An author, an educator, a Sudbury poet laureate, and an active community volunteer, Kim Fahner’s passion for the arts shines through in all of her work. Kim began her studies at Laurentian University with a double major in English and History, and later added in a minor in Native Studies (now Indigenous Studies). Kim wanted to stay at home in Sudbury for her undergraduate program, and then go off and do graduate work in English literature somewhere else.
One of the main reasons Kim chose to attend Laurentian University in the first place was that she had spent a great deal of time on campus while she was growing up. Two of Kim’s uncles were well-known in the athletic department. Her uncle, Peter Ennis, was the coach of the Lady Vees basketball team for many years, and her other uncle, Jeno Tihanyi, coached swimming at the university for many years.
Growing up, Kim spent many weekends playing hide and seek in the old Ben Avery building, in between watching her cousins swim and watching her uncle Peter’s basketball games. She fondly remembers those times and is often reminded of the “Pride and Tradition” motto that Peter embodied. “Both Peter and Jeno have been gone for a long time, and I miss them terribly, but I’m proud of the legacy they have left the university, and Sudbury, too.”
Kim started writing poetry more seriously when she took a third year class called “Modern Poetry” with Dr. Laurence Steven. “It was in that class that I began to think of poetry as something that was accessible to me. Laurie said that, if we wanted to really enter into poetry, we needed to think of ourselves as ‘travellers rather than just tourists.’ He had us doing very close readings of poems, and this practice made me begin to see poetry as something fascinating and almost alive—something with which I could have an interactive conversation, and something with which I could (and did) fall in love.”
As Kim read more and more poetry, she began to unlock her own skill with words as an emerging poet and writer. Soon, she was reading at Open Mic nights put on by the English Arts Society (EAS), and had a short story and some poems published in departmental publications. The more she wrote, the more confident she became in her work.
After Kim graduated in 1994, she attended Carleton University in Ottawa to complete her Master’s degree in English Literature. When she returned to Sudbury after receiving her graduate degree in 1995, she worked in a number of non-profit contract jobs. She worked as a writing tutor in what was then known as “The Language Centre,” which was then situated in the Bowling Alley of the Arts building. Later, she was the Communications Officer for the Art Gallery of Sudbury in 1997, and then moved on to be the Community Fundraising Coordinator at the Northern Cancer Research Foundation (NCRF) from 1998-2000. She also served a term on the Laurentian University Alumni Association (LUAA) Board of Directors in the late 1990s. “I wanted to give back to the place that had given me a love of the written word through my undergraduate career as a student.” In 1997, Kim published her first chapbook of work, You Must Imagine The Cold Here, with Laurie Steven’s newly formed press, Your Scrivener. A positive review of that chapbook soon led to a contract for her first full book of poems, called braille on water (Penumbra Press, 2001).
Kim received her B.Ed. from Nipissing University (2001), and was then hired as an English teacher by the Sudbury Catholic District School Board. Since then, she has taught at both St. Charles College and Marymount Academy, and has been lucky to have worked in Student Success and Guidance. Helping students on a one-on-one basis helped Kim become a more compassionate and thoughtful teacher.
Kim’s next book was The Narcoleptic Madonna (Penumbra Press, 2012) and came after a long break from formally publishing work. Throughout the course of her writing career, she has been lucky to have worked with Canadian writers like Timothy Findley, Lawrence Hill, and Marnie Woodrow as mentors, and to have attended Sage Hill Writing Experience and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
From 2016-18, Kim was named the City of Greater Sudbury’s Poet Laureate, and was the first woman appointed to the role. One of Kim’s projects included bringing Project Bookmark Canada to Sudbury, so that Sudbury would be positioned on a national literary trail that stretches across Canada. The Bookmark, which highlights Sudbury writer Matt Heiti’s novel, The City Still Breathing, is positioned on the outside wall of the Townehouse Tavern in downtown Sudbury.
As laureate, Kim brought poetry to the airport, to put the work of past and current laureates up on the windows of the security area. Kim also brought poetry to the windows of the oncology and palliative care units at Health Sciences North. In addition, she created a “Rain Poetry Project” in downtown Sudbury, with work by six local, emerging poets scattered throughout the downtown core. This popular project used a special, environmentally-friendly paint so the stanzas would be visible on sidewalks when it rained. It was a bit magical. Kim hopes to make poetry less terrifying, and more accessible to people from all walks of life.
