May 29, 2013 - 7:55am

For more than 40 years, Dr. Kevin Roberts dedicated his time, passion, experience and skill to inspiring students in VIU’s English and Creative Writing departments as well as supporting the institution as it transitioned from a college to a university-college and finally to a university.

In fact Roberts, who holds a master’s degree from Simon Fraser University, a PhD from Griffith University and has taught at universities around the world, actively contributed to the development of VIU, according to Collin MacQuarrie, instructor in VIU’s Music department, and the person who nominated Roberts for the award.

“I was a student here in the early days and Kevin was one of my teachers,” said MacQuarrie. “I believe he was a ‘builder’, always looking for ways to improve the lives of his students and ensure the success of the institution.”

As an inspirational and popular teacher, Roberts played a key role in establishing the institution’s department of English as well as VIU’s much praised department of creative writing. He also inspired many students to pursue their own writing careers. In 1970 he collaborated with Cowichan Chief Dennis Alphonse and Philomena Alphonse to start a series of successful lectures with the goal of having First Nations teach their own culture and history using their own words and experiences.

“The early days of the college were exciting,” recalls Roberts. “There was some question as to whether we’d succeed as there was such a strong trades history in the area. But the college was filled with young, enthusiastic people and we were excited to try new things. I think that helped ensure that the college was a success.”

One of Roberts’ favourite memories was when he was teaching Shakespeare’s *Hamlet* to a first year English class. A mature student suddenly called out, “Good Lord.” When Roberts asked what was wrong the student replied, “The light has come on – I finally understand Hamlet.”

Even after he retired, Roberts continued to teach and mentor students as an Honorary Research FeIIow, volunteering to support the varied creative writings of students and their explorations of literature.

For a transplanted “Aussie” it’s an impressive record but then Roberts was never one to approach life by halves. After moving to BC’s west coast he decided to really get a feel for the lifestyle immersing himself in the life of a fisherman, living aboard his 32-foot trawler. Roberts embraced the experience as it was so different than the life of a writer. “It was something completely physical as opposed to the life of the mind.”

The ‘life of the mind’ though, has truly been Roberts’ life-long passion. He’s an award-winning writer with a long list of publications that includes two books of poetry, five books of fiction and two plays. His latest piece – a novel called *The Winnowing Circle* – will be launched by Pilot Hall Press on June 23 at Nanaimo’s downtown library.

“There’s something about writing that allows you to get lost in the world you’re creating,” says Roberts. “It’s liberating. It’s also a way to connect to people on a different level. So often we think we know our friends and families and then we discover a secret or a situation and we realize we don’t. Writing is a way of reaching out of that glass bubble to really delve into what people are truly thinking and feeling.”

His dedication to his craft also spurred him to generously use his skills and expertise to serve his community, hosting literary readings, arts festivals and theatre events in both Nanaimo and Ladysmith, opening his home to visiting writers. He’s also been an active member in industry organizations such as the Writer's Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets and the BC Articulation Committee for Creative Writing.

“He has all those Aussie characteristics – he’s generous with his time and space and with his skill and experience,” says MacQuarrie. “He’s also got a great sense of humour.”

Roberts admits to being flabbergasted when he picked up the phone only to discover VIU’s president, Dr. Ralph Nilson, on the line telling him he was being recognized with VIU’s Outstanding Service Award. Now that the news has sunk in he’s feeling honoured and looking forward, once more, to getting involved at VIU and inspiring students again, this time with an uplifting speech at the university’s convocation ceremony on June 4.

Tags: In the Community

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