Teaching by example
Educator wins literary award

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 05/00) - St. Patrick high school English teacher Gillian Dawe entered the NWT Literacy Council's writing contest to encourage her creative writing students. What she didn't expect was to walk away the overall winner.

For her efforts, Dawe won The Norman McPherson Literacy Award, and the cash prize of $500.

The award is based on originality, effort and content, says council spokesperson Katherine Robinson. She added anybody can win the prize -- age and language are not an issue. In past years, a Gwich'in writer and an Inuktitut writer have picked up the award.

"I have this thing where if they do it, I have to do it," says Dawe about her rule that she also has to complete any exercises she assigns to her class.

Out of Coffee, her winning poetry entry, stemmed from an exercise that made use of pictures to spur the imagination. Her picture was of a woman with her chin resting in her hands, looking somewhat disgruntled.

"I've pretty much written for my entire life," says Dawe.

"It's one of those things where I don't know when I started writing. I've always remembered myself as writing. But I do remember the first time I got caught."

In Grade 6, after her parent's divorce, Dawe kept her writing on that topic in her desk at school. Her best friend ("my supposed best friend") found the material and gave it to the teacher.

"I was mortified," recalls Dawe.

"The teacher liked the stuff and she pushed me towards a contest. And I won it. It was the first time I realized I could write and that my parents realized I could write. There was money and a trip involved."

The writing continued throughout junior high and high school, and she placed "here and there" in various contests.

"Then I was really into it until the year my daughter was born."

Teaching creative writing -- Dawe also taught adults for a city program last year -- gave the writer an opportunity to return. While her students write, she can write too.

"I've been getting back into trying to write, finding the time," she says.

As for advice, Dawe says the more you write and read, the better you write.

"Write, write and write," she says.