Black Star by Maureen Medved
UBC creative writing professor and novellist Maureen Medved has authored an indispensable novel that delves openly into the issues of gender, power, and privilege that plague academia. Black Star comes after multiple creative writing departments across Canada have made headlines regarding sexual misconduct in recent years. The resulting discourses have deeply divided the Canadian literary community. Black Star, in its frank examination of the deep-rooted exploitations of power and corollary abuses of teacher–student relations, firmly situates itself as a catastrophic allegory for our time.
Delorosa (Del) Hanks is a forty-year-old philosophy professor at a small-town university. Years after the success of her first academic monograph, propelled by her esteemed mentor, John McGilvery, Del is up for tenure. But what appears as a fait accompli is interrupted by an ambitious colleague and a mysterious young man who threatens to expose Del’s secrets.
Hoping to secure tenure despite the attempts to derail her, Del rushes to finish her second book, The Catastrophic Decision. During the writing process, however, Del is forced to confront her complicated past, including a student–teacher affair with McGilvery that ended with an abortion. Unable to shake McGilvery’s response to her abortion—“Christ, Del, nobody died”—Del has never stopped repeating his words as an attempt to process her unresolved trauma.
Del’s conflict with her past and present suggests that the darkness, agonies, and revelations of “becoming,” so typical of coming-of-age novels, aren’t forgotten once someone has “become.” Instead, the memory of life’s dark experiences, if they’ve ever left, can return with more power and devastation.
Gendered power dynamics are at play in Medved’s world and in Del’s. But where Del appears ignorant of the power and privilege that created the system that set her up, Black Star’s readers are likely not. Del’s struggle for tenure is the struggle to speak and move freely in a world still not fully open to this discussion.