Nova Scotia

El Jones, Halifax's poet laureate, moving to Iowa for work

Halifax's poet laureate says she is leaving the province at the end of August for a job in the U.S. because she can't find a permanent teaching job in Nova Scotia.

El Jones, who grew up in Winnipeg, has writer-in-residence job at University of Iowa

Spoken word artist, activist and Acadia University professor El Jones is Halifax's fifth poet laureate, but says she's leaving for a job in the U.S. (CBC)

Halifax's poet laureate says she is leaving the province at the end of August for a job in the U.S. because she can't find a permanent teaching job in Nova Scotia.

"I need to eat. I need sleep," said El Jones in an interview with CBC News. 

"I'm going to be homeless for the month."

Jones is taking a writer-in-residence position at the University of Iowa. 

She began her two-year poet laureate term June 27, 2013. As that comes to an end, she says she doesn't want to move but is left without a choice.

"I don't want to leave here. I've poured immense amount of time and energy into my community," she said.

"[But] people here don't want to hire me for whatever reason, or they only want to hire me on contract."

According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotia's unemployment rate in June was eight per cent, compared to a 6.8 per cent unemployment rate across Canada.

The writer and activist has had jobs at Acadia University and the Nova Scotia Community College. She said it's hard to work in Nova Scotia. Between her teaching, activism and poet laureate duties Jones says she had been working 16 to 20 hours a day, sometimes for free, 

According to the Halifax Regional Municipality, the poet laureate is a poet or writer who lives in the city and "has achieved excellence amongst their peers and whose work is of relevance to the citizens of HRM."

The person in the position receives a small stipend of $4,000 for the two-year term and acts as "an advocate for literary arts and reflects the life of HRM through their work. As an advocate for poetry, language and the arts, the poet laureate attends events across the Municipality to promote and attract people to the literary world."

It makes it even harder to stay, Jones said, when she's offered paying jobs elsewhere.

"People just use you and then you're not worth anything," she said.

I'm no different than most of the province.- El Jones

"There's an attitude in Nova Scotia that if you're worth anything, you wouldn't be here. If you're worth anything, you'd be somewhere else. So I think being able to say I went to the States and was offered something, makes your value go up. Whereas people should be valuing the work you do every day in your own community. I'm sorry if I sound bitter or angry."

The 'low self-esteem of the Maritimes'

Jones indicated that unemployment is a problem that affects a lot of people in the Maritimes. 

She calls it the "low self-esteem of the Maritimes."

"There are entire industries that are dead … Overall we are a province that faces high employment and a lack of opportunities for young people. I'm no different than most of the province."

Jones says she'll be sad to leave the children she works with and the inmates she visits. 

"If I could work, I would stay here my whole life," she said.

Jones grew up in Winnipeg, but calls Halifax home. The poet laureate, Halifax's fifth, hopes to one day return to Nova Scotia.

"I've always thought you get from your community and you give to your best capacity. But when opportunities are thrown in your lap, how long can you turn them to beg for opportunities that don't exist here?"