“Being published and winning the Marina Nemat award…I just feel so honored…to go from doubting my skills to where I am now is quite surreal.” - Catherine Fogarty, SCS learner.
Years ago on April 14th, Catherine Fogarty was reading a “this day in history” article in the Globe and Mail. The story was about a riot that happened at the Kingston Penitentiary back in 1971. Intrigued by this piece of Canadian history she had never heard about, Catherine cut out the article, and tucked it neatly away in a folder on her desk. “One day”, she thought, “I want to learn more about this.”
That day came in 2017, when Catherine began developing a book proposal as part of her Master of Fine Arts (MFA). “Writing is a big part of my job and I really enjoy it, but I came to a point where I wanted to write for myself. I wanted to learn about writing creatively, not for a document. Something that was just for me,” reflects Catherine. “That was the impetus to come to the School of Continuing Studies (SCS). It has a diversity of writing courses, and I was really interested in learning about non-fiction.” Catherine began pursuing her Creative Writing Certificate, however her progress was temporarily paused when her Creative Non-Fiction instructor, Ken McGoogan, encouraged her to pursue an MFA after reading her work. Catherine applied to a program at King’s College and was accepted. Her primary project was to create and present a book proposal. Immediately she knew: it was time to tell the story that had caught her interest years ago, and explore the deadly Kingston riot.
The foundational skills Catherine had learned at SCS helped her thrive throughout her MFA. “SCS had given me a very inspiring but realistic view of the writing industry in Canada. My professors at King’s College reiterated these realities, and taught me two key lessons: don’t make stuff up, and don’t quit your day job,” laughs Catherine. “I knew how incredibly difficult it was to get published in Canada, and that you need to write for the love of it. SCS really helped me hone-in on my passion of writing creative non-fiction. It was like falling into a comfy sofa; I finally felt I was writing what I was meant to write.”
Throughout her MFA, Catherine was dedicated to researching the riot, and examining how a handful of prisoners attacked the guards and seized control, drawing international attention to the dehumanizing realities of incarceration. However, she quickly realized that finding information about this historical event would require an investigative spirit. “I went in naively, thinking that information would be publicly available. But doors shut in my face; I learned that I would need to dig to uncover what really happened,” recalls Catherine. “I connected with Corrections Canada, visited the prison, spent hours in reference library basements reading old newspaper articles and tracking down people involved. It was challenging but thrilling.”
Once she had completed her two-year program—and finished a draft of her book—she returned to SCS to complete her Creative Writing Certificate. “I had heard about a specific instructor, Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, and really liked his work. I took his course, and asked him to be my mentor on my final project, which was finessing a portion of my book about the riot. His mentorship made a huge difference. I earned my certificate in 2019, and when I submitted my manuscript to publishers, it was very polished thanks to his editing and guidance; my book was picked up by the first publisher I contacted.”
In March 2021, Catherine was awarded the Marina Nemat Award for Creative Writing for having the most outstanding final project of a Creative Writing Certificate learner at SCS. Her book, titled Murder on the Inside: The True Story of the deadly riot at Kingston Penitentiary, is now on bookshelves, and is available online. April 14th commemorates the 50th anniversary of this historic event. “Being published and winning the Marina Nemat award…I just feel so honored,” says Catherine. “When I came into the writing program at SCS, I was intimidated and so hard on myself. I figured I’ll just try my best and have fun learning. So to go from doubting my skills to where I am now is quite surreal.”
With an MFA and SCS certificate under her belt, she is continuing her mission to tell Canadian true-crime stories. “I’m now exploring a new avenue of storytelling, and have a weekly podcast called Story Hunter Podcasts, which explores Canadian true crime through an investigative lens,” says Catherine. “Continuing education has allowed me to find my niche, and I want to continue telling great stories.”