Memoir on divorce, single parenting, and creative expression earns student her master’s and a writing award

By Costa Maragos Posted: December 19, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Debby Adair at Fall Convocation on October 20, 2017. She earned her MA in Creative Writing and English.
Debby Adair at Fall Convocation on October 20, 2017. She earned her MA in Creative Writing and English. Photo courtesy of Barb Boughner

A memoir that courageously delves into the delicate subjects of divorce and single parenting has earned graduate student Debby Adair a master’s degree in English and a prestigious writing award.

Adair’s thesis, Little Wonders, is a work of literary nonfiction, making her the first person at the U of R to write a creative thesis in this genre.

Her graduate thesis won third place in the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild’s John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Awards. Professor Gerald Hill encouraged her to enter. The award recognizes three unpublished book-length manuscripts each year, rotating between the genres of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

“I wanted to write creative nonfiction because it very much allows for reflection,” says Adair. “One gets to ruminate at length on one’s thoughts, on the page, and I’ve appreciated that form ever since I read it many years ago. This memoir allowed me to, as Philip Lopate describes, express things to my family that I wouldn’t be able to express otherwise.”

Debby Adair SWG Award
Tracy Hamon (l) presents the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild’s John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award to Debby Adair. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Earis
Adair’s memoir is in four parts.

“I start with my position as a single mother to my two sons and then I reflect back and write about my mom when she was a little girl; I also write about my grandmother,” says Adair. “This memoir has allowed me the space to uncover the meaning behind certain memories; the process has allowed me to negotiate the loss of my marriage, to understand more about my mother and grandmother, and to realize the power of creative expression.”

Adair earned her BA (2013) in Honours English with a concentration in Creative Writing. She then decided to pursue her master’s.

“After my divorce, being at home for a few years, it became time to either go back to work or back to school, and I knew that if I was ever going to go, it was now” says Adair. “After my BA, I wasn’t quite ready to stay goodbye to university.  I didn’t want to leave and come back a second time; and, I wanted to write in the MA program.”

Little Wonders impressed the judges of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild award.

“This manuscript brims with honesty and candour,” writes Ted Barris.

Says Susan Olding: “The author finds herself a single mother and begins to question what went on in her marriage, what went on in her parents’ and grandparents’ marriages, and how we manage loss and grief in families over time.”

The memoir also impressed Adair’s thesis supervisors, who gave her the freedom to write and include, “practically anything she wanted in order to create the manuscript I had hoped for.”

The memoir manuscript was co-supervised by Dr. Troni Grande, Head of the English Department at the time, and Dr. Medrie Purdham, Assistant Professor in the English Department.

Adair passed her master’s defense with no revisions and convocated in the Fall, 2017 with an MA in Creative Writing and English.  

Adair lives in Regina with her two sons, Andrew and Aiden. She is the Communications Facilitator at the Ignite Adult Learning Corporation, a centre for young adults who have dropped out of high school, where they are making changes for their futures.

She encourages students to consider English studies and the Arts stream.

“There really is something for everybody. A lot of people are put off because they don’t believe they can understand poetry or don’t feel confident about writing. A lot of times, there’s just pre-conceived notions or fears that get in the way,” says Adair. “But I would suggest at least letting yourself go into something that interests you and you just might be pleasantly surprised.”

Adair hopes her thesis will encourage more students to write nonfiction as part of their undergraduate or graduate manuscripts.

Adair has made her mark in the Saskatchewan literary scene. Her personal essay ranked in the top five for Briarpatch Magazine’s national Creative Nonfiction Contest in 2014. Her writing has appeared in Spring, These Fragile Lilacs, the Regina Leader-Post, Canadian Stories, and The Antigonish Review.