Community-Run Writer-In-Residence Programs in Canada
By Ann-Marie Joan Metten
ABSTRACT: This project report documents the development of a web resource for writers on author residencies available across Canada. Author residencies in Canada originated at universities and then were hosted at public libraries, but now often are run by community arts organizations, especially in Western Canada. Many of these community-based writer-in-residence programs take place in writers’ houses; for example, Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon; Roderick Haig-Brown House in Campbell River, BC; R.D. Lawrence Place in Minden Hills, Ontario; Historic Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver; Wallace Stegner House in Eastend, Saskatchewan; and now Maison Gabrielle-Roy in St-Boniface, Manitoba. These writer-in-residence programs began to emerge mainly in the mid-2000s and now serve as indirect support to the book publishing industry through direct grants to writers. A web resource profiling community-run and other writer-in-residence programs was developed between April and September 2010, and shared with writers and writers’ associations in late September 2010.
Thank you to authors Sharon Butala and Katherine Govier for sharing stories of their efforts to establish a collective of community-run author residencies hosted at writers’ houses. Thanks also to Elsa Franklin, the Haig-Brown and McMonagle families, and friends of George Ryga House, Wallace Stegner House, R.D. Lawrence Place, and Maison Gabrielle-Roy for histories of the founding of those writers’ houses and their writer-in-residence programs. Thank you to Don Oravec of the Writers’ Trust of Canada for providing a final review of this report. Special thanks to Joy Kogawa for sharing her dream of recovering her childhood home and for giving me and others the space to establish a writer-in-residence program there.
Personal thanks and deep gratitude to Andrew Metten for his constancy and for the encouragement he shares generously.
1: Writer-in-residence programs as indirect support for book publishers in Canada
1.1 Government funding for writers supports Canadian publishing
1.2 Canada Council Author Residencies Program
1.3 Types of writer-in-residence projects
1.3.1 University-based author residencies
1.3.2 Library-based author residencies
1.3.3 Writers’ houses–based author residencies
1.4 Comparing three types of residencies
1.4.1 Comparative levels of funding
2: Writers’ houses in Canada
2.1 Writers’ houses–based residencies
2.1.1 Berton House
2.1.2 Roderick Haig-Brown House
2.1.3 Historic Joy Kogawa House
2.1.4 R.D. Lawrence Place
2.1.5 Maison Gabrielle-Roy
2.1.6 Wallace Stegner House
2.2 Other planned writer-in-residence programs
2.2.1 Al Purdy A-Frame
2.2.2 George Ryga House
2.3 Future writers’ houses
2.4 The attraction of writers’ houses
2.5 Writers’ houses as museums
3: The value of community-run author residencies in Canada
3.1 Overview of support to publishers through writers’ houses–based author residencies
3.1.1 Work published and awards granted
3.1.2 What sales levels were achieved?
3.1.3 Did the residency influence the decision to publish?
3.2 Residencies as a benefit to writers
3.3 Other benefits: Developing a community of readers
4: Author residency web resource project
4.1 Determining a need
4.1.1 Existing residency resources
4.1.2 Variable web search results
4.2 Planning a web resource for writers
4.2.1 Project methodology
4.2.2 Including stakeholders
4.3 Initiating the project
4.4 Analyzing content
4.4.1 Information the web resource provides
4.4.2 Author residency or writer’s retreat?
4.4.3 Populating the web resource
4.5 Implementation: Gathering information and ensuring accuracy
4.6 Staging: Getting the word out
4.6.1 Tracking press release usage
4.7 Post Implementation: Google Analytics pattern of use
4.7.1 Running Google Analytics reports
4.7.2 What Google Analytics revealed
4.7.3 Improved Google search results
5: Conclusions and Recommendations
5.1 Writers’ houses as hosts for writer-in-residence programs
5.2 Who administers community-run author residencies?
5.3 Will community-run programs endure? Same amount of money, more programs
5.4 Another project is needed: A writers’ houses collective
5.5 Community-run residency programs and book publishers
5.6 Working together
The book publishing industry in Canada enjoys industrial and cultural assistance directly to individual publishers through federally funded grant programs such as the Canada Book Fund, and through structural support such as copyright or the public lending right. The publishing industry also enjoys indirect support, in the form of financial awards to writers through grants, and in particular through writer-in-residence programs at universities, at public libraries, and at community-run arts organizations. These writer-in-residence programs assist the book publishing industry in a major way. Writer-in-residence programs are important cultural partners that work within a “framework of complementary goals” to promote Canadian literature and to “bring cultural content to Canada” (Lorimer Forthcoming [September 2010 draft], p. 128). The hosts of writer-in-residence programs, like other cultural partners in the newspaper, magazines, television, and radio; in libraries, awards programs; and in certain parts of the education system, have the same interests as book publishers: to encourage Canadian writers and to make their work available to Canadian readers.
Writer-in-residence programs offer cultural support to Canadian book publishers in a number of ways. Author residency programs create a time and place for writers to produce manuscripts that book publishers later work up into commercially viable additions to their lists. Through public events and community programming, author residencies celebrate books and authorship, increasing readership and so expanding the market for a writer’s work. And through collaboration with other writers, the writer-in-
residence appointment promotes the writer to the position of expert who shares his or her skills and wisdom to enhance the ability of other writers. Appointment to the role of writer in residence expresses, as Lorimer says, ―admiration for the contribution books and authors make to Canadian society and the world‖ (p. 134). Author residencies, then, can be seen as cultural partners for the book publishing industry in Canada.
Most author residencies are funded by federal and provincial government agencies. The main government support for writer-in-residence programs is sourced through the Author Residencies program of the Writing and Publishing section of the Canada Council for the Arts, although federal funding is also available through the Canada Council Aboriginal Emerging Writers Residencies. Additional support is sourced through provincial arts councils; for example, through the Manitoba Arts Council Artists in Community Residency Program. The Manitoba Arts Council also funds the Deep Bay Artists’ Residency in Riding Mountain National Park of Canada. Arts New Brunswick provides New Brunswick Artist in Residence funding, as well as collaborative residencies with Manitoba and Quebec. Also available are the Manitoba–New Brunswick Creative Residency, a partnership between the New Brunswick Arts Board and the Manitoba Arts Council, and the New Brunswick–Quebec Creative Residency, a partnership between the New Brunswick Arts Board and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (Canada 2010; Lorimer and Murzyn 1993). In the past, the British Columbia Arts Council has funded author residencies through professional arts project grants. These government grants at both provincial and federal levels are part of government infrastructure for the book publishing industry, through indirect support to writers rather than direct support to publishers.
The main source of funding for most author residencies, however, is the Canada Council for the Arts. The Canada Council Author Residencies program was introduced in 1965, to “promote its goals of fostering literature and promoting community development and interest in the arts,” by supporting a writer-in-residence position at the University of New Brunswick (Earle 2006, p. 31). Although it was the first government-supported program of its kind among Commonwealth nations, the University of New Brunswick appointment followed on residencies previously established at universities in the United States. There, during the 1920s, the poets Robert Frost and Percy MacKaye, each lived and worked in residence at sponsoring universities, Miami University in Ohio for MacKaye and the University of Michigan for Frost (Jason Summer 1978). The purpose of these American residencies was to foster a national literature (Earle 2006, p. 16), and the Canada Council echoed that purpose when its Author Residencies program was established in 1965.
Guidelines for the Author Residencies program have since evolved, but the articulated purpose remains to foster “public appreciation for Canadian writing” and to “involve communities not typically exposed to Canadian literature” (Canada Council for the Arts 2010). Writers selected for program-sponsored residencies must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada, and they must be published professionally, but not necessarily by a Canadian publisher, in genres that include fiction, short stories, poetry, drama, children’s literature, or literary non-fiction “that lends itself to a public reading.” Authors of travel guides, bibliographies, cookbooks, exhibition catalogues, instruction manuals, self-help books, scholarly books, textbooks, chapbooks, and specialized reference works are ineligible, as are authors whose publication lists include only self-published books, or works in anthologies, literary magazines, and web publications. Authors published solely in community newspapers, free or student newsletters, or newsletters of associations or other organizations are also ineligible. Writer-in-residence hosts select writers through an open call for applications (public library– and writers’ houses–based residencies) or by invitation (university-based residencies). Through this selection process more-talented writers are identified and contracted with for proposal to the Canada Council. Maximum funding per writer-in-residence program is $20,000 annually, with a minimum per-year funding of $3,000, for residencies that run a minimum of two months and a maximum of 12 months. Hosts are expected to match funding with a cash contribution (Canada Council for the Arts 2010). Applications are assessed by a Writing and Publishing Section peer assessment committee, according to the artistic and administrative criteria published in the program information sheet and application guidelines. The committee recommends support to a certain dollar value, and this decision is a result of a comparative analysis process, the number of requests submitted to the competition, and the budget available for this program (Hull 2009).
As a funding program, Canada Council’s Author Residencies program represents one aspect of what Lorimer calls “a robust infrastructure that serves Canadian authors, Canadian-owned book publishers, the people of Canada, and the Canadian nation well, largely as a contribution to national self-awareness, a sense of belonging and opportunity, and the establishment of a distinct identity” (Forthcoming [September 2010 draft], p. 86). As a culturally based support program, the Author Residencies program effectively serves the Council’s mandate “to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts” (CC for the Arts Act, s. 8).
