Writing

My writing is inspired by my passions: my passion for justice, my passion for nature and my passion for story. I see my writing as the best, and maybe only, way for me to make a difference in the world. I usually have at least a few projects on the go, and now is no exception. At the present time, most of my energy is going into my latest projects: Loosely Ethical: Framing the Alberta Oil Sands [working title] and Gone: A Story [working title].

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Loosely Ethical is a result of the research and writing I did for my Master’s thesis: Framing Ethical Oil: Shaping the Canadian Media’s Response to the Alberta Oil Sands. Royal Roads University wrote a piece about my work in 2013. Analyzing Ezra Levant’s bestseller Ethical Oil: A Case for the Alberta Oil Sands (word by word), interviewing experts, tracing “ethical oil’s” path through the Canadian media scene, and finally writing my thesis was an intense and lengthy undertaking that made me begin to question everything from our government’s integrity to the way in which power structures manipulate discourse to consolidate their power. It has shaped my ideas about environmental discourse ever since.

After completing my thesis, I let the moment pass and with it, I thought I’d heard the end of “ethical oil.” Then came the Transmountain Pipeline Expansion debacle and at about the same time Jason Kenney was elected leader of the newly minted United Conservative Party in Alberta.

Kenney and Levant’s friendship goes back to their days as part of the somewhat infamous “Snack Pack,” a group of youthful Reformers who “loved greasy food and tormenting the Liberal government.” Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that when Kenney returned to Alberta, he brought “ethical oil” along for the ride. It didn’t take long for Kenney to start scrapping with opponents of Alberta’s bit-sands. Fresh and jonesing for a fight, Kenney responded to Bill Nye’s criticism of the oil sands on Twitter with his own tweet, which called Nye out for “slagging our ethical oil industry.“

Kenney entered the scene during a perfect storm. International oil prices were mostly stagnant, Alberta’s economy was limping along, ABNDP leader Rachel Notley had been harshly criticized for her government’s spending, there were promises of a provincial carbon levy, and in spite of Notley’s obstinate support for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, it seemed to Albertans that the delays were interminable. Long story short: Kenney handily beat Notley in the provincial election and is now Alberta’s new premier. And wait for it…the “ethical oil” frame is stronger than ever.

I’ve heard it said, there’s never a dull moment in Alberta politics. Never more was that the case.

As I watched this political pandering I was also reading the latest IPCC reports and scientific papers, watching conference presentations by the world’s top climatologists and catching news reports from the front lines of climate change. The news was grim — all of it. I had to ask myself, Why are we pushing for pipelines as our forests burn and our cities flood? Loosely Ethical is — in part — an answer. It traces the path of “ethical oil,” the rhetorical premise for continued expansion of an industry that now threatens our planet. “Ethical oil” acts as the moral grounds for getting our bitumen to tide water. After all if Alberta’s oil is more “ethical” than oil produced in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, or Venezuela, it’s our moral imperative to “pump and steam and dig and drill” as fast as we can. Loosely Ethical traces the emergence of this powerful narrative, the story of Alberta’s “ethical oil.”

Loosely Ethical is currently under review at a Canadian publishing house.

I’m also working on a memoir inspired by a box of letters, passed down to me by my grandmother, written by my father shortly before his death. Gone will be a narrative exploration of my father’s suicide and its generational repercussions. I started this project two summers ago thinking I’d finish it last year, but then — you know — there was the whole pipeline thing and the election thing and the ethical oil thing, so I wrote a different book instead. But this summer, it’s all about the memoir. Boy, it’s been a trip. If this summer is anything like two summers ago, I look forward to more heart-pounding revelations and hard cries.

So that’s where my writing is now. In the past, I’ve written about a number of social issues, primarily the importance of education for girls in developing countries.

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Malawi is a small country deep within Africa’s interior. Known throughout the world as the Warm Heart of Africa, Malawi is a struggling democracy and one of the poorest countries is the world. In recent years its people have suffered through famine, poverty and the AIDS epidemic. With the vast majority of the population living on less than $2 per day, it’s no wonder that many see education (especially for girls) as a luxury, even a waste of time. Memory Chazeza-Mdyetseni is working to change that.

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Memory is an extraordinary woman. Orphaned at a young age, she set out to complete her education and to make a difference in her life and the lives of others. Against the most remarkable odds, she succeeded. Weaving a Malawian Sunrise tells her story. It is the story of her vision, her struggle, her perseverance. It is also the chronicle of the challenges that face many Malawian women in a time of struggle and change.

Memory’s dream is to educate girls so they can become independent, active contributors to the community. In January of 2008, Memory’s dream became a reality with the opening of Atsikana Pa Ulendo, an all-girls’ secondary school located in rural Malawi. As head-mistress of the school, Memory sets a powerful example for the girls. And her passion and determination have become an inspiration for individuals in both Africa and North America.

Weaving a Malawian Sunrise: A Woman, a School, a People was released by the University of Alberta Press in November 2015.

Weaving a Malawi Sunrise is available for purchase through the University of Alberta PressChapters/Indigo, and Amazon.com.

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“The world belongs to the stubborn.” – Memory Chazeza Mdyetseni

Here are a few links to presentations and interviews I’ve given and articles written about my work:

Breaking down barriers to better climate change discussions — MacEwan University

The Fitzhugh: Jasper Writer Shares Her Experiences

Let’s NOT Talk: Silencing the Climate — Climate Change: Views from the Humanities (A Nearly Carbon-neutral Conference)

Blacklock’s Reporter Review — One Day at the Rotary Club

Weaving a Malawi Sunrise Review — Dean Wood’s review for the Rotary District 5370 Newsletter (2015)

Pipelines from the Oil Sands to the World — the text to a portion of the presentation I gave at the panel discussion presented by the University of Alberta’s Oil Sands Delegation (2015)

CJSR Interview: Framing Ethical Oil — not entirely humiliating — thankfully (2013)

The Framing of Evidence and Argument — my presentation at the 14th Annual Parkland Institute Conference (2013)

SSHRC Storytellers — my proposal to SSHRC Storytellers, which gave me the opportunity to present at Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2013

Exploring the Ethical Oil Debate — on my thesis research (2013)

Local Publishing House Travels to Malawi for Rat Roasting Stories — cleverly titled local commentary on Prairie Dog Publishing’s anthology, In Their Own Words: The Girls of Atsikana Pa Ulendo Tell Their Stories (2009)

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One Comment on “Writing

  1. Pingback: Weaving a Malawi Sunrise | Roberta Laurie

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