Heather O’Neill was the highlight of Headlight

Author’s guest reading brought inspiration to graduate students

Author Heather O’Neill read an excerpt from an unfinished manuscript at the Headlight launch on March 31. File Photo.

“My new philosophy is only go to 90 per cent and then consider it done,” said author Heather O’Neill. “It’s impossible—they’re not perfect and they don’t want to be finished,” she says of her novels and her personal writing process.

Meanwhile, admittedly starstruck, I tried to formulate coherent questions without stumbling over my words or seeming incompetent. It’s a little bit difficult, in all honesty, when you’re faced with Montreal’s literary sweetheart, author of such endearingly gritty novels as Lullabies for Little Criminals and The Girl Who Was Saturday Night.

“You kinda earn your place … once you’re done proving yourself and once you have your fans, they’ll let you do anything,” she said when asked about the confidence it requires to produce uncensored, self-assuming novels like her own. This is essentially why a large crowd of fledgling writers and artists had gathered on the top floor of McKibbin’s: to celebrate the launch of the graduate-run writing and visual arts anthology, Headlight #18: Lacunae, and in turn celebrate their first steps towards finding a place in the creative world.

O’Neill, in the anthology’s foreword, writes that “the only way to grow as a writer is to show your stuff to other people … although writing may seem like a solitary art form, it is very much a discussion and dialogue.” The room bustled, the clink of glasses faintly heard over discussions over arts and craft, of visions and dreams.

The student-led readings covered a breadth of topics—from familial discontent to an Israeli pilgrimage. O’Neill’s reading, the last of the evening, was an experimental work-in-progress about an alien landing in 1980s suburbia.

What united all these varying works from the anthology was the omnipresence of the concept of lacunae—the namesake of this year’s edition. Lacunae refers to missing parts of text, palpable silences in music, lexical gaps in a language. Lacunae is the space between what is said and what isn’t, leaving room to search for one’s own meaning in these gaps. Each of the works and works-in-progress presented, and indeed, each of the pieces included in the anthology, danced around this concept of searching, of filling in the blanks.

The Headlight anthology is published annually, and opens for submissions every fall.

You can read full back issues online at headlightanthology.com.
With files from Sara Baron-Goodman.

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