Written by Dr. Jerome Stueart, Fulbright Student 2001-2002, from Texas Tech University to Yukon College
I came from Texas to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory in the fall of 2001 on a Creative Writing Fulbright Fellowship. I went there to study Northern ecosystems and literature and to write a novel about arctic biologists in the Northern Yukon. I ended up staying not one Fulbright year, but ten years. This last December, I published a collection of stories that are as much about transformation as they are a reflection of my time in Whitehorse.
That first year, I studied at Yukon College (which has a fantastic northern focus!) and got to “do” northern biology at Kluane Lake Research Station, helping out with their snowshoe hare counts at the end of a long 10-year study—seeing what it was like to be a biologist.
I realized then that I had too little personal experience to be writing about northerners and biologists, so I stayed two more years, teaching as an adjunct at Yukon College. Eventually, I transformed the novel into a short story, “Lemmings in the Third Year” and, on the advice of fantasy writer, Terence M. Green, submitted it to Tesseracts 9, an anthology of science fiction and fantasy, where it was published in 2004, and was shortlisted for the Fountain Award from the Speculative Literature Foundation in 2005. It’s included in this collection.
But while I was busy transforming my work, Whitehorse also transformed me.
Fulbright asks you to understand another culture—not from the outside, not just through research, but by becoming part of the culture, allowing your barriers to come down, your preconceptions to be challenged, and allowing another culture to mold you.
I let the culture in, let it challenge and change me. And in that changing, I became someone better, I think. Oh, the Yukon knew how to woo me: picking cranberries on your belly in the forest; racing across a frozen lake holding on to a dogsled; canoeing the Yukon River from the city centre to the center of peace and eagles; going to the Available Light Film Festival at the Arts Centre even on a -30 day with friends; CD and book launches packed to the rafters with friends; walking home through the city on a summer night in full sunlight; hot-tubbing outside when it’s -25C, your hair freezing, talking with your gang and watching the aurora dance above you.
I was smitten.
And so I stayed nearly ten years, wanting to be a part of the city I loved. I transformed. I became a trolley conductor, a vaudevillian, a reporter stationed at Kluane Lake, a guide to the Beringia Centre, a marketer for the Arts. In the Yukon, I also grew as a writer, writing for radio and print, attending writers’ conferences, teaching, and mentoring. I became not just a better writer, but a better Yukoner.
My collection reflects the changes I went through, and the experiences I had. I was asked to write a poem for Arts in the Park based on Yukon History which became “Sam McGee Argues with his Box of Authentic Ashes”; my failed attempt at becoming a Communications officer for the Premier was used to shape a character who must confront vampires; a failed long-distance online dating trip became a talking bear love story; emceeing the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival helped me write about a bluegrass band and the werewolf that lives with them; embracing myself as a gay Christian man helped me rewrite The Song of Solomon for a sasquatch and the cryptozoologist that pursues him. Nine of the stories were written in the Yukon, four of them take place there. I have more to write about the Yukon because the Yukon is now a part of me.
I thought I was writing a novel and I needed Fulbright to get me to the north. I would get my research done, get back to academia, write the novel. But I fell in love with a place, and, as you do when you’re in love, you let love change you. As my knowledge of the north expanded, so did my reasons for writing and what I wanted to say. I became someone different and that changed the stories I would write.
This book is about transformation—whether you will become the best you or the beast you, and how you influence others. The Yukon—starting with my Fulbright year–helped me find the best me, and may have unleashed a bit of my beast too. But as you’ll find out, that’s okay too.
Dr. Jerome Stueart recently published “The Angels of Our Better Beasts.” ChiZine Publications.