Growing up in the countryside of Perth, Scotland, Margot Livesey, writer-in-residence, spent much of her time outdoors and aspired to be a veterinarian. When her male science professors told her that no animal hospital would ever hire a woman for that position, she threw herself into her other passion?reading.
Eventually, she enrolled at the University of York in England as a philosophy and literature double-major. Although her higher education is the cornerstone of her career as a writer, Livesey was initially hesitant to enter the field. Because she had never studied any living authors, becoming a writer herself seemed unfeasible.
"We just came to a stop as soon as Virginia Woolf walked into the river," Livesey recalls.
Upon graduating from the University of York, Livesey traveled with a friend who was writing a philosophy book. After watching him work, she decided to write her first novel, which she admits was "unbelievably bad."
Following this self-evaluation, Livesey switched to writing short stories. She thought that "it would be good to make mistakes on a smaller scale," but soon she "became captivated by the form."
Her first collection of short stories, "Learning By Heart", was published in Canada in 1986. Since then, Livesey has published several award-winning novels, including "Eva Moves the Furniture" and "Banishing Verona."
While teaching at Emerson College in Boston, Livesey received an e-mail from her friend and then writer-in-residence at Bowdoin, Richard Ford. The Pulitzer Prize winner informed Livesey that he would be leaving his post, and he asked if she would be interested in replacing him. Since the spring 2006 semester, Livesey has held the position of writer-in-residence, while retaining her job at Emerson College.
After surviving her first full Maine winter?thanks to desperate visits to L.L. Bean?Livesey is teaching two courses this spring: an Introductory Fiction Workshop and an Advanced Fiction Workshop.
"I was keen on having students who hadn't written fiction before, but wanted to. I wanted people like myself, aware of this thing, but never had a chance to try it," Livesey says. "But I also wanted a class that would bring more advanced writers together so they could go deeper into their work," she adds.
Livesey continues to write full- time in her Boston home, despite the fact that she spends her Mondays and Tuesdays on campus. After years of practice, she has become quite accustomed to balancing her writing career with teaching commitments.
"I have always written while teaching," she says.
Livesey says she values her interactions with her students and their opinions on both published literature and each other's work. She structures her classes in a way that such opinions will always be shared openly.
"I hope my students take in a lot, because I get a great deal from just walking into the room," Livesey says.
"My students at Bowdoin are fearless," she says in regard to the quality of work they produce. Livesey explains that she often finds herself being motivated by her students.
"I'll be reading a story, and I'll know that this person wrote 12 good pages in the last week. I tell myself that I can do that, too. It raises the bar," she says.
In addition to admiring their work ethics, Livesey is excited to learn about the differences between her background and those of her students.
"Through these inspiring glimpses into their lives, I am reminded of the different angles we look at the world at different ages," she says. "And they teach me to be funny!"
In regard to the greatest thing she has to offer her students, Livesey says, "I can give them my attention. In the best story I believe every word matters. I give my enthusiasm and let them know that books and stories can do so much, even though contemporary culture says otherwise."