Elise Arsenault ’19 wears many hats. Creative writer, musician and grad student are among the few that she sports daily. Born and raised in Oakville, she had a hunch after a weekend visiting campus in 2014 that Redeemer would become her second home. Majoring in English and international studies, Arsenault spent her years at Redeemer on the worthy pursuits of asking questions, seeking the Spirit, trying and failing, and uncovering her passions.
Since graduating from Redeemer, Arsenault has continued to flourish in the areas in which she is gifted, releasing two full-length EPs, starting her master of fine arts (MFA) degree at the University of King’s College and working at the L’Arche Hamilton community.
I never had a clear sense of a career path. The most helpful question someone asked when I graduated high school was “What do you want to learn more about?” rather than “What job do you want?” I knew I wanted to grow as a writer and learn more about sustainable development work, so I scanned Redeemer’s options and beamed when I saw there were specific streams for both majors. The specificity encouraged me. So did the school’s lens of faith.
Moving to Redeemer and to Hamilton as a whole when I was 18 couldn’t help but be formative. At that age especially, you’re asking all sorts of questions. For me, those questions revolved around writing and music, and thanks to a newfound community, I found myself steeped in the literary and arts scenes on campus and around the city.
That first year I attended every coffeehouse, house show, jazz gig, poetry reading and book signing I could bus to.
That first year I attended every coffeehouse, house show, jazz gig, poetry reading and book signing I could bus to. Writing for the Crown as a reporter helped immensely—it prompted research, curiosity and an extra dose of confidence. English classes, too, steeped me in storytelling and imagination. I started asking better questions, seeing my inner and outer worlds newly and making connections between creative narratives and the greater narrative of God’s Kingdom making everything new.
Grad school wasn’t on my radar until my third or fourth year when I heard my creative writing professor, Brent van Staalduinen, talk about his MFA experience. It seemed to revolve around the everyday practice of creative writing. My ears perked. I liked the idea of diving into a single genre of writing after trying my hand at journalism, fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry in classes at Redeemer. Nonfiction drew me in as a reader and a writer. The MFA at the University of King’s College is the only one I know that focuses entirely on creative nonfiction. It’s been tough, surprising and worthwhile.
Entering Redeemer, I was mostly familiar with non-denominational churches. I grew to appreciate the mix of experiences shared in dorm devotions, worship services and classroom conversations. My image of Christ and the experience of his presence broadened and, over time, deepened. He is as present in the quiet as he is in an auditorium billowing with song. He is on campus in Ancaster and in cups of hot chocolate passed between mittens at the Urban Core. He is a rock and a mystery. There are downfalls and blind spots in every faith community, but my time at Redeemer led me into greater communion with the person of God.
I hope to finish and eventually publish the book I’ve started in my MFA, and record more music. I could see myself teaching creative writing to undergraduates someday, too, and building one of those little free libraries on my front lawn.
You can find out more about Arsenault’s music and writing at elisearsenault.ca.