Bright lights, big city for English grad

Humanities, Graduate Studies

- Stephanie Harrington

Iona Lister, MA English graduate.

Growing up on a small island three hours north of Victoria, the outdoors served as Iona Lister’s classroom. Home-schooled for the most part until high school, Lister spent her days reading, writing and making music while immersed in nature.

“We played in the forest. We climbed trees. We ran around a lot. It was very idyllic,” she remembers.

Lasqueti Island, where Lister moved at age two with her brother and their musician parents, has no commercial electric utility; its approximately 450 year-round residents live off the grid. Lister says the unspoiled environment nurtured her imagination and sustained her interest in learning when she had to move to Qualicum Beach, where her family now lives, to attend secondary school.

“I noticed a lot of apathy when I went to high school. It was a huge culture shock,” she says.

The English master’s student, who graduates this June, has since taken to travelling, trekking across Europe and South America, and learning several languages, including Spanish and French. While studying in the English department, Lister developed an interest in Anglo-Norman literature, text written in the dialect of French used in medieval England.

In September, Lister will begin a fully funded PhD at the University of Toronto, where she will continue studying medieval literature. Her master’s thesis focused on an understudied area of Anglo-Norman writing, the fabliaux—short, satiric and often bawdry poems that parody tales of medieval heroism and romance.

Lister explored two Anglo-French medieval poems for her master’s research, “The Three Ladies Who Found a Cock” and “The Knight Who Made Cunts Talk,” proving that medieval writers had memorable senses of humour.

Lister’s success extends over the Atlantic—she was also accepted into Cambridge and Oxford universities. She chose to study in Toronto, however, because of the scholarship and structure of the program. Living in Toronto means she can travel home more easily while still enjoying the perks of big city life, like singing soprano in a choir.

“I’m excited. There are a lot more opportunities to be involved in music and dance there,” she says. “I’ll be able to explore a new place and continue studying.”

Lister credits her unconventional upbringing for her diverse interests and desire to learn. She hopes to one day become an English professor.

“Growing up, I was allowed to nourish my excitement about the things I loved,” Lister says. “I want to keep learning.”

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Keywords: convocation, student life, alumni, languages and linguistics, literature, English

People: Iona Lister

Publication: The Ring


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