The Canada Council’s Author Residencies program awarded grants to the value of $231,400 out of a total of $24.5 million granted through the Writing and Publishing Program in 2009–2010. The total budget for the program has grown steadily over the past few years, as shown in Table 1-1.
Source: Profiles of Canada Council Funding by Province and Territory (Canada Council for the Arts 2003 to 2009)
The Canada Council Author Residencies program represents only 9.5 percent of Writing and Publishing Section funds, and a minuscule .0015 percent of Canada Council’s total funding for 2009–2010 (Canada Council 2009–2010, pp. 1 and 4). The Author Residencies portion of the total funding pie may be small, but it is of major
significance to the individual writers who are selected as writers in residence, and to the writing communities with whom they collaborate.
The Canada Council Author Residencies program grants funds to universities, public libraries, and community-run arts groups that those institutions must match before passing them directly to writers selected as writers in residence. Matching support from host institutions doubles the benefit to writers and to the communities they serve, and the Canada Council’s partnership with these groups represents major support for individual writers in a number of ways: the funding often represents full-time wages for self-employed writers who subsist between publishing contracts; and the appointment as writer in residence builds the writer’s credibility among other writers, including the jury of peers who sit on the selection committee at the host institution and also on the Canada Council jury. Further, the appointment as writer in residence often leads to other writer-in-residence appointments that continue advance the author’s career, but more important, they allow him or her time for creative work that then results in publishing contracts and royalties.
Writer-in-residence programs are hosted across Canada at universities and colleges, public libraries, and in writers’ houses. Writer-in-residence programs are also hosted at bookstores (Aqua Books in Winnipeg and University of Alberta Bookstore in Edmonton); at magazines and literary journals (The Tyee, Arc Poetry Magazine, Capilano Review, and others); at literary festivals (Open Book Toronto, Leacock Summer Festival, and others); and at schools (Toronto Now Hear This! Students, Writers, and Teachers [SWAT] program, Vancouver International Writers Festival Writers in Residence, and others). One writer-in-residence program is conducted electronically, allowing writers from across the country to consult with a senior writer via email (Writer in Electronic Residence Foundation).
University programs are among the longest-running writer-in-residence programs in Canada. In partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts, universities have funded Canadian writers through residency appointments since 1965. The Canada Council founded a University Capital Grants Fund in 1957, as part of its culture mandate. As continuation of the Council’s support to universities, the first residency grant was made to the University of New Brunswick in 1965. Earle describes this residency as a “non-teaching position which carried light duties of mentoring and giving public talks” (2006, p. 26). The first appointment was Norman Levine, a short-story writer and novelist born in Ottawa but who had lived in England since 1949, after serving in the RCAF during the Second World War. In 1956, Levine had returned to Canada for a cross-country journey to gather material for the harshly critical Canada Made Me (1958), which did not appear in a Canadian edition until 1979 (Boyd 2010). The Canada Council appointment to the University of New Brunswick allowed this expatriate writer to return to Canada and find connection to the university community and Canadian readers (Earle 2006, p. 26).
Universities continue to serve Canadian writers as major funders of their work. The Department of English or Department of Literary Studies host writer-in-residence programs at universities from coast to coast. Six university-based programs were funded by the Canada Council in 2003, increasing to 12 university-based writer-in-residency programs funding in 2009. University-based writer-in-residence programs are different from other residency programs in that they require an academic contribution that some writers may not be comfortable providing. Selection of the residency candidate is often by committee, with faculty members meeting to appoint an established writer whose work is studied as part of the university curricula. While in residence, writers are usually given an office on campus and have access to university libraries and archives, where a great deal of research and writing can be completed (Robertson 2010). The writer in residence contributes mainly to the academic community, meeting with classes, participating in graduate seminars, and reading to large groups of students.
Public libraries across Canada host writer-in-residence programs that provide established writers with an honorarium and a place to work, while also creating the opportunity for aspiring local writers to consult with established writers. The longest-running public library–hosted residency program was established in 1978 at the Regina Public Library. Other public library–based residencies have emerged over the past decade, with the number of Canada Council–funded residencies increasing from none funded in 2003 to six funded in 2009. Like other residencies, the writer’s creative work is supported and the writer in residence works collaboratively with others. Public library residencies are said to put heavy demands on the writer’s time in the public (Adderson 2008).
Community-run programs are a relatively new phenomenon, having begun with the Berton House Writers’ Retreat in 1996. Since that time other community-run organizations have been inspired to host writer-in-residence programs in the former homes of celebrated Canadian writers. Not all the writers’ houses–based residencies are funded by the Canada Council, but three were funded in 2008 whereas none were funded in 2003.
Table 1-2 shows all Canada Council Author Residencies Grant Awards from 2003 to 2009. These data highlight those author residency hosts who are ongoing in their support for writers, and allow comparison with those organizations that host a residency once and then do not continue, or at least do not continue to receive funding through the Canada Council Author Residencies program. As a case in point, the Northwest Territories Writers’ Association sponsored Nova Scotia author Susan Haley’s three-month residency in 2004 but has not hosted a paid residency since. Instead the Yellowknife Public Library now hosts a volunteer writer in residence to work with emerging writers, and local writers have focussed their energy on the annual NorthWords Writers Festival (Malcolm 2010). Other writer-in-residence hosts appear only occasionally in Table 1-2 because they find funding elsewhere (Camp littéraire Felix, to whom Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec funding is more easily available) or choose to operate outside the Canada Council application guidelines (Wallace Stegner House, which runs a one-month residency rather than the two-month residency required by Canada Council application guidelines).
As these data illustrate, the majority of funding from the Canada Council Author Residencies program goes to universities and public libraries, with community-run residencies at writers’ houses receiving proportionally less funding. This difference in funding is reflected in the honoraria paid to writers in residence at various types of residency hosts. University-based writer-in-residence appointments are well paid (the author appointed to McMaster University receives a stipend of $20,000 for a four-month term). Public library–based writer-in-residence appointments are also well paid (the author appointed to the Vancouver Public Library in 2008 received a stipend of $16,000 for a four-month term). Writers in residence at community-run residencies at writers’ houses are somewhat less well paid (the 2010 writer in residence at Historic Joy Kogawa House received an honorarium of $7,500 for a three-month appointment, plus furnished accommodation valued at $1,500 per month, for a total of $12,000 over three months). The reduced honorarium paid to writers in residence programs hosted at writers’ houses may relate to the fact that small community-run residencies run on less substantial budgets than larger institutions such as universities and public libraries. As a result, community-run residencies either reduce the length of period of their residencies (three months at Historic Joy Kogawa House rather than 12 months at the University of Manitoba Carol Shields Residency), or they reduce the size of the honorarium paid, unless wider sources of funding are available.
Community-run writer-in-residence programs rely on community-based sources of funding because, like all residencies, they must match government grants but generally receive less funding than institution-based programs at universities and libraries. A comparison of total funding received demonstrates the differences among programs. According to data presented in Table 1-2, most university-based residencies are awarded the maximum $20,000 grant from year to year. Public library–based residencies rank a little lower, with grants ranging from $6,000 to $15,000. Writers’ houses–based residencies receive the least funding, ranging from $3,700 to $10,000. The difference in funding relates to the duration of the residency, with most university-based residencies running over a six-month period; public library–based residencies running between two and four months; and writers’ houses–based residencies running two to three months.
Universities, and increasingly over the past five years, public libraries are the most successful applicants to the Canada Council Author Residencies program. Since 2006, however, smaller grassroots organizations have applied for and accessed these funds to support writers and their work. If the Canada Council Writing and Publishing Program’s Author Residencies program is intended to fund organizations that provide authors with a place to live and work while they complete a manuscript for publication, then those community-run residency programs, which accommodate their writers in the former homes of writers, should be bold enough to apply for a great portion of funding and so allow the legacy of the namesake writer to inspire new work.
Writer-in-residence programs hosted in writers’ houses are some of the most significant in Canada. The first writers’ houses–based residency, Berton House Writers’ Retreat, was founded in 1996 by popular historian and TV host Pierre Berton in his boyhood home in Dawson City, Yukon. Other writers’ houses–based residencies have followed, establishing author residencies in the former homes of well-known Canadian authors. In 2004 Roderick Haig-Brown House in Campbell River, BC, began hosting writers in the home of the respected writer and conservationist. In 2009 Historic Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver hosted its first writer in residence in the childhood home of the novelist and poet Joy Kogawa. In January 2011, Maison Gabrielle-Roy in St-Boniface, Manitoba, will host its first residency. Other writers’ houses may support writers and their writing through literary programming but do not host writing-in-residence programs. Some function as museums. A history of the establishment of writers’ houses–based residencies highlights the community work involved.
An overview of writer-in-residence programs hosted in writers’ houses is set out in Table 2-1.
Detailed information about each writers’ houses–based residency program follows.
In Dawson City, the Writers’ Trust of Canada operates the Berton House Writer’s Retreat. In 2001 the Canada Council reported a grant of $100,000 over a three-year period to the Berton House Writer’s Retreat Society to enable four Canadian or international writers to be in residence in the house for three months each, with a monthly fellowship of $2,000 and travel cost assistance (Canada Council for the Arts 2001). In 2008 the Writers’ Trust of Canada took over ownership of the house and operation of the writer-in-residence program. Until then, founding administrator Elsa Franklin had worked with the board of the Dawson City Public Library to administer and select writers in residence: three writers each year between 1996 and 2008. Since the Writers‘ Trust of Canada takeover, four writers have been hosted each year for three months at a time. Since 1996 more than 50 writers have been hosted at Berton House.
Berton House was the childhood home of author Pierre Berton, and stands across the street from the cabin that was home to poet Robert Service, and just up the street from the cabin that housed writer Jack London during his time in the town. The town itself inspires memory, as it is dedicated to re-enacting the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. Berton first attempted to establish a writers‘ colony near the town of Vaughan, Ontario, where he lived with his wife and children, but development permits were not granted (Franklin 2010). Berton then turned his sights on Dawson City, where he believed the remote location would allow professional Canadian writers the opportunity to concentrate on their work in a part of the country they might not otherwise experience.
The writers‘ retreat has long relied on funding from an annual dinner, held in November in Toronto since 2003. These appeals to individual donations not only provide financial support; they build community around the writer-in-residence program that ensures its continuation from year to year (Berton House Writers‘ Retreat 2010).
Roderick Haig-Brown was a prolific Canadian writer and conservationist who lived in an idyllic setting on the banks of the Campbell River on Northern Vancouver Island, BC. In the early 1970s he and his wife, Ann, wrote to the provincial government to ask if having their property declared green belt would give them relief from their taxes. According to their daughter Mary Haig-Brown, the premier wrote back to say it would not, but the government was interested in buying the house and land. Haig-Brown and his wife would have lifetime tenancy and, on their deaths, the 1923 farmhouse and contents, including a valuable 3,000-volume library, would go to the government. Roderick and Mary Haig-Brown’s expressed wish was that the house would be used for conservationists and authors. Roderick died suddenly in 1976, about a year after this agreement was signed with the provincial government. When Ann Haig-Brown died 14 years later, the house came under the care of the BC Heritage Properties Branch. They rented out the house for two months; then restored it over the next 10 years. During this time the house ran as a bed and breakfast in the summer and was the setting for educational programs in the winter. In 2002 the government divested itself of its Heritage Properties and the City of Campbell River took over responsibility for Haig-Brown House.
In the summer of 2003 a group of family members and writers met on the porch of Edith Iglauer Daly’s house in Garden Bay, Pender Harbour. It was decided that a program similar to the one at Berton House in the Yukon would be a natural fit. The position was advertised and, along with poet Don McKay, who at that time was living in Victoria, the family and community-based Haig-Brown Institute applied to the Canada Council for support. McKay served as writer in residence during the winter of 2004–2005 and was very well received by the people of Campbell River. The program has continued since then. “One year we did not get a Canada Council grant,” says Mary Haig-Brown, “but the people of Campbell River raised the money and the program continued.”
For the first two years of the writer-in-residence program, the house was leased to the Haig-Brown Institute. In 2006 it was decided that the Museum at Campbell River would be in a better position to look after the house. They now maintain the house, continuing to run the summer bed and breakfast, and administering the winter writer-in-residence program. A member of the family and the founder of the annual Campbell River literary festival continue to select the writer-in-residence candidate on behalf of the Museum at Campbell River.
It had long been a dream of poet and novelist Joy Kogawa that she could return to her childhood home. She dreamed mostly for the sake of her mother, who longed for the happier life she led in Vancouver, before being removed from it, along with 22,000 other Japanese Canadians who lost their homes and businesses following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Joy writes in her novel Obasan (1981) about writing to the owner of the house and asking “if they would ever consider selling the house but they never replied” (Kogawa  2006, p. 50).
On August 27, 2003, Joy Kogawa discovered that her old family home was for sale. Her friends, poets Roy Miki and Daphne Marlatt, requested the help of a willing real estate agent, Lucy Meyer, to open the house for a public reading. A month later, on September 27, 2003, more than 100 people crowded into the house to hear Joy read. Many signed a petition to Mayor and Council of the City of Vancouver to preserve the house as a literary landmark, and writers and community members went to Vancouver City Hall to gather information about how to purchase the house. That fall the Vancouver Heritage Commission formed a subcommittee to establish ways to preserve the property, but the house sold before the Kogawa Homestead Committee could gather funds. The committee renewed work to rescue the house at the end of September 2005 when a City of Vancouver heritage planner told them that the new owner had inquired about a demolition permit for the house. With that information, a renewed committee launched a nationwide campaign among writers’ associations, academics, and historians to raise awareness of the impending loss of the house. The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, a province-wide group with a track record of assisting community groups in the preservation of historically important sites, assisted with fundraising and publicity, but by April 30, 2006, the deadline for the purchase agreement, only a portion of the necessary funds had been raised. When it looked like the campaign would fail, an anonymous benefactor, later revealed as Senator Nancy Ruth Jackman of Toronto, donated to The Land Conservancy of BC the remaining funds needed to purchase the house.
In Spring 2009, the Historic Joy Kogawa House Society hosted its first writer in residence, and it then hosted a second three-month residency in Spring 2010. A six-month residency is planned for Fall and Winter 2011–2012. In addition to its residency program, the community-run organization works with school groups and others in the community to establish the site as a place of memory. Historic Joy Kogawa House is seen as a place of reconciliation with past wrongs “because it is a space that converges the real world and the fictitious realm of Kogawa’s novel; because it re-animates a narrative of Canadian history already established in the public consciousness; … and because it allows for the powerful notion of ‘homecoming’ and for the symbolic return of lost property” (Gibson 2009, p. 6). That role in itself inspires significant writing among authors in residence at the house.
Although far from a household name in Canada, field biologist, naturalist, and storyteller Ronald Douglas Lawrence captivated readers around the world with books about Canadian wildlife and the environment. His 30 published books have been published in 16 countries and 14 languages, including German, Italian, Norwegian, Chinese, and Japanese. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, his most popular work, Cry Wild, one of five books he has written about wolves, sold 1.5 million copies in the first three months after its release in the United States in 1991 (Jenish 1996). Lawrence and his wife, Sharon, were instrumental in the establishment of the Wolf Centre at Haliburton Forest, in Ontario, in 1993. The Centre continues to operate today, and reportedly receives more than 30,000 visitors annually to learn about wolves and their environment (FYI Haliburton 2007).
Following Ron Lawrence’s death in 2003, Sharon Lawrence donated his literary collection to the Minden Hills Cultural Centre. In 2008, the R.D. Lawrence Place opened as a museum and literary centre with a mandate to foster a love of reading, promote the art of writing, and deepen respect for our natural heritage. When attempts to move a log cabin from the Lawrence’s property to the Minden Hills Cultural Centre failed because the structure proved to be unstable, a new straw-bale, environmentally sustainable structure was built at the cultural centre. R.D. Lawrence Place now hosts an annual writer-in-residence program funded in part by the Haliburton Highlands Writers’ and Editors’ Network and by the Township of Minden Hills, which owns and operates the Minden Hills Cultural Centre, which includes R.D. Lawrence Place, Agnes Jamieson Gallery, and Minden Hills Museum. The residency is supported by the Haliburton County Public Library (Minden Cultural Centre 2010).
The childhood home of the iconic French Canadian author Gabrielle Roy stands at 375 Deschambault Street, St-Boniface, Manitoba. Designated a Historical House by the City of Winnipeg in 1982, and as a provincial historical site by the Manitoba government in 2002, the house has mainly operated as a museum since its purchase in 1997 by the Corporation de La Maison Gabrielle-Roy (La Corporation de La Maison Gabrielle-Roy 2010). The house had offered guided tours and school programs while gathering funds from Heritage Canada, the Arts Council of Manitoba, and soon from the Canada Council Author Residencies program. In November 2011 they announced the one-year appointment of French author Bertrand Nayet as writer in residence at La Maison. Nayet will begin in January 2011 to mentor emerging and other writers through in-person visits and through the use of email, which will enable him to reach writers throughout Manitoba and beyond the St-Boniface region. Established first as a museum because of its heritage status and the interests of the community organizations involved in its preservation, Maison Gabrielle-Roy is primarily a museum; however, the new writer-in-residence program will allow what writers’ house advocate Katherine Govier calls the “ghosts of the writer” to infuse and inspire new writing. “One of Nayet’s first questions was whether he would be able to work in the house,” said Lucienne Wieler, administrator of the Corporation. Unfortunately, it is not a place where the writer can live, although he or she will have access to the museum and workshops will be offered at Maison Gabrielle-Roy (Wieler 2010).
The non-profit corporation La Maison Gabrielle Roy Inc., which operates the Gabrielle Roy House as a museum and now as writer-in-residence program, receives funds from corporate, foundation, and individual donors, in addition to project funds from the federal, provincial, and municipal governments. Like many community-run arts organizations, the corporation accepts donations through its website. As of Fall 2005, 105 women and 37 men had donated $1,000 each to the House (Wagner 2005).
The author residency at Wallace Stegner House is set in the childhood home of the American author Wallace Stegner and began in 1995. Situated in Eastend, Saskatchewan, the house is available to writers and other artists for rent on a weekly basis year-round at a subsidized rate of $250 per month, including utilities (except long-distance phone charges). Writers reserve use of the house for stays of one week or more, and their applications are adjudicated by the Eastend Arts Council. On behalf of Wallace Stegner House, the Eastend Arts Council fundraises to provide an annual $500 grant and one month’s rent-free use in the month of October.
Author Sharon Butala worked with the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild to establish the house as a writer-in-residence program and as a writers’ retreat. Butala wrote to Wallace Stegner, spoke to the town council and the chamber of commerce, and phoned the provincial Heritage Branch for advice. She also wrote to Joe Clark, still a minister in those days, who is a great Stegner fan, and to several other prominent people who were or are Stegner fans and had some power in government to get behind a grant application and “just to let them know what we were doing.” A federal innovations grant resulted, and later they received more money from the provincial Heritage Foundation, more than from any other source. They also received a major one-time only grant from the provincial government which paid the bulk of the bills to restore and modernize the house. However, Butala says, “We didn’t find the community on the whole to be supportive and almost no local donations were made to the project. Eventually, though, the town council was persuaded to waive taxes on the house and that was a major help … Even Wallace Stegner didn’t believe it until it was done, and we received $10,000 from his wife right after he died. He once sent a cheque for $20, which I still have, as my husband said I mustn’t actually cash it because it was worth more as an artefact.”
Wallace Stegner House is now an important part of the Eastend community and a big part of the tourism board’s plan. During her period of involvement, Butala and the arts council instituted an annual Wallace Stegner House dinner that still takes place every year. “Its purpose was to raise the profile of the project in the community,” says Butala, “to demonstrate that the residency was really happening and would continue to happen, to bring the literary arts into the community (they invited writers from around the province to read at the dinner, and then musicians to entertain as well), and to raise funds. All of these aims have been fulfilled to varying degrees each year, and the dinner is now a well-attended and enjoyable event which helps pay the bills. In this way local people demonstrate their support.”
The residency is also supported by donations from Stegner’s widow, Mary Page Stegner; the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation; the Writers’ Trust of Canada; and the Saskatchewan Folklore and History Society; as well as grants from provincial and federal governments and donations from many others, including assistance from the Town of Eastend and Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.
The A-frame cottage of Canadian poet Al Purdy, situated on Roblin Lake near Ameliasburg, Ontario, was the author’s personal workspace as well as a gathering place for Canadian writers, from Michael Ondaatje to Margaret Atwood. After Purdy’s death in 2000, his widow, Eurithe Purdy, began looking into selling the property, with the hope that it could be turned into a writers’ retreat.
In the fall of 2010 Quill and Quire announced that ownership of the cottage would transfer to the Hastings Prince Edward Land Trust, a volunteer organization dedicated to preserving the region’s cultural heritage. According to Jean Baird, head of the A-frame Trust, part of the deal with the Hastings Prince Edward Land Trust is that the cottage will become home to a writer-in-residence program starting in Fall 2011. “We are hoping to do what this house has always done, which is to generate words and discussion about writing,” says Baird. A committee of four poets “selected to include a broad poetic sensibility, geographical reach, breadth of experience with residency programs” will adjudicate applications for the writer-in-residence program (Al Purdy website; Quill and Quire, October 12, 2010).
Friends of George Ryga House are beginning to re-establish the artist-in-residence program that has run in the former home of playwright George Ryga, set in Summerland, British Columbia. The house was the home for Ryga and his family through much of the 1970s and ’80s, and after his death in 1987, it was maintained by the Ryga family and friend Ken Smedley. Their vision of preserving the house as an artists’ and writers’ centre was realized in 1995, when it was converted to the George Ryga Centre.
Since the Centre’s founding, Smedley has collaborated with the poet John Lent of Okanagan College’s Vernon campus, as well as other writers and writing educators in the Okanagan Valley. They first hosted a writer in residence in 2000; then a George Ryga Award for Social Justice in Literature was established in 2004 in keeping with Alberta-born George Ryga’s status as a “marginalized Ukrainian Canadian who was deeply concerned with justice” (Bachinsky 2010). The award has been administered in an annual celebration at the house, and programs at the Centre have included mariachi and guitar fingering workshops; poetry and play readings; and the Good Will Shakespeare Festival, with student actors rehearsing and performing in the garden at the Centre each summer.
In the summer of 2010, discussion began around dismantling the house and trucking it to the Vernon campus, for reconstruction on the local Okanagan College campus as part of a larger George Ryga Centre. Friends of the George Ryga Centre who lived in the Summerland area galvanized around this prospect, and worked to gain community support for keeping the house at its original setting, on the bench land above the village of Summerland. Friends, including Dorthea Atwater and Peter Hay, who first published Ryga’s plays at Talonbooks in Vancouver, stepped forward. They are blessed with federal charitable tax status and are making connections with other writer-in-residence programs in writers’ houses to inform the re-establishment of the artist-in-residence program in 2012, the centenary of Ryga’s birth. The author residency program would be complemented by college extension courses as further collaboration with Okanagan College (Hay 2010).
The legacy of some of Canada’s most popular writers is yet to be preserved in a writer’s house. The environmentalism of Margaret Atwood could inspire contemporary writers through a residency program set in Atwood’s garden in Toronto or her bird-watching retreat on Point Pelee, Ontario. The place-based writing and language of W.O. Mitchell would be well celebrated in a writer-in-residence program set on the Alberta prairie. Yet both of the writer’s homes, one in Calgary and the other in High River, have been sold, so it’s unlikely they will be reclaimed. Mitchell’s family, his son, Orm, and his wife, Barb, have paid tribute to this beloved Canadian author in a two-volume biography rather than in attempts to preserve the place of his inspiration (Chevrefils 2010). And what of novelist and artist Douglas Coupland’s mid-century modern post and beam house in West Vancouver? Designed by the architect Ron Thom, the white house is filled with Coupland’s colourful sculptures and artwork (2009). It embodies themes from his 2004 art installation “Canada House,” which Coupland filled with Canadian memorabilia and documented in two best-selling non-fiction titles, the photo essays Souvenir of Canada (2002) and Souvenir of Canada 2 (2004). Fans of these writers, and of other Canadian writers yet to come, will surely seek out these spaces in a search to find their favourite characters or remnants of the technique with which they were described, indeed, as Trubek says, “to engage in literary voyeurism [or] worship” and to try to bridge “the heartbreaking gap between writers and readers … to fuse the material with the immaterial, the writer with the reader” (Trubek 2011, pp. 3, 5)
For Trubek, fascination with writers’ houses relates to fascination with the private lives of authors. Houses, however, are both public and private: they are the place “we fight in our pajamas with our spouses, but also clean up and entertain guests” (Trubek 2011, p. 5). As such they draw literary voyeurism and have done so since the fourteenth century, when the town of Arezzo, Italy, preserved Petrarch’s birthplace. Writers’ houses such as Thomas Hardy’s cottage in Devon or John Keats’s apartment at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome fit into many a literary tourist’s itinerary. Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam may be the “most famous and heavily visited writer’s house devoted to a twentieth-century writer” (p. 3).
As Trubek points out, the list of American writers’ houses does not necessarily correlate with a list of great American writers; the same could be said about the greatest Canadian writers and writers’ houses in Canada. Although not everyone agrees about which names should appear on the list of top Canadian writers, at the turn of the millennium, two lists were assembled to chronicle Canadian literature of the past century. The University of Toronto Book Store’s Review published its top 100 Canadian books of all time in 1999 (Pashley 1999). The Literary Review of Canada took a little longer, publishing its list of Canada’s 100 most important books in 2007 (The LRC 100: Canada’s Most Important Books 2007). Many great Canadian writers on these lists are not represented by writers’ houses (Susanna Moodie, Marshall McLuhan, Hugh MacLennan, Sinclair Ross). The great writers on the list with houses are much fewer (Margaret Laurence House in Neepawa, Manitoba; L.M. Montgomery’s Green Gables House in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island; the Stephen Leacock Canadian Humorist Museum in Orillia, Ontario; Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon; Historic Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver; Maison Gabrielle-Roy in St-Boniface, Manitoba; the soon-to-be established Al Purdy A-frame near Ameliasburg, Ontario). Other great writers are honoured by university-based residencies (the Carol Shields residency at the University of Manitoba; the Mordecai Richler writer-in-residence program announced in Fall 2010 at McGill University in Montreal). Preservation of the homes of these great writers depends on the future vision of some passionate community.
The vision of operating a writer-in-residence program in the former homes of distinguished Canadian writers is a new phenomenon. Earlier projects to protect such literary landmarks took the tack of establishing a museum rather than a place where writers could continue to live and work. Examples of Canadian writers’ houses as museums are set out in Table 2-2.
More recent preservation successes generally incorporate some literary programming along with museum aspects that celebrate the writer’s legacy (Maison Gabrielle-Roy).
