Photo of David Chariandy

David Chariandy

Professor of English and Creative Writing, Author

Degrees:B.A. Hons. in English, ‘94; M.A. in English, ‘95

I vividly remember attending my first English lecture at Carleton. It was by Dr. Wurtele, a medievalist, and he concluded the lecture by reciting a part of The Canterbury Tales as it would have sounded in Chaucer’s own time. I was mesmerized by the language — an English at once alien and familiar, a “common tongue” only beginning to be recognized in official contexts and by the social elite. I wonder if the magic I felt in hearing this relatively early version of English owed something to the fact that I had heard my own parents speak a vernacular all of my life — an English likewise understood to be ‘common,’ and yet possessing its own complexity and incantatory power. But an essential turn in my studies happened when I began to discover literature that spoke to me in more intimate ways. At first, I had to discover these writings on my own — the essays of James Baldwin, for instance. But when I reached the upper years of my degree, I had the chance to take courses with professors like Enoch Padolsky, Parker Duchemin, and Jack Healy. They taught writings by Austin Clarke, Joy Kogawa, Maria Campbell, N. Scott Momaday and others. These writings shook and inspired me in profound ways.

I did pursue creative writing during my first years at Carleton, but secretly, and even a bit shamefully. It was only during my third year of studies when I enrolled in a creative writing course — the only one the department then offered, as far as I recall.  It was taught by Professor Tom Henighan. I wrote a short story that he felt I should attempt to publish; and I managed to do so, in the student newspaper The Charlatan, a place where I suspect other writers got their precious first chance to publish.  Interestingly, the title of my story, “Soucouyant,” become the title of my debut novel some twelve years later.