For U of T Scarborough’s new writer-in-residence, writing starts with an ‘emotional situation’

portrait of writer Thea Lim
Writer in residence Thea Lim will help mentor the next generation of writers at U of T Scarborough(submitted photo)

Luis Felipe Mussalem

For Thea Lim, writing comes with what she calls an “emotional situation” — a phenomenon that allows her to express her thoughts through stories.

Although she always felt that way, she spent many years thinking writing would be a hard industry to get into. It was in her late 20s that she took it to the next level.

“I always loved stories, but I think I had kind of an epiphany. I thought to myself: I only have one life. I should try this,” she says.

Lim is looking to transfer that passion and guidance to the next generation of writers as U of T Scarborough’s newest writer-in-residence, a role dedicated to connecting renowned authors with the campus community through office hours, workshops, and public talks.

In An Ocean of Minutes, Lim’s book that was named a finalist for Scotiabank’s Giller Prize, her emotional situation was focused on navigating a post-apocalyptic world. “We live through the loss of something that we find unbearable to live without. And yet, we keep going on,” she says.

The science/dystopian fiction explores romance in a world marked by a pandemic. It’s a world where time travel is possible, and a woman travels forward in time to save her lover from a deadly pandemic. Lim says that dystopian literature has been popular for almost a century and that it has an important role to play in explaining the world that we live in today.

“When you look at what’s happening geopolitically and at the more local level, I think it's very natural that all of us are struggling with ways to grapple with how to make sense of it,” she says.

For her, referring to older works of literature is also an important part of this process. “I’m not sure if it solves any problem, but it helps us to manage our experiences of being human at any given time.”

The Singaporean-Canadian author has lived in China and the United States, and that’s why she chose to have American protagonists in An Ocean of Minutes. It’s also important for her to be culturally aware when writing in someone else’s voice. “Many writers, rightly so, want to be able to reflect the multiplicities of the world. But the question is, how do you do that?”

Lim has been a writer-in-residence at the Toronto Public Library and U of T’s University College, but something about UTSC feels special to her.

“I think there is a very strong sense of community. Like many people, I moved around a lot in different countries across the world and stories were a way to feel connected when my experiences made me feel isolated,” she says.

For those who wish to become writers or novelists, she says finding consistency is essential. “It’s what will get you to the finish line, it’s being willing to sit in the chair every single day and do the work. That's why I say that talent is nothing. I really believe that. What really makes the difference is persistence and determination,” says Lim.

She is currently working on a detective novel set in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. “I hope that I get to meet as many of these storytellers in my time on campus as I can.”

Lim will have open office hours every Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. in HW 404D.

To learn more about the Writer in Residence program, contact Andrew Westoll: