Best of 2021 Q&A: Nicholas Hune-Brown

Nicholas Hune-Brown appears on our Best of 2021 list for the piece “The Shadowy Business of International Education.” You can read it at The Walrus.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Nick’s answers:

How did you start working on this story?

I pitched The Walrus a story in 2018 that was supposed to be about students from China. 

How long did it take to write this piece?

I worked on this on and off for three years before it was published. Over those years I’ve had to reimagine my feature over and over again, as the facts on the ground have changed and COVID upended the world I was writing about. 

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

The tricky things with this piece were pretty much the tricky things about any complicated story. First, just talking to enough people and doing enough reading to figure out *what’s going on*. And then working out how to tell readers what’s going on in a way that’s dramatic, true, interesting, affecting, etc. It took a long time to find the characters that would sit at the centre of the story.

Do you have a particular writing ritual you follow?

I had two young kids at home in the middle of a pandemic, so I’m not precious! I just write from wherever I am, whenever I can.

What did you find different about writing during a global pandemic?

See above, but also trying to create scenes, etc, when just about all of my reporting was done over the phone and Zoom.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?

I knew the broad outlines of this story—the millions of dollars at stake, the huge shifts in global migration—but the specific details of people’s experiences struck me most during my reporting.

What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

The response has been really positive, which is a huge relief. I am forever terrified I’ve just got my story completely wrong (not that I’ve screwed up the facts, but that I’ve somehow missed something enormous and fundamental that changes how I should be thinking about the subject). But after publication I heard from a whole bunch of grateful international students, as well as college faculty, who said my story matches their experience.

For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?

I really have no tips, unfortunately. I find the whole process difficult and mysterious

What writing projects are you working on currently?

A bunch of stories that are too delicate and unformed to risk talking about!

Find Nick on Twitter: @nickhunebrown

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.


Teaching Indigenous Star Stories

When some Cree people look at the sky during summer months, they see Ochekatchakosuk, a group of stars in the shape of a fisher, a weasel-like animal related to the wolverine. According to Cree teaching, a long time ago (likely during the Ice Age), there was no summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The animals of the region wanted to find summer and bring it back, and the fisher, Ochek, was selected for the task. After he succeeded, he escaped into the sky, and the Creator stamped his shape into the stars. In spring and summer evenings, Ochek is located high in the sky, inviting celebrations of warmer weather; in autumn and winter, he appears closer to the horizon—a reminder to be grateful of the passing seasons.”

Kelly Boutsalis – The Walrus – August 2020


How to Build an Antifascist Movement

“Over eighty years later, we are witnessing a resurgence of antisemitic, xenophobic, racist, and fascist activity at home and abroad. At the same time, the antifascist consensus that slowly percolated and woke Canadians up to the fascist threat in the 1930s has decayed, lulled into a false sense of security by the end of the Cold War. As the rising tide of hatred slowly creeps up, it’s worth asking why over 11,000 Torontonians left their homes to demonstrate on a summer night in 1938.”

Daniel Panneton – The Walrus – June 2020

Why Aren’t We Free to Age on Our Own Terms?

Sharon J. Riley – The Walrus – March 2020

Anatomy of an Epidemic

Kevin Patterson – The Walrus – March 2020

My Weekend Canvassing for Bernie

Martin Lukacs – The Walrus – March 2020

How One Woman Reimagined Justice for Her Rapist

Viviane Fairbank – The Walrus – February 2020

Stay Tacky, Niagara Falls

“It was on a chintzy patch of street in Niagara Falls called Clifton Hill that I was first alerted to the possibility that civilization was a mistake. There, in the shadow of an enormous sculpture of Frankenstein’s monster eating a branded Burger King Whopper sandwich, my underage mind muddied on enormous schooners of beer procured with a fake ID from an adjacent Boston Pizza, I watched two other drunk loafers come to blows in that messy, soused, all-Canadian way—where they sort of thrash each other and toss out soft punches, which roll off buttery cheeks gone red with drunkenness, the brawl resolving when one combatant attempts to jersey the other by pulling his shirt over his head like they’re in a hockey fight.”

John Semley – The Walrus – February 2020

The Search for Mackie Basil

“‘Goodbye, bro. I love you,’ Mackie called back to him. In that moment, now frozen in his memory, Peter watched Mackie walk away, lingering at the door as she climbed the path. He spotted a man waiting for her farther up the trail. Something was not quite right, though. Why, Peter asked himself, would Mackie have said goodbye in such a way if she were coming home? Then he wondered if, perhaps, this would be the last time he’d see her.”

Annie Hylton – The Walrus – February 2020

Social Media Is Revolutionizing the Way We Protest

Janaya Khan – The Walrus – February 2020