Words matter to Sheri-D Wilson.
Writing her first poem at the age of 10, Wilson has long been at the vanguard of spoken word and the literary arts in Canada and abroad. Over the past 30 years, she has produced a body of work notable not just for its artistic excellence, but also for its innovative and often interdisciplinary nature.
Now her accomplishments can include an honorary degree from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). The university will present the Calgary-based artist with the distinction at its fall convocation ceremony Oct. 4.
“Ms. Wilson is so passionate about creativity that you can’t help but be inspired,” notes KPU president and vice-chancellor Dr. Alan Davis. “It’s something our students were lucky enough to experience when she was our writer-in-residence two years ago.”
Wilson has published 10 books, released four spoken word CDs, produced numerous plays and one-woman shows, collaborated on a series of award-winning video poems, and edited the seminal textbook The Spoken Word Workbook (Banff Centre Press) — which has been used across Canada and, indeed, as a resource in many KPU creative writing classes.
In 1989, Wilson attended the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado, and since then, she has been dedicated to creating social change through the arts, founding the Calgary Spoken Word Society in 2003, where she is artistic director to this day.
She also founded the Spoken Word program at the Banff Centre, where she was director and faculty from 2005 to 2012.
She has also won or been nominated for awards across multiple disciplines including writing, publishing, performance, video, dramaturgy and social engagement. In 2014, The League of Canadian Poets, which is the country’s oldest and largest association of professional poets, bestowed her with a life membership. It also names its annual award for spoken word artists The Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award.
Wilson is also renown as a performer who has graced stages around the world — from London to Mexico City to Johannesburg and Barcelona.
“Few writers command the stage like Sheri-D Wilson,” said Dr. Diane Purvey, KPU’s dean of the Faculty of Arts.
Purvey adds: “During her residency, I noticed a heightened excitement and engagement amongst the many students who attended her readings or participated in her workshops.”
Of all her achievements, however, the one Wilson holds most dear is her long history of mentorship with young artists. Students that she has mentored have gone on to numerous accomplishments: KPU student Tasha Receno became a two-time Van Slam champion; another student became a World Slam champion; and many students she advised or taught, including a poet laureate, went on to achieve master’s degrees and doctorates.
“For a little perspective, consider that if you counted each of her over 1,000 performances as a calendar day, she’s spent almost four years on stage. Few poets can attest to achieving such a milestone,” said KPU creative writing instructor Billeh Nickerson, who nominated Wilson for the honorary degree.
Wilson has helped transform the possibilities for spoken word and its practitioners within Canada’s literary landscape.
Photos of Sheri-D Wilson are available on Flickr.
Honorary degrees are awarded to those honoris causa in recognition of dignified achievements or outstanding service to the public. Members of the university community and the community at large are invited to nominate candidates. Nominees are exceptionally distinguished scholars, creative artists, public servants, prominent people in the community and the professions, and others who have made significant contributions locally, nationally or globally.
Story by Corry Anderson-Fennell