5 Questions with Craig Taylor

Craig Taylor.

Craig Taylor, a Vancouver Island University Creative Writing and Journalism Professor, received the 2021 Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize for Non-fiction. Mayita Mendez Photo.

December 16, 2021 - 11:15am

Craig Taylor, the best-selling author of Londoners, a collection of short stories about residents that paints a portrait of today’s London, has yet another accomplishment under his belt – he recently received the 2021 Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize for Non-fiction.

Taylor, a Vancouver Island University (VIU) Creative Writing and Journalism Professor, received the prize for his latest book New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time. The book features 75 diverse voices of New Yorkers and details their “fascinating true tales arranged in thematic sections that follow Taylor’s growing engagement with the city.” 

The Brooklyn Public Library honours outstanding works of non-fiction, fiction and poetry each fall and winners are awarded a $5,000 prize.

Taylor’s writing has appeared in The GuardianThe Globe and MailThe New York Times and more. He is also the editor of Five Dials, a free literary magazine.

We caught up with Taylor to learn about his latest book, work as editor of Five Dials and why he decided to become a Creative Writing and Journalism professor.

How does it feel to win the prestigious Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize for non-fiction?

In a word: great. I’m surprised they gave the prize to a Canadian. Brooklyn librarians read everything. You can’t get anything past a Brooklyn librarian. Hopefully the award means they believe the book is an authentic portrait of New York, an accurate reflection of those who love and work and maintain the city. 

What inspired you to write New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time? What were some of the challenges you faced writing the book and how did you overcome them? 

I was offered the chance to spend years wandering one of the greatest cities in the world. I was told the job would entail speaking to interesting people, from elevator repairmen to lice pickers to climate change experts to Black Lives Matter protestors. It didn’t take much to convince me to move to Manhattan. 

Along the way I learned New York is a complex, punitive, elevating, inspirational, hope-dashing, gorgeous, still vital world of its own, a great organism that will never stop growing. The city amplifies some and crushes others. It takes a special talent to live in New York. Mastering that talent is a life-long process. While researching I learned about both the specific and the universal, where to get the best bagels and how to live life with more compassion. I was drawn to those who could share with me life lessons. Many New Yorkers did.

You are also Editor of Five Dials, a free literary magazine. Tell us more about your work on the magazine.

Five Dials is a literary magazine published by Hamish Hamilton, one of London’s oldest publishing houses and a boutique publishing imprint of Penguin Books UK. Its purpose is to publish writing by underrepresented communities. The magazine began in 2008 and since then we’ve been able to launch issues from Sydney, Jaipur, Montreal, London, New York, Amsterdam, Paris and Protection Island – all the great literary sites of the world. The magazine is published three times a year. Over the course of its existence, we’ve published work by hundreds of authors, from W.G. Sebald to Zadie Smith to Robert Macfarlane and Ali Smith. We’ve published countless debuts. We even published work by Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr. Burns on The Simpsons

Why did you decide to become a Creative Writing and Journalism Professor and what writing advice do you give to VIU students who want to become authors?

I’m honoured to have the chance to teach scriptwriting to VIU students. I attended VIU back when it was Malaspina University-College. It was a place where I was able to explore ideas, read beautiful editions of books in the library, get involved in the theatre, write for the Navigator. I hope to show my students that workshopping scripts in class is only the first step. Their writing should have a life outside the classroom. Their pieces can be staged, filmed, made into podcasts, feature films, or animations. VIU is a launching ground.  

Tags: 5 Questions | Creative Writing and Journalism

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