For Jordan Scott, growing up with a stutter provided its challenges, beyond the normal ones of being a kid, and for him writing become a way to express himself in his own words at his own pace.
“Speaking for me was, and is difficult,” he says.
He started writing around Grade 6. Now, the Royston writer has published several books, especially poetry, and recently the father of two moved into children’s literature. In 2020, he released I Talk Like A River, a collaboration with artist Sydney Smith, which tells the story a boy with a stutter who, while on a walk by a river with his father, learns to find his voice.
The book was a 2020 New York Times Best Children’s Book of the Year, just one of many awards it garnered. It has been translated into about 20 languages, and last fall musical superstar Ed Sheeran picked it to read aloud as a bedtime story on the BBC’s CBeebies.
“I guess he stuttered as a kid,” Scott says.
Stuttering has worked its way into his other writing. His book of poems Blert, for example, is influenced by the poetics of stuttering.
Similarly, he worked on a project several years ago from an authorized trip to the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. To get clearance, he had to send his previous works and state his intent. The project is part of broader research into the ties between stuttering and perceptions of lying.
“I became really interested in interrogation,” he says. “I was really getting into the science behind it.”
On the trip, he was limited in terms of whom he could speak to, such as interrogators, so he looked for other ways to communicate. One means was recording ambient sound. This in turn led to a film project, which includes a former detainee as producer. At present, much of this work can be found online as kind of a multi-media project. He’s also put together two chapbooks, Clearance Process and Lanterns at Guantánamo, and is continuing to write a non-fiction book.
“I’ve always been really interested in mapping out the cultural history of stuttering,” he says.
Scott is also a teacher, having worked at North Island College. He recently served as writer-in-residence at the University of Winnipeg and previously at Simon Fraser University. These experiences have given him the opportunity to concentrate on his craft while working with aspiring writers.
“I love meeting people on that level,” he says.
“I find that a very rewarding experience.”
More recently, he was named as a lecturer for children and young adults at the UBC School of Creative Writing.
If all this isn’t enough to keep him busy, Scott has another children’s book this fall, with two more planned for later, and on top of this, there’s his poetry, all of it an opportunity for him – like the boy in his children’s book – to find his own voice.
As he says in the afterword, “Sometimes I want to speak without worrying; sometimes I want to speak with grace, finesse, and with all those words you can think of for smooth. But that is not me. I talk like a river.”
—Mike Chouinard, Special to the Record