Some are administered by municipal museum associations (Stephen Leacock House); others by community-based committees (Margaret Laurence House). Yet others are owned and administered as Parks Canada National Heritage Sites (Robert Service Cabin in Dawson City, Yukon), where the homes of the writers who established Canada’s literary and cultural heritage stand alongside the homes of former prime ministers and founders of Canada. All are places seen as worth preserving as historical landmarks, and all have been established as museums, from the early part of the last century right up to the mid-1970s. Even up to 1982, when the home of novelist Louis Hémon (Maria Chapdelaine ) was designated, such literary landmarks were seen as a place where the author’s work and memorabilia could be preserved and shown; open to the public for tours; and where school children could come to learn about the author and his or her work.
These sensibilities began to change in the mid-1990s, perhaps in response to the vision of non-fiction writer and broadcaster Pierre Berton. A founding member of The Writers’ Union of Canada and of the Writers’ Trust of Canada, Berton purchased his family home for $50,000 and donated it in 1996 to the Yukon Arts Council, the Klondike Visitors Association, and the Dawson City Libraries Association (Berton House Writers’ Retreat 2006). “He knew better than most that writing is a precarious craft and writers need to be nurtured and supported in various ways,” writes Bill Freeman on the Berton House website. His vision to turn his childhood home into a place where writers could live and work created a sea change in the way other writers’ homes were viewed. Since 1996, when the Berton House Retreat was established, other writers’ homes have been seen as work spaces, dedicated for use mainly by the writing community and in part by the public. With the exception of Margaret Laurence House in Neepawa, Manitoba, all subsequent efforts to create literary landmarks in Canada have been created with a vision more in line with Pierre Berton than with Parks Canada.
During the campaign to preserve Joy Kogawa’s childhood home, writers and their associations came together to envision a wider use of the house than as a museum. They wrote letters of support calling for “a writers-in-residence centre in which Canadian writers and writers from abroad could write firsthand about our complex and evolving multi- and inter-cultural society and how different values and traditions can peacefully interact” (Brett 2005). They campaigned for “employing the house as a new cultural centre that would highlight the contributions of Vancouver artists from all backgrounds—not as a shrine but rather as a working place and as a place for work to be seen” (Busby 2005). Yet when TLC The Land Conservancy of BC hired a heritage consultant, architect Don Luxton, to develop a heritage conservation plan for the house, his first draft returned again to the old vision of establishing the site as a museum. Certainly displays of artefacts and memorabilia are one component of the multiple uses for the site, but the main use is as a writer-in-residence program that provides space and funding for writers to develop their creative work. An overture had been received from Parks Canada to establish a National Historic Site on the basis that the house and the Nakayama family’s removal from it in 1943 represented “a nationally important example or illustration of Canadian human history” and because designations in the Western Region overlooked women of historic and ethnic significance. The Save Kogawa House Committee did not entertain this option, though, single-mindedly working toward honouring those writers who had spoken out in support of their effort with a vision to create a writer-in-residence program at the house.
The organizing committees behind other writers’ houses had similar experiences. At the Stephen Leacock Museum, curator Fred Addis proudly proclaims that “not one apple peeler can be found on the property.” Instead a literary program of festival events and writing workshops involves emerging and established Canadian writers. “Contemporary programming is what will keep the writer’s legacy alive,” Addis says (Addis 2010).
Each writers’ houses–based residency program sets its own level of achievement in its call for expressions of interest from writers. Some residency programs require applicant writers to have one published work (Berton House). Another requires two published books or one published book and one professionally performed screenplay (Historic Joy Kogawa House). All seek the most talented applicant who will use time in residence to create new work that is well received by the community of readers.
But creative output does not always have to be the result of an author residency. One writer in residence at the Berton House Writers’ Retreat in Summer 2009 used the time to think. “I came to Dawson City expecting to do a lot of typing; what I wasn’t prepared for was how relentlessly fascinating a place it is. Here you’re confronted with history at every corner, and the past looms large in a way you don’t find most places in Canada. I had a great summer, and would recommend the Berton House residency to any writer interested in getting work done—and some thinking, too” (Berton House Writers’ Retreat 2010). “Sometimes sitting there, not having to write, and enjoying the pleasure of just thinking, is what a writer needs,” says Elsa Franklin, founding administrator of the Berton House Writers’ Retreat (Franklin 2010). Thinking was all Pierre Berton intended when creating the writers’ retreat in his Dawson City home. “Berton, who worked umpteen jobs himself, felt how wonderful it would be for a writer to have a place to stay, a certain amount of money for food, and certainty of a place for three months to live.” Thinking can lead to ideas for new work rather than the work itself. While in residence at Haig-Brown House, another writer said, “I also began another project with the working title Rock Garden. The genus for that book came while living at Haig-Brown House.”
Applications for the Canada Council Author Residencies program are adjudicated on the basis of a 25-page writing sample that the author provides. This excerpt ideally is taken from the work-in-progress that the author will be continuing while in residence. The quality of the work and the reputation of the writer’s previously published work influence the adjudication decision of the selection committee, usually made up of peers and community members. As a result it can be assumed that the most talented writers are selected from among the many applications received (80 applications were received for the four residencies at Berton House in 2009, for example). That writer’s work is further adjudicated during the grant application review process, again by a peer jury; given the decreasing pool of money, grants are awarded only for the best author residency applications (likely to include the best writers). The result is high-calibre authors in residence who are likely to produce best-selling and award-winning writing out of their residency. The high quality of work generated is demonstrated in Table 3-1.
The awards granted to work written while in residence demonstrate the quality of work generated when a writer is given the space and time to work. Another way to determine the contribution author residency programs make to the book publishing industry in Canada is to look at sales data for the books that result from manuscripts produced while in residence. Did the publicity around an author’s residency increase awareness of and anticipation for the new work and so result in higher sales numbers? Sales per title figures are tracked by BookNet Canada, the government-funded non-profit organization that provides, as Lorimer says, “powerful structural support” to the book publishing industry through “the provision of machine-readable book metadata (product information such as title, author, price, genre, length, format) that can be used … to track titles anywhere in the supply chain, from publisher through bookseller to final sale” (Forthcoming [September 2010 draft], p. 116). All data are available to all participating members of industry, but that information is closely held because of the competitiveness of the industry. Sales data are not available for publication.
Perhaps a better way to determine the contribution that writer-in-residence programs make to the Canadian book publishing industry is to look to the point of acquisition. Does participation in an author residency program influence the decision to publish? It can be expected that work produced during a residency funded by the Canada Council Author Residencies program will be of excellent quality, because the program funds only professionally published Canadian writers who have a track record within the publishing industry and a likelihood to produce publishable work. Most programs require applicants to have at least one professionally published work; others look for two or more in order to attract high-calibre applicants. The writer in residence thus is proven in the marketplace and a strong candidate for a Canadian book publisher’s program.
Ongoing publicity for the author residency further assists the decision to publish. Community events bring ongoing exposure to any number of book buyers each month, depending on the size of community the author residency serves. Publicity for the author residency program increases name recognition for the author inside and sometimes outside the country if the residency is well known and prestigious. Publicity drives more traffic to the websites of both featured authors and their publishers, and links from the author residency website and from media coverage that results from residency publicity increase search engine ranking. Additional exposure on Facebook, Twitter, and video sites further increases awareness among book buyers.
Despite the high likelihood that the dual jury process will lead to high-quality work generated while in residence, author agents don’t use the residency status as a point of influence in pitching a manuscript to a publishing house. “I’ve never used it in a submission,” said one literary agent. “Maybe I should, but I’ve never thought of it. I agree that it [a residency] adds weight to a writerly CV, but I’m not sure that it influences a buying decision. It gives a writer a bit of breathing room to get stuck into their work. That’s the real value of an author residency. It’s more of a service to writers than to publishers, I’d say” (Harding 2010).
A fiction editor said: “If an author approaches me and indicates in their cover letter or CV that they are, or have been, a writer in residence somewhere, then it tells me that I should pay a bit more attention to their manuscript than I might to somebody who has no publishing credentials at all. It usually tells me that the writer is somewhat established, is a dedicated professional, and has some profile in the market. Some residencies would hold more weight than others, but the impact would be about the same. The only thing that determines whether or not I will make an offer for that author’s book is the quality of the writing itself, and whether it fits our vision or not. I think these residencies are terrific for writers in that they indeed build community profile, and because they are given the opportunity to devote significant attention to their writing” (Labonté 2010).
Another fiction editor said: “A past residency would certainly help instil confidence if we were talking about an unknown writer. I have a lot of respect for author residencies and I know how competitive they are, so if it was a highly respected residency like the Kogawa House, Green College, or Markin-Flanagan, for example, I would certainly know that this is a writer I should take notice of, and consider the manuscript carefully. And, yes, if I know that there has been advance publicity around a book because of a residency, that would be another strong point in the book’s favour. It’s a great boon to a publisher if a book is already anticipated by audiences. And if we were talking about a book still in development, then knowing that a writer had a residency lined up would convince me that s/he had the commitment to the project and the opportunity to finish it that I’m looking for. In conclusion, I’d have to say that I’d consider writer residencies highly beneficial, even vital, to our industry” (Little 2010).
An editor of non-fiction commented that a writer who was in residence at one of the writer’s houses had been commissioned several years ago to do a book. “I don’t know whether [he] worked on [it] during his residency or not. I do know that [another of our writers] has been working on a book that is under contract for us while he has been a writer in residence [elsewhere] (or at least he was supposed to). My experience is that these programs are very useful for allowing writers to work on projects that have already been signed—at least that is the case for us. And in that sense they are definitely a benefit” (Flight 2010).
Participation in a writer-in-residence program may indeed influence the acquisition editor’s decision to publish. If the acquiring editor or literary agent knows that an author has received publicity around a work written while in residence, that information does influence the publishing decision. Editors and agents do view residencies as a benefit to the industry.
Writers selected to work in residence say that they benefit immeasurably. One writer in residence said, “I did a lot of work there. It was like this: I could either turn on the television or I could write” (Asfour 2010). The setting worked exceptionally well for this writer, who is highly involved in his home city―teaching, coaching other writers, editing and translating, sponsoring a refugee family, maintaining a wide network of friends. To be away from these connections for three months while working in residence meant that he had plenty of solitary time to consider his writing and fewer distractions from applying himself to it.
Not only is the creative time valuable but the inspiration of new place and new people is important. One writer in residence found broader value in her residency in a writer’s house. “The residency was invaluable to me as a working writer,” she says. “I was artistically regenerated and intellectually invigorated by the change in my physical, natural and cultural environment… I was relieved of financial obligations, and that allowed me to focus on my work. The whole package―change of scene, financial security, move to a new coastal environment―arrived just as I needed replenishment. I was productive.” This writer travelled 7,500 kilometres from her home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, to participate in the writer-in-residence program on the coast of British Columbia. Once there, as she read her work to a new audience in a new milieu, she “was aware, in a good way, of every inch of that distance, this country.” As she met local writers, Doyle recognized “a similar rootedness” and learned peoples and culture of the area “through the imperatives that drive their writing” (Doyle 2009).
The experience of writers while in residence programs demonstrates their value as important cultural supports for writers and therefore for the publishing industry in Canada.
The author may benefit from participation in a writer-in-residence program, but the community benefits as well. Built in to most residency guidelines is the requirement that a percentage of the writer’s time in residence be devoted to community programming. This percentage can range from 25 to 40 percent of overall time, but Canada Council Author Residencies program application guidelines specify the higher 40 percent allotment to community programming—to allow maximum benefit to the community the writer serves “and to the writer as well,” says Mona Kiame, program officer for the Canada Council Author Residencies program. “The writer benefits from new perspectives gained from mixing with a new community of writers. The benefits are mutual” (Kiame 2010).
Benefits to the community vary from residency to residency, according to the writer’s interests and ability. Some writers in residence approach the community programming aspect of their residency as an opportunity to consult with other writers and to help develop their work. One-on-one consultations become the main focus of their community programming. Other writers seek wider involvement in the community through public readings and events such as writing workshops, readings by and discussions with guest authors, perhaps a mapping project or walking tour of the neighbouring community. The author’s ideas for public programming during the residency are important, as often the selection jury’s decision—as well as that of the Canada Council peer jury—is based on the strength of the author’s public program, in addition to their writing stature and ability.
The community program of the writer-in-residence program at R.D. Lawrence Place at the Minden Hills Cultural Centre in Ontario offers an example of the wide variety of community involvement possible, as follows.
- Do a public reading from your own published or in progress works.
- Michael Fay, past writer in residence, worked with the Conjurors to have his play A River Needs to Run performed outdoors at the Cultural Centre.
- Host a writing- or reading-related event at R.D. Lawrence Place or at the Cultural Centre. Michael hosted a program of local author readings in the spring and a series of three staged readings of locally written plays in the fall.
- In 2009, R.D. Lawrence Place partnered with the Beaver Theatre in a literary festival where the writer in residence participated. The writer in residence at this year’s festival hosted a writer’s open stage for readings.
- Lead or organize workshops about writing for adults/young writers. In previous years, guest authors have been brought in to hold workshops that the writer in residence could organize.
- Attend the R.D. Lawrence Place Writers’ Circle and offer encouragement, support and critical feedback for writers looking to express and find their literary voice.
- Laura Redman, past writer in residence, helped to organize a writing contest, did an internet blog, and ran a children’s program in conjunction with the public library.
- Pauline Johnson, past writer in residence, collected entries and edited them for an anthology. A writer in residence could find means to provide writers with an opportunity to have their work published online.
- Help to develop our resource centre for writers (Loucks 2010).
At Haig-Brown House in Campbell River, BC, 2009–2010 writer in residence Harry Thurston initiated a monthly book club to discuss his own work and that of other writers. The club met Saturday morning at Haig-Brown House, and readers loved it so much that they continue to meet long after Thurston’s residency has ended.
The Haig-Brown author residency, like many other community-run programs, enriches its host community far beyond the reach of the university-based residency programs that inspired them. Whereas the university residency serves a community of well-connected academics within the campus setting, the community-run residency―Haig-Brown House, for example―is set within a community of 30,000 people, far from mainstream literary connections. The residency program enriches their lives immeasurably. As Ruth McMonagle of Still Water Books, the local independent bookstore, says, “Our writer in residence is not just a program but a thing in people’s hearts. It’s a living and powerful thing.” Applications were just arriving for the 2011 residency and McMonagle said that people were coming into her bookstore asking “Who is it? Who did they choose?” Anticipation was high because the criteria for the Haig-Brown program follows the criteria set out in the Canada Council guidelines requiring that the writer in residence work in collaboration with the community. The one-on-one consultation with local writers has been the catalyst for new work. Visits to writing communities on nearby Quadra and Cortes Islands encourage new writing there. And McMonagle pointed to one start-up writer in Campbell River, Janet K. Smith, who has now been published in Caitlin Press–Harbour Publishing’s Walk Myself Home: An Anthology to End Violence Against Women (2010). McMonagle also pointed out that the author residency program has also fed the local writers’ festival, which takes place each March during the residency period. There are now five bookstores in town, and the writer is important to community. It creates an atmosphere of energy and is a real case in point of the additional benefits of a community-run author residency.
Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon, has inspired a summer arts festival that began in the spring of 1998, two years after the founding of the residency, and is now in its thirteenth year. “One has fed the other,” said Elsa Franklin, Pierre Berton’s literary agent and former administrator of the author residency program. The arts festival now hosts its own artists’ residencies, following the pattern set by the Berton residency. The Klondike Visitors’ Association highlights the residency program as an attraction, bringing tourists that expand the economy of the area.
Even a city-based residency such as Historic Joy Kogawa House has brought new life to a working-class neighbourhood that seemed to have forgotten writing and literature. Several children’s writers, who had always lived in the neighbourhood because rent is affordable, have participated in events at the house, drawing attention from one Vancouver publisher, who now calls Marpole “the new Bloomsbury” (Nugent 2009). Such community building extends networks that help to create new writing, and the community-run author residency is a big part of that.
Writer-in-residence programs may serve writers directly and book publishers indirectly, but it is difficult for writers to find out about them. A web resource project would bring together information in a single place and make it easily accessible to writers.
Writers see huge opportunity to advance their careers and find time to write through author residencies. They need easy access to information about them, but that currently does not exist. One author hired an intern in Summer 2010 to help her identify writer-in-residence opportunities that might be available to her. She commented, “Residencies are an opportunity to go places and meet people, but they’re hard to search online. A Google search digs up a couple leads but it’s like hunting around in the abyss” (Farrell 2010). This author says she finds out about residencies through writer friends who have done them, but it’s hard to ask because “we hate it when our friends become successful and we don’t.” She describes herself as pathologically disorganized and welcomes the idea of any resource that posts author residency information online.
The editor of a literary magazine, which until early in the fall of 2010 hosted a list of international residencies on their website, said she knows of no one resource for information about writer-in-residence programs in Canada. “Authors seem to find out about residencies in a variety of ways,” she said. “I’m sure if a web resource existed it would be well used” (Conley 2010).
Several print sources of information about writer-in-residence programs are available, as are online lists of author residencies, both Canadian and international. The Writers’ Union of Canada lists international author residencies on its website, along with contact information for several Canadian residencies, including the Banff Centre and Berton House, among others (G. Zoe Garnett 2002; updated 2005, 2008, 2009). Although this list is fairly static, it is updated occasionally when staff time becomes available (Laws 2010). In addition, the Writers’ Union maintains a Residencies and Colonies bulletin board where notices about writer-in-residence programs are posted when information is sent to the Union’s head office. Postings can also be made to the Employment Opportunities and Calls for Submissions bulletin boards (Laws 2010).
Also on the web, Arc Poetry Magazine at one time maintained a list of residencies assembled by a dedicated volunteer, but that web page was removed in Fall 2010. “The links became redundant and outdated quickly,” said managing editor Pauline Conley, “and there were many of them” (Conley 2010). Too many links made the Arc residency resource difficult to manage.
The Places for Writers website gets around the links problem by posting notices in an online newsletter format rather than maintaining static web pages. Since 1997 this Canadian writers’ resource site reaches a wide group of Canadian and international writers and posts notices about writing contests and calls for submission, occasional literary news, publishing information, and links to great Canadian writers and organizations. Some writer-in-residence programs, including the University of Calgary and Vancouver Public Library, have posted their calls for applications on the site. In 2006 Places for Writers was chosen as one of Writer’s Digest 101 best websites for writers.
Print resources for writers include the annual Canadian Writer’s Market (McClelland & Stewart, 2010), now in its 18th edition. Canadian Writer’s Market lists workshops and writing retreats but does not list opportunities for writers at writer-in-residence programs. Similarly, the more American-sourced Writer’s Market, updated annually by Robert Lee Brewer (Writer’s Digest Books, 2011) lists grants, fellowships, and prizes but does not list residency programs. A better source of information, Artists and Writers Colonies: Retreats, Residencies, and Respites for the Creative Mind, compiled by Gail Hellund Bowler (Hillsboro, Oregon: Blue Heron Publishing, 1995) includes author residencies among the listings for retreats and fellowships for artists and writers. This useful print resource was compiled in 1995 and updated in 2000, but has not been updated since that time. Bowler has since retired and the publisher has moved on to other projects (Bowler 2010).
These various print and online resources are pretty much the only formal information available to provide writers with details about author residency programs in Canada. Much more information is available about residencies for visual artists. The website of the International Association of Residential Artists―Res Artis (www.resartis.org)―links visual artists with opportunities ranging from Cameroon to Catalonia. Res Artis began in 1993 in the Netherlands as a volunteer organization to support residency programs around the world. By the early part of the new millennium, it had begun to convene conferences among administrators of artist-in-residence programs, and it now serves as an excellent source of online information for visual artists seeking financial support and a place to work. This membership-funded organization maintains a web portal that connects artists and writers with contact information for residency programs in more than 40 countries. The list does include writer-in-residence programs in addition to their mainly visual art–based listings. Most of the residencies listed in Canada, however, are fee-for-space artists’ studios or rent-by-the-week rooms for writers at country inns. Historic Joy Kogawa House has recently become a member and over time will determine the effectiveness of the collective information, and in particular the mentorship program, that the international association offers (Res Artis 2010).
In the absence of reliable resources, the writer is left to search for writer-in-residence programs using keywords. Google searches for “author residencies in Canada” yield no results on www.google.com, but a more open search without the quotation marks yields 928,000 results. They begin with the Canada Council Author Residencies program and various university- or public-library based residency programs, but veer off quickly into the medical definition of “residency” and immigration-related sites based on that definition of “residency.” The search terms “author residency” and “Canada” render a narrower yield, with 640 results specific to author residency programs in Canada. Searches for “writer-in-residence programs” and “Canada” yield 3,740 results.
This wide range of search results could be narrowed with a web resource that serves as a portal to writer-in-residence programs in Canada. Such a portal would eliminate duplicate postings. It would also organize information by type of residency host and geographic location, and it would curate information by selecting the most respected programs. The result would be easy-to-access information that serves writers well.
Designing and developing a web resource for writers followed a clear project methodology that assessed the kind of information that writers need, planned the best way to serve that need, and then gathered information from administrators of writer-in-residence programs. These administrators were identified as integral to the success of the web resource. That success would be determined by an increase in the number of links to the web resource from other websites and from print resources for writers. Increased web traffic would also be a measure of success.
The methodology used to collect the information reported is set out in Figure 4-1. The project methodology is divided into six phases.
In the planning and initiation phrase, creating the project team would include working with the webmaster at www.kogawahouse.com to allow access to page creation. It would also include contacting all administrators at writer-in-residence programs across Canada to inform them of the project, and to not only gather information, but also get them to confirm the information presented on the website. Staging the web project’s launch would include emailing a press release to all writers‘ associations and then following up with them to offer more information and to find out how they planned to publicize the residency resource. With this project methodology in place, key stakeholders could be identified and contacted.
The web resource for author residencies serves three levels of stakeholders, as follows:
- primary stakeholders include writers who seek information about the author residency opportunities available to them; these primary stakeholders benefit from the web resource because it serves as a central portal to information that is currently scattered across a number of websites and print sources;
- key stakeholders include the administrators of author residency programs situated in writers’ houses in Canada, who benefit from a collaborative network that connects them with others doing the same administrative work and ultimately writing the same grant applications; and
- secondary key stakeholders include administrators of author residency programs at universities and public libraries who, through comparison of application procedures and requirements, may seek greater uniformity among programs in Canada.
These stakeholders were involved in the project through information gathering and through quality control to confirm accuracy of information posted in the web resource.
Timing was right for the launch of a web resource that would inform writers, not only about the author residency at Historic Joy Kogawa House, but also about other residencies available in Canada. The writer-in-residence program at Historic Joy Kogawa House had been under way for two years, and in the fall of 2010 the society was about to embark on a publicity campaign and call for expressions of interest from writers for the next residency. The web resource would be announced at the same time as the call for expressions of interest. Providing a web resource for writers could be seen as payback for ongoing support from writers’ associations. During the 2006 campaign to rescue the house from demolition, the Save Kogawa House Committee had sought the support of writers associations from across Canada, and many of them envisioned a use for the house as a writer-in-residence program. Their wholehearted support needed to be returned in kind, so a web resource was initiated to serve their needs in this larger way.
There was also a desire to connect with other writer-in-residence programs. Efforts to establish a network of residency administrators had been undertaken in the mid-2000s by authors Katherine Govier and Sharon Butala. Govier wrote in the Ottawa Citizen in August 2006 about starting “a registry of historic Canadian writers’ houses, a website, a map.” Her desire was to make writers’ houses more accessible to visitors because “more writers should breathe a little of this haunted air” (Govier 2006). Later that summer Govier wrote: “We see benefit in working together because, at present, many WH’s [writers’ houses] are, to quote [Fred] Addis [of Stephen Leacock House in Orillia, Ontario], ‘working in a vacuum.’ Experience gained at one House can be shared with Houses being developed” (Govier 2006). The author residency web resource hosted on the www.kogawahouse.com website would be the beginning of this sharing of information with writers and with administrators of other author residency programs, particularly with administrators at writers’ houses.
Information would be solicited from various organizations that run author residencies in Canada. Those groups would write project descriptions for each of their residencies and they would then be posted as subdirectories to a new page on the www.kogawahouse.com website. Administrators would then be asked to review and update their content each year. The unwieldy nature of updating pages was a huge concern, however, and a much less-demanding format was conceived. It was then thought that the web resource could take the form of a Drupal community portal that enabled individual log-ins to the www.kogawahouse.com website so that each organization could update information at their own discretion. This plan, too, was cumbersome. In the end, it was decided that because the writer-in-residence programs are well described on the individual websites for each residency program—and because they are kept up to date there—that brief descriptions of the programs on the www.kogawahouse.com website and links to the host website would be the best way to proceed. A conversation with Pauline Conley, managing editor at Arc Poetry Magazine, mid-way through the project, reminded me that the big challenge would be maintaining the links, not the information. “It’s the links that go out of date,” she said. “Checking them can be very time consuming.” With this advice, a monthly check through the website will be necessary to ensure all links remain active.
To decide which information the web resource would provide, we framed essential questions:
- What does the writer need to know about author residencies?
- How can information keep flowing in both directions between author residency programs and writers?
- What is the role of the writer in residence?
- How does the writer in residence serve the local community?
A writer-in-residence program can be interpreted in a number of ways, but the two most common interpretations are as an author residency and as a writer’s retreat. During an author residency, a writer devotes the majority of his or her time to writing and another portion to assisting writers in the community with writing projects. Sometimes the public part of the residency involves events and literary readings rather than one-on-one consultations with other writers, as with the Spring 2010 author residency at Historic Joy Kogawa House. Writer-in-residence programs such as these are funded through the Canada Council Author Residencies program.
The alternative interpretation of author residencies is the writer’s retreat, during which the author devotes all his or her time to writing, while physical needs for food and accommodation are provided to assist the writing process. The Banff Centre provides this kind of retreat, as do other author residencies. The Canada Council assists participation in writers’ retreats of this kind by accepting applications for travel subsidies.
It was decided that only writer-in-residence programs funded through the Author Residencies program would be the focus of the web resource but that other supports to writers, including writers’ retreats and writing workshops, would also be listed.
The scattered nature of the information, sometimes posted clearly on host websites, but oftentimes hidden away at the bottom of press releases or blog postings, made research and information gathering a challenge. The more difficult the information gathering, though, the greater grew the sense that writers need a web resource such as this. With each dead end in the research, a portal to all author residency opportunities available in Canada was increasingly determined to be necessary.
The research process began with the Who Received a Grant listing on the Canada Council website. These grant listings are searchable by year, going back to 2003, and in a practical way demonstrate not only which residency programs have successfully garnered grant funds each year, but also which programs consistently host writers in residence from year to year. A pattern of success in applications for grant monies determined which residency programs to list as hosts in the Other Author Residencies subdirectory on the www.kogawahouse.com website.
Consistent hosts were defined as those who received grant monies each year or every other year. Several of the hosts awarded Canada Council funds had perhaps hosted only a single residency and then either found alternative funding or cancelled the residency program. Hosts such as these were not listed in the Other Author Residencies subdirectory.