During her time as laureate, Kim also spent a great deal of time going into schools in the area, working with various grade levels to speak about ekphrastic poetry, and trying to inspire students and teachers to be excited about poetry as a genre. Kim believes that writing and reading poetry—as well as writing creatively across all genres—can help people move through difficult times in their lives.
While she was poet laureate of Sudbury, Kim visited Windsor for a laureate reading there and met Marty Gervais (then poet laureate of Windsor and publisher of Black Moss Press). That meeting led to the publication of Some Other Sky (2017). Kim loved Windsor and Kingsville so much that she went to live there in 2018, to work on a novel. While there, Kim completed another book of poems that was published by Pedlar Press. That collection, titled These Wings, is her most recent book of poems, and was published in spring 2019.
In May 2018, Kim’s play Sparrows Over Slag was featured as a staged reading at the Sudbury Theatre Centre as part of Pat the Dog Theatre Creation’s PlaySmelter New Work Theatre Festival. In May 2019, her next play, Letters to the Man in the Moon, was also given a staged reading at Play Smelter. This year, a new play Kim has been working on, All The Things I Draw, will be featured at PlayMine at the STC in late March.
Today, Kim is working on her second novel, a new play, and her new manuscript of poetry. She is fairly active as a volunteer in Sudbury. She annually helps to judge the BrainStorm Poetry Contest through the Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA) and Open Minds Quarterly, and feels that writing poetry can be a tool for maintaining well-being in a person’s life.
Since being laureate, Kim has also been an assessor for the Loran Scholars Foundation in Toronto for the past two years, and is a board member of the Greater Sudbury Market Association (GSMA). Kim is a member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Writers’ Union of Canada, and a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. “I believe in taking an active role in my community because of what I feel it’s given to me as a person,” says Kim. “I want to give back to the place that made me who I am today.”
Kim will be reading in Calgary and Edmonton this spring, and will be a featured writer at the Mattawa River Writers Festival at the Canadian Ecology Centre/Centre Ecologique du Canada in April. This spring and summer, Kim will be working on The Tree Poetry Project, alongside two local artists and friends—Gillian Schultze and Trish Stenabaugh. The MA in Humanities, the School of the Environment, the English Department, and Dr. Thomas Merritt, the LU NSERC Tri-Council Leader, have all joined the project as key partners. A number of tree poems will be displayed on trees on the university campus, so this project is one that links the arts communities that exist in both the university and the city itself.
This will be the second year of the SciArt Poetry Contest at Laurentian University, something that Dr. Thomas Merritt approached Kim about helping with a couple of years ago as part of his annual SciArt Exhibit. “As someone who is sometimes considered to be an “eco poet,” and as someone who loves to be active outdoors—whether it’s swimming in our northern lakes, or hiking in the woods, or out canoeing—I feel it’s a way to make people aware of the importance of protecting the beautiful natural environment we have here in Northern Ontario. I also really love collaborative projects that might encourage people to try writing poetry that means something to them, so merging the arts and sciences is something that appeals to me as a writer. For me, the two aren’t separate entities, but are almost seamlessly and magically woven together. That poetry and science can ‘dance’ together is a lovely thing, in my mind, because both disciplines are driven by wonder and curiosity.” The work of the winners will be published in Sulphur, Laurentian University’s literary journal.
The winners of the SciArt Poetry Contest will be honoured at an evening reading at Science North on Tuesday, March 10th at 7pm. The featured poet for the evening will be Adam Dickinson, who has been shortlisted for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry and for the 2014 Trillium Book Award. Some local poet laureates will also be reading from their work. Admission is free. All members of the Laurentian community are invited to attend.
Mostly, in the future, Kim plans to continue with her love of writing and publishing more of her work. “I love it and it’s such an integral part of who I am,” she shares. “I’d also love to continue doing work locally and provincially in the arts, specifically in areas that focus on eco poetry and literacy. The arts and culture sector in our province is always at risk of facing cuts, so I feel it’s even more important for artists in all disciplines to be vocal about the worth of creative expression in our communities, schools, and homes.”
To learn about more of Kim Fahner's work, visit her website at www.kimfahner.com.