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Iryn Tushabe received an Independent Artists grant to work toward the first draft of her novel and attend a retreat at Sage Hill Writing Experience.
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SKArts - Iryn Tushabe.Iryn Tushabe says the decision to write full-time was thrust upon her in 2015. The Uganda-born journalist’s work permit had expired, and she had to leave her job while she waited on the results of her permanent residency application. “Suddenly, I had time on my hands, time that I spent worrying about money, my status and my family,” she says. “All through that spring and summer, I thought a lot about the idea of ‘home,’ how it applied to me, an immigrant writer without status, but also what it meant to different people at different times.”

So, she began writing and exploring that idea – in non-fiction articles and personal essays at first, then in short stories and a semi-autobiographical novel, Everything Is Fine Here. She enjoyed it so much that, even once it was legal for her to work again, she chose to continue writing fiction instead of returning to journalism.

Tushabe has received numerous accolades for her work. She was a runner-up for the City of Regina’s Writing Award in 2017 and 2018, longlisted for the 2016 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize and received second place in a Readers Digest competition in 2015. This year, her short story, "A Separation", has been included in The Journey Prize Stories anthology.

An Independent Artists grant enabled her to work toward the first draft of her novel and attend a ten-day retreat at Sage Hill Writing Experience with Toronto writer Alissa York. Before arriving at the workshop, Tushabe was close to abandoning the novel. But York helped her work through elements of her draft that were problematic, such as timelines, scene writing and point of view. “I overcame all of the challenges that were holding me back,” Tushabe says. “I feel like I know how to solve those problems now, so I don’t get discouraged.”

She continues to be mentored by York, this time through a creative writing course at Humber College. “I feel like I’ve gotten better though working with her. I’m happy where the novel is now and what the story has become compared to the first draft,” she says. Everything Is Fine Here has already received interest from publishers, and Tushabe is seeking an agent.

In 2017, she also participated in the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild’s Mentorship Program, which pairs an established writer with an emerging one. “I am constantly overwhelmed by how much support there is for emerging writers in Saskatchewan. I don’t think I could be at this stage with this novel if there wasn’t the support that I’ve been able to tap into,” Tushabe says.

Photo by Robin Schlaht