanted to talk about those experiences.


 It all has value, but I love working in fiction specifically because you can change what you need to change. Everything is malleable and you can sculpt whatever is needed in a way you cannot do with factual evidence. Whenever I write in the “real world,” I of course still must adhere to certain rules. Timestamps, places. People can’t grow wings and walk on air. But it’s different because I can really make sure you know what I want you to know. I also can introduce more voices and characters into fiction.


The first chapter of Phoenix was probably the most emotionally difficult. It was also the first chapter I wrote. The Break came together in layers, it was all over the place but again Phoenix was that train I had to follow. I wrote that first chapter quickly and I just cried; there was so much pain. It’s an abrupt way to start a book and credit to my editors for not trying to sway me from the artistic choice to start the book like that. Actually, one of the novel’s big criticisms is how Phoenix opens the book: aggressively with a big potty mouth.

She swears a lot, but I do think it is a very white-centric idea, I would venture to say a white upper-class privileged idea, to think that we are all supposed to act and speak a certain way. I am always fascinated by voice. I am fascinated by the way people choose to communicate. So often we learn to communicate in ways that we completely normalize but other groups might not understand, which is why code-switching exists. Swearing and communicating aggressively is Phoenix’s entire world. She fronts this hyper aggression to keep herself safe; that’s what life taught her over and over again. The way she speaks doesn’t negate the value of her experience. I resent the idea that you’re supposed to create this palatable character and spoon-feed them to the masses. No, we have to meet characters, as fictionalized as they are, where they’re at. I want to hear her story through her words, which is a hell of a lot more valuable than any fabricated saturation of couth. My characters have harsh lives so sometimes they have harsh language, harsh ways of presenting themselves. I love them like that, and I wanted to present them like that, not a polished version.


I wrote each character completely before Covid. I had a lot of the book’s bones before it happened, but while weaving the stories together suddenly the world became different. I could have ignored it, just skipped over it to maintain the escapism, but I felt that would’ve fucked up the timeline. That, and writing life events into stories may not seem important now, we think no one will notice, but twenty years down the line, people will definitely notice.

Covid became a hindrance to the characters too. For a lot of the book, Elsie is trying to get together with Cedar and Cedar is trying to get together with Phoenix. It became part of that, another barrier, another hurdle they had to go over. Plastic barriers and masks and social distancing still kept them apart in a lot of ways.


I love that idea of bringing new life into the names because I’ve explored these names for so many years. As Michif people, we have extensive genealogies. The church documented us well, they kept track of us in order to contain us, but we’ve used those extensive genealogies to create and maintain community and nationhood, which I love. I love the power of reclaiming that tool but also what it left us: so many names.

Angélique Laliberté is my third great-grandmother I believe. She lived for a long, beautiful time through the 1800s and the Métis world changed threequel in her lifetime. I love her name. Not only Angélique but Laliberté. That means liberty, freedom.

Métis nationhood has a lot to do with those ideas, but that’s almost all I know of her, so I loved bringing her into this other character. Something Métis people do often is name children after those who came before. That’s why we have so many Josephs. We really do! Not only because St. Joseph is our patron saint, but because many people were named Joseph and then they named their children after someone. So, it’s Joseph, Joseph, Joseph. I have lots of Josephs to take from. I kind of made that a joke in my writing because I think every book has a character named Joseph.


You can’t get away from it! I am a total name nerd. Whenever I write, I think about the creation of these big stories around names. I love where they come from and what they mean.

Katherena’s next book, The Circle, is set to be released Fall of 2023. She gave Larissa a few details to share. While each novel stands alone, The Circle is connected to and will include characters from both The Break and The Strangers in an “impetus conclusion.” The novel starts with Phoenix’s release from prison and continues with characters convening.

About the author

Katherena, a Red River Métis (Michif) writer from Treaty 1 territory, is an award-winning author, poet, and filmmaker. To name a few accolades, Vermette’s 2013 poetry collection North End Love Songs received the Governor General’s Award, The Break won the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, and The Strangers received the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. When she is not writing, Katherena explores her love for genealogy, supports marginalized youth, and spends time with her family.

UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies (FCCS) is pleased to share the finalists of the 2022 Okanagan Short Story Contest.

The Okanagan Short Story Contest awards the best new short stories by fiction writers in the Southern Interior of British Columbia: east of Hope, west of the Alberta border, north of the US border and south of Williams Lake. Past winners have gone on to publish with Penguin Random House, Arsenal Pulp Press, and NeWest Press, as well as numerous magazines and journals nationally and internationally.

A total of 121 short story entries were submitted for the adult category, and 70 stories for the high school category.

“It is exciting to see so many entries from all over the region,” says FCCS professor Nancy Holmes. “We are looking forward to see who will take home the prizes!”

Shortlisted authors: adult category

  • Steven Lattey – Vernon, B.C.
  • Shawn Bird – Salmon Arm, B.C.
  • Amber Nuyens – Lake Country, b.C
  • Debra Kennedy – Cranbrook, B.C.
  • Anthea McLean – West Kelowna, B.C.
  • Ximena Gordillo Cruz – Kelowna, B.C.
  • Sid Ruhland – Oliver, B.C.
  • Laura Foisy – Cherryville, B.C.
  • Stephanie Plumb – Kelowna, B.C.
  • Kristin Burns – Vernon, B.C.
  • Manjinder Sidhu-Kong – Penticton, B.C.

Shortlisted authors: high school category

  • Kai Greenhough – Kelowna, B.C.
  • Mae Glerum – Kelowna, B.C.
  • Olivia Bagnall – West Kelowna, B.C.
  • Brooke-Lynn Andersson – Penticton, B.C.
  • Annika Crum – Vernon, B.C.
  • Frances Myers Lynch – Nelson, B.C.

Fun facts about a few of our finalists: Kristin Burns is a UBCO MFA alumna, and received second place in the 2021 contest. Manjinder Sidhu-Kong is a current MFA student. Amber Nuyens is a current UBCO student, and has just been accepted into the MFA program at UVIC. Steve Lattey has been a finalist in the past. Shawn Bird has been shortlisted three times before and is a UBC MEd alumnus.

FCCS is offering cash prizes to the top three stories—$1,000, $400 and $200; the first prize winner also wins a one-week retreat at The Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre in Kelowna. The top story by a high school student receives a cash prize of $200. Co-sponsors of the contest are FCCS, TD and the Central Okanagan Foundation.

Winning submissions will be selected by FCCS Writer in Residence, Naben Ruthnum, who will announce the final four writers at the March 31st event.

The free, one-hour public event takes place Thursday, March 31st, at the Okanagan Regional Library, downtown Kelowna, 1380 Ellis St., starting at 7:00 p.m.

There is no need to register, please note that public health orders will be followed and vaccine passports will be checked upon entry to the space.