Narrating an Existential Crisis

Concordia Student Explores the Shaping of Identity Through Places, Spaces and Time in New Short Stories Collection

  • photo of Jay Winston Ritchie.

Jay Winston Ritchie is no outsider to Montreal’s literary scene. He made his debut last February with the release of his first set of poems titled How to Appear Perfectly Indifferent While Crying on the Inside.

Jay Winston Ritchie is no outsider to Montreal’s literary scene. He made his debut last February with the release of his first set of poems titled How to Appear Perfectly Indifferent While Crying on the Inside.

He’s now striking the literary world yet again, but this time it’s with the release of a collection of short stories Something You Were, Might Have Been, or Have Come to Represent, published by Insomniac Press.

“I started writing when I was a young kid. I’ve been doing it for a very long time because I’ve always been interested in it. I love reading as well, which I think is what led me to write,” explained Ritchie.

Pursuing his passion in university, Ritchie enrolled into Concordia’s creative writing and geography programs, meshing these two disciplines in his poetry. His eloquent writing places an emphasis on the conception of geographic locality.

Ritchie composed the series of short stories over the last four years, his background shaping the structure, characters and plot of his nine pieces. He specifically explores the topic of living as an artist in Montreal with the goal of forming an identity and achieving fame
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“The stories revolve around the city of Montreal and trying to be an artist. These stories mainly focus on characters who are on the quest of forging an identity, influenced by spaces, people or moments they have come across,” he said.

This choice of topic was inspired by Ritchie’s past dabbles into music.

“When I first moved here, I was very focused on music, I was trying to do that a lot. I wanted to become a musician,” said Ritchie. “Through that, I got to meet people who were doing the same thing that I was doing and I got to learn about their experiences and witness their fame. These events led me to write about them.”

With wit and unexpected plot twists, the author crafts images with a rawness that’s easy to identify with. The book follows a chronological timeframe, at first depicting the relationship perils of one female character through her teenage years, followed by another’s existential crisis as she seeks to assert her sense of self during college. The stories shift by then focusing on the lives of male characters striving to achieve their musical goals, yearning for fame and an identity within the local music scene.

“All characters, of each story, are a version of me. Many of the events and situations the characters experience are fictional, but what they think, say, do and feel resemble me,” said Ritchie. “But the way that I see it today is that these characters have been set in a book and are separate of me now. They represent what I once was.”

Although each story stands on its own, Ritchie explained that they are interwoven because they are joined thematically and the book’s title is supposed to serve as the thesis for each story.

“Each character should represent the shadowing of another character,” said Ritchie. “The title highlights the changing nature of identities and how they are influenced by the subtlest of change. It evokes how people are before. Then they encounter a city, a person or a moment and then they are changed. “My goal was to communicate that very change and show how people can go from being one thing to another,” he continued.

Ritchie said he hasn’t yet decided which writing style he prefers between short stories and poetry.

“These two are capable of giving different things but they both share a commonality; they take a lot of time to craft,” he said.

“Today I write short stories and poetry but maybe in the future I’ll write a novel.”

Something You Were, Might Have Been, Or Have Come to Represent book launch // Sept. 10 // Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard St. W.) // 7 p.m.

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