Perhaps her poems could save others the way poetry saved her.
Liz Howard grew up in the township of Chapleau, Ontario. It’s a lonely marshland surrounded by rivers and lakes. The wilderness is rich with green pine trees and reddish, gray rocks. The area has a stark beauty to it.
Howard’s biological father left when she was about nine months old. She never had contact with him because he began living off the grid. It was difficult for Howard to grow up without a stable father figure.
“My mother told me when I was young my father was half-native. I didn’t really have any direct familial connection with what that meant about me. Our two families were estranged,” said Howard.
Howard and her mother struggled financially and lived on social assistance for a number of years. She found it difficult moving between homes often. And there weren’t many kids for her to play with. Howard had a lot to express about her upbringing which motivated her to write.
“I developed a voracious reading practice early on that led to an interest in writing. I’d even write short books on scrap pieces of paper in the classroom, staple them together, and put them on the bookshelf for the other kids to read,” said Howard.
Howard moved to Toronto when she was 18. She earned a degree in experimental psychology at the University of Toronto. After graduating, she worked as a laboratory manager for ten years. Meanwhile, she developed her writing skills. She attended poetry readings and read her own work on open mics. She joined poetry workshops with local writers and joined writing groups with friends. Eventually, she decided she wanted to write a book.
“I wanted something that I could send around to publishers, but at the time, juggling everything like a full time job without any kind of structure or guidance, I didn’t feel like it was gonna happen,” said Howard.
She decided to do her Master of Fine Arts at the University of Guelph. Her master’s thesis was two thirds of what eventually became Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent. The final manuscript was published in April 2015 and reviewed well. It was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. However, it won the Griffin Poetry Prize, which was the first time the award was given to a first book.
The poems in her book are about belief, thinking, and the development of the mind.
“Poetry was such a positive presence in my life and really saved me in a way when I was young and alone. I thought I could write something about my experiences that would touch other people like me. Other people have written poems that touched me and made me feel understood,” said Howard.
Last month, she was welcomed as Sheridan’s writer-in-residence for the winter 2020 semester. Her duties include meeting with students to review their writing and helping coordinate writing events. She is currently working on her next book of poems: Letters in a Bruised Cosmos. The book will be out next spring.