From shy student to stand-up success

When Jo Hastie joined the University of Dundee’s Creative Writing programme last year she was so lacking in confidence that she could not even read her work out to her fellow students. 

A year on, and Jo has won a major poetry slam in Edinburgh, performed alongside the most-watched poet on YouTube, Neil Hilborn, and written and performed stand-up comedy.  

To cap it all, she will graduate with a Distinction this week as she completes her Masters degree in Writing Practice and Study on Thursday 16 November.

Jo, from Aberdeen, who is also known by her pen-name Jo Gilbert, said, “I initially joined the MLitt because I wanted to write science fiction and fantasy, but was too scared to show anyone my work. If someone had told me that I would be a performance poet by the end of my degree, I'd have laughed in their face, yet here I am, writing and performing poetry.”

She credits her poetry tutor, Lindsay Macgregor and her performance teacher Eddie Small for helping her develop her confidence. 

Jo said, “Lindsay introduced me to Tom Leonard, who writes in Glaswegian and I found poets like Harry Giles, Hollie McNish and Neil Hilborn from there. I watched them perform and thought – I want to do that, but in my native dialect, Doric. I started writing poems and with much encouragement from the tutors and Eddie’s performance classes, I was able to stand up and read out loud for the first time.

“Some of my work is very comedic, I swing between comedy and tragedy. It has taken me an entire year to accept that I’m a poet, so maybe in another year I’ll be okay with poet/comedian. I would advise anyone to be open to new things, try them once at least, and find your thing.” 

She won the All Women Poetry Slam in June in Edinburgh, and following several performances that have had audiences in stitches she is now becoming known as a stand-up comedian.

Her plans for the future include reading at the Federation of Writers Scotland Tinsel Tales in December and at Granite Noir in February as well as developing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Tutor Eddie Small said, “We are so proud of Jo and everything she has achieved. She arrived in class doubting whether she could ever read out loud to her classmates. Her success is a great example of what can be gained with encouragement and confidence.”

The University’s Winter Graduation ceremonies take place in the Caird Hall in Dundee on Thursday 16 November and Friday 17 November. Over 900 graduates from around the world will collect their degrees this week