Alumni Spotlight: Jason Lee Norman

Just Get Better

Photo by Dylan Wowchuck.

Photo by Dylan Wowchuck.

What advice does Jason Lee Norman have for student writers? “Try to get better at writing.” It seems simple, but young writers often don’t focus on it. Don’t worry about what other writers are doing or how they determine success, he says. No novel deal yet? Not even a short story in a lit mag? Doesn’t matter. “Write, read, submit,” he continues. “You have to submit at some point. Rejection will happen. Feedback will happen.”

Norman’s not one to push a person down the traditional publishing path, possibly because he hasn’t followed it himself. “I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer—I just enjoyed sharing stories,” he says. At eighteen, Norman moved with his family to Argentina and, with less responsibility in this foreign country, he had more time to think about his life. As he looked back on his youth, he realized how much he’d enjoyed reading and writing, and how often he’d spent time on those activities. So he made them his focus and started by searching out the great books to read. “The more I read, the more I wanted to do what that was.”

When he returned to Canada, he continued his journey by studying English and Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta. After he’d earned his Bachelor’s degree, he was accepted into the Creative Writing Master’s program at the University of Manchester. There, Norman found his writing style was influenced by Ernest Hemingway. He’d read The Old Man and the Sea when he was young, and he’s come back to it a few times since. “It pushed me in a certain direction,” he admits, “and I already had the beard, so the Hemingway stuff seemed to naturally come out.” A writing professor in Manchester gave him this advice that he always follows: say the hard things without using words that you can’t afford. “If it’s true,” Norman adds, “tell it like it’s true.”

But Norman doesn’t believe that his style only borrows from Hemingway; his voice continues to evolve. As he writes more, he becomes more comfortable with his voice—that’s why he shares so much of his writing with the public and believes other writers should do the same. He’s trying to make that easier for them. Along with his friend, Kasia Gawlak, Norman hosts Words with Friends, a writing-performance night that’s seen ten events in less than two years. “Writing’s not just about getting published; it’s about sharing it,” he says.

Sharing your writing is one of his beliefs that led Norman to start The 40 Below Project, an anthology of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about the Edmonton winter. “You always hear people say, ‘I don’t want to live here,’ but they do.” He wants people to engage with the city and its coldest season in order to discover why they stay. Norman knows that the answer will be found in the best writing Edmonton can offer.

So what other stops does Norman have on his path? On top of beginning a novel, he plans to continue helping other writers publish and share their writing. He is a shining example of his most important message to the writing community: “Let’s try to lift all these boats above the tide.”

Matthew Stepanic

To read Jason Lee Norman’s writing, buy his book of short stories, Americas, at And learn more about 40 Below here.