Interview with Carolyn Gray

Özten Shebahkeget interview Carolyn Gray

Carolyn Gray, MFA in Writing alumna, playwright, and editor of Prairie Fire magazine

Carolyn Gray holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Saskatchewan and is the Editor of Prairie Fire magazine. She writes for true crime television, and is published in drama, fiction, and non-fiction. She won the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer and the Manitoba Day Award for Excellence in Archival Research. Other credits include adjunct professor of creative writing and the 2019-2020 Winnipeg Public Library Writer-in-Residence. She has a horror screenplay currently under consideration. Her golden muse Minnie is always at her side.

Özten Shebahkeget: Much of the writer’s job involves the ability to pay attention. How do you pay attention in these turbulent times?

Carolyn Gray: I actually don’t pay attention to the news or I might get worried. I find out everything I need to know at the dinner table from my quarantine pals. They pay attention to the news and they’re far more anxious than I am. My attention in the pandemic is selective. My housie and I have carved out a lot of time to watch a variety of series. I’ll typically be thinking about something a character said or did, and texting her about it throughout the day, raking out motivation. It’s a lot like actor’s prep. Which is nice, as there are no more plays. 

ÖS: What draws you to playwriting opposed to other genres?

CG: When I went to university, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but there were no film classes so theatre was the next best thing. I was obsessed with film noir as a youth, and then Scorsese, that snappy, rhythmic dialogue.  I need to hear words spoken.  I love the theatrical process of getting scenes in draft up on their feet and the words spoken aloud, so the writer can see and hear her work. 

ÖS: Has your role at Prairie Fire influenced your work?

CG: Yes—I am not touching short stories at the moment because there are so many brilliant short story writers. 

ÖS: Since we are both Winnipeggers, I have to ask what you find distinguishing about this city as an artist?

CG: I’m in a long-term relationship with Winnipeg after all these years. We’ve been through a lot of drama. Right now, I’m enjoying how well we know each other and how she just lets me get on with my business and doesn’t bother me. 

ÖS: What was your MFA experience at the University of Saskatchewan like? What tip would you give for incoming students?

CG: I loved my USask experience. Sheri Benning and Jeanette Lynes are both brilliant and supportive. I learned so much. And although they are extremely professional, they are also immensely fun people. My tip would have been, if it weren’t the pandemic, to see if you could get them out for drinks and nachos. Maybe next year?

ÖS: Finally, what have you been working on lately?

CG: I’ve been working on true crime television and screenplay. I’ve produced three screenplays during the pandemic, two of those with a wonderful writing partner.  I thought I was a productive writer before my MFA, but I learned so much about my process in Saskatoon. I haven’t let that slide but consciously exercise those muscles daily. 

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Interview by Özten Shebahkeget is a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation. She holds a BA in English from the University of Winnipeg, and joined the MFA in Writing program at the University of Saskatchewan last fall. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Fire and CV2 Magazine.

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