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Canadian writer and artist Douglas Coupland coming to UTSC

Douglas Coupland will be speaking on campus on Sept. 24. (Photo by D.J. Weir.)

by Annesha Hutchinson

From shredding his own book into a wasp’s nest to popularizing the term “Generation X,” Douglas Coupland is a leader who has changed the way we think about our everyday surroundings.

Although his interests are eclectic and include sculpture, art, acting and writing, Coupland has always maintained a leading edge on shifting boundaries, pushing borders and breaking the boundaries of contemporary thought.

Following the groundbreaking for the new Instructional Centre, Coupland will be coming to UTSC to speak on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7:00 p.m. in room SY110 (in the new Science Research Building). His talk will launch the new Perspectives on Leadership series organized by the department of student life.

As his much anticipated visit to U of T Scarborough approaches, we take a look at the man behind the ideas and at the forefront of Canadian art. Coupland’s mainstream success began in 1991 when he published Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. This book popularized the term Generation X and was used to refer to those who were born in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Coupland’s debut novel changed the way people thought about this generation, assigning them a name and identity of their own.

An expert in thinking outside of the box, Coupland’s works venture to alter the way we understand or use new media forms while shifting the conventional roles sur¬rounding traditional media. He has introduced his audience to the idea that brands are not just brands, paper is not just paper and that adventure lies far beyond Disneyland.

“Coupland does a good job at looking at how our cultural selves are moulded and how our cultural selves come from things as simple as the brand of phone we buy or the kind of operating software we say is the best,” says Michael Wells, a course instructor for the humanities department. “Those things are important in Coupland’s universe and are even important to how we see ourselves as Canadians.”

After Generation X, Coupland wrote 10 additional novels, including Hey Nostradamus!, Microserfs and JPod. He has also written and performed for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Coupland’s sculptures and artistic work can be seen all around Toronto — his Supernova clock tower is located outside of the Don Mills Shopping Centre and his Monument to the War of 1812 is near Fort York. His novels are also explored in English classes on campus.

Almost 20 years after the debut of Generation X, Coupland returns to focus on a new generation. His next novel, Generation A, is being released this month.

“I think Coupland is definitely coming into his own,” says Wells. “It will be interesting to see how he approached the same kind of issue which got his career rolling in the first place and made the phrase Generation X kind of a household term.”

Wells has had the opportunity to teach several English lectures on campus in the past year and has also been able to include novels by Coupland into his intro¬ductory and advanced courses. By incor¬porating Coupland into his classes, Wells hopes students can become interested in narrative forms which relate to their everyday experiences.

“Coupland is very much attuned to the stuff that makes up our kind of world. In JPod, for example, he writes about McDonald’s and the gaming system — things that students would know about and concerns that are quite current although universal as well.” These everyday images and ideas can be important to all students, regardless of their academic discipline.

Tom Ue, a recent graduate of UTSC, read Coupland’s JPod as well as watching CBC television’s adaptation of the book. After that, Ue admits that he doesn’t know what to expect from Coupland.

“He’s quite different from mainstream Canadian writers right now like Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro,” says Ue. “I think in a lot of ways we need Coupland’s writing today. It’s something that’s quite different but is also quite traditional.”

Wells has heard Coupland speak on several other occasions. He feels that people won’t listen to Coupland speak in order to find answers, but instead they will find a journey to ideas and new ways of thinking. Speakers who have visited campus through the department of student life’s Leadership Development Program can help us to understand the Canadian identity at large, says Wells.

“Coupland is a really important Canadian voice. He does so many different kinds of works and he’s an artist in many different ways . . . I think he’s able to question what it means to be Canadian in a contemporary sense. There are so many things to question when one thinks of what it means to be Canadian, there’s so many authors that approach that.”

Admission to the lecture is free, but tickets must be reserved. Friends and family are welcome. For more information, click here. To reserve tickets, visit www.perspectivesonleadership.com.




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