On the other hand, those hosts to be listed could be set out in clearly defined categories: writer-in-residence programs that take place in writers’ houses, at public libraries, and at universities. Within these broad categories, smaller subcategories were established, particularly among the listings of public libraries and universities that host writer-in-residence programs. These two host categories were organized with geographic subcategories arranged by province, beginning with British Columbia in the west, continuing through to the Prairie Provinces, then to Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. Such subcategories were not needed for the writers’ houses category because they are few in number. In contrast, the necessary geographic subcategories for the multiple residency programs offered at public libraries and universities allowed clear navigation within the range of information available and created workable, nicely chunked subdirectories.
With the architecture of the Other Author Residencies programs thus established, information to populate individual pages for each writer-in-residence program was gathered from the websites of the various programs, from Google searches, and from conversations with writer-in-residence administrators. Longer-running author residencies clearly set out information on their websites, often with contact information for the staff member who administers the program. This contact was determined to be a key source for further information about each residency host, and as a result, all web content pulled from the host websites and then used to populate the subdirectory pages needed to be confirmed and corrected by this administrator. An email message with a subject line that clearly referred to the writer-in-residence program, and that included a link to the information on the www.kogawahouse.com website, was sent to each contact. The body of the email message asked our essential questions:
- Where does the writer apply? (the web address)
- When does the writer apply? (the application deadline)
- Where can the writer find out more information?
These messages were sent over several weeks in early to mid-September to the contact person provided on websites and press releases about writer-in-residence programs. When a contact person was not easily discernible, this email confirmation was sent to the head of the community outreach department for public libraries and to the head of the English department or other host department for universities.
Replies were enthusiastic in some cases but slow to arrive in most. Follow-up was definitely necessary, and of course a phone call was best because a human voice at the other end of the phone line is less easy to ignore than a message in the email inbox. A phone call could establish a greater sense of purpose and allow for further discussion of the program and for information gathering about other author residency programs that the contact happened to know about. The phone calls following up were especially necessary for university hosts, because many of those messages arrived in campus inboxes during the third week of term, a busy time of year, albeit one when routine is beginning to settle in and allow an answer to a cold email messages from an unknown sender. A tracking system was established to ensure that all writer-in-residence programs received a follow-up phone call and that, in the end, all information set out on the website was vetted and accurate.
Information gathered from the follow-up email messages and phone calls was then used to edit the listings. At this point the Other Author Residencies website was considered to be fully populated, and notice could be sent round to writers’ guilds and associations to publicize the web resource.
The launch of the web resource was timed to coincide with copy deadlines for various print and online magazines for writers across Canada. These publications include the following national organizations:
- The Writers’ Union of Canada Write magazine and online notices
- Canadian Authors Association National Newsline
- League of Canadian Poets electronic newsletter
- PEN Canada Newsroom
- Playwrights Guild of Canada CanScene e-newsletter
- Editors’ Association of Canada Active Voice
- Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators, and Performers e-newsletter
- Literary Translators’ Association of Canada e-newsletter
The following provincial organization publications were also contacted:
- Federation of BC Writers’ WordWorks
- Writers Guild of Alberta Write Click e-newsletter
- Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild Ebriefs e-newsletter
- Manitoba Writers’ Guild e-newsletter
- Quebec Writers’ Federation QWrite newsletter
- Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick news blog
- Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia EastWord newsletter
- Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador weekly e-newsletter
A press release was prepared and sent to the editors of these publications to let writers know about two pieces of news, that (1) the web resource for writers about author residency programs in Canada was up and running and that (2) the Historic Joy Kogawa House was now accepting applications for its Fall 2011 residency. The dual purpose of this message allowed the excitement of opportunity for writers interested in applying for the residency (and their eventual disappointment at lack of success) to be mitigated by the chance of an opportunity elsewhere. The press release also called for feedback, which would continue to build essential connections between the Historic Joy Kogawa House writer-in-residence program and the writing community. Feedback also improved the accuracy of our already-vetted web content, and contributed information about additional writer-in-residence programs that were previously overlooked.
The press release and email message to editors and writing associations would result in considerable traffic on the www.kogawahouse.com website. Both the increased traffic and the quantity of email responses to the call for additional information about other writer-in-residence programs available in Canada were measures of the success of the project. For comparison between before-and-after statistics, however, Google Analytics would provide a more accurate measure of whether or not writers needed this web resource. If the number of visits to the site increased after writers were told it existed, then the website must have met their need for information. To track the number of visits, Google Analytics needed to create a baseline against which new web traffic to the site could be measured.
Response to the press release also needed to be assessed through follow-up phone calls and email messages to writing associations and editors of the magazines and newsletters to which the press release was sent. Publication dates were needed to identify the reasons for spikes in web traffic tracked using Google Analytics. Peak activity was determined by Google around the publication dates set out in Table 4-1.
Table 4-1 Publication dates to track in Google Analytics
When Google Analytics was installed, the Other Author Residencies section of the www.kogawahouse.com website was filtered so that Google Analytics would track separately that unique area within the website. Additional filters on web traffic excluded visits from my IP address. This filter allowed the number of Page Visits to more accurately report usage by excluding the frequent visits the web administrator made to the site to update information and add new pages.
Goals were set according to the URL Destination so that reports specific to each page would indicate how many visitors were checking which pages within the Other Author Residencies section of the website.
Google Analytics reports were then run to show traffic sources, whether from an email account, a search engine, or a link on another website. The reports showed whether visitors found the resource through a Google search or by opening a link in an email message. Although half of all visitors (55.2 percent of 1,324 absolute unique visitors) found the web resource through search engines, one in four visitors arrived directly on the site (28.3 percent). More important, one out of every six visitors (16.5 percent) had been referred through an email message or through a web link. An All Traffic Sources report from launch of the web resource on Monday, September 27, to the end of November identified referrals from multiple sources, including the Canadian Authors Association, Ottawa Branch; UBC Creative Writing Program; Res Artis; Arc Poetry; Quebec English Language Arts Network (ELAN); and others. Visits generated by shared links from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other networking sites were also identified.
Other Google Analytics reports were also quite positive. Dashboard reports for comparing patterns of use and number of page visits between the first two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November show an increasing number of visitors to the www.kogawahouse.com website (429 visits in early November compared to 355 visits in early October, a 20 percent increase). Dashboard reports show that visits to the Other Author Residencies more than doubled (a 243 percent increase) from early November compared with early October. In-Page Analytic reports show that, of the few hundred visitors to the Author Residency page each month, nearly 25 percent also visited the Other Author Residencies page. This one-in-four figure demonstrates a definite interest in information about author residency programs in Canada.
Google search results measure the number of links to a website. The more links, the greater the rank within individual searches. Following the publicity campaign to encourage the websites of writers’ associations to link to our web resource, Google search rankings increased remarkably. By mid-November the www.kogawahouse.com website ranked in first place on the top page for searches with the terms “Joy Kogawa House” and within the top page for “Joy Kogawa.” In searches on Google.ca, the site appeared in third place on the top page for “author residencies.” Unfortunately no baseline had been taken against which the new Google search rankings could be measured. However, the excellent results now achieved can become a baseline measure against which to compare future search results and help the site maintain top search rankings for all content, not simply the Other Author Residencies web resource. In addition, content will be updated through regular contact with other writer-in-residence programs, further promoting the writer-in-residence program at Historic Joy Kogawa House and further enhancing information sharing among program administrators.
Canadian universities have long histories of success as hosts of writers in residence. As Earle points out, “as employers of writers, publishers of literature and criticism, organizers of literary events, and educators of audiences, Canadian universities were already indisputably influential patrons, promoters, and disseminators of literature.” Earle also says they have an “established involvement in arts and culture,” and a writer-in-residence program only strengthens “an already strong and multithreaded connection” between community and writer (2006, p. 45). The university as well-funded and well-structured institution overshadows the credibility of smaller community-run arts organizations that also want to run writer-in-residence programs. Comparison of the two types of administrations raises several questions:
How can the decision of a selection committee composed of PhDs compare with the selection decision of ad hoc committee made up of community members seen to be dabbling in the arts?
How does decision-making at the community-run arts organization remain above reproach?
Will the community-run arts organization have a succession plan in place that allows the writer-in-residence program to continue over time?
Will the community-run arts organization continue to attract ongoing sources of funding to maintain the program in the long term?
Establishing an endowment gets around this last question. Campaign leader Jean Baird is convinced an endowment is the only way to ensure Al Purdy’s legacy runs long into the future. Attempts to establish a new writer-in-residence program near Ameliasburg, Ontario, in the A-frame cottage built by poet Al Purdy and his wife, Eurithe Purdy, have focused on establishing an endowment to allow a poet-in-residence use of the property in perpetuity. Baird, formerly creative director of Canada Book Week for the Writers’ Trust of Canada, brings strong connections to literary communities in the East and the West. During the campaign that began in 2008, she has worked tirelessly to establish an endowment by raising public awareness through community events, establishing National Al Purdy Day on April 21, inspiring multiple articles in the Globe and Mail, Walrus, and other magazines and newspapers, and leading to the publication of a collection of his poems, The Al Purdy A-Frame Anthology, with Harbour Publishing. Baird’s success and experience as an arts organizer shine in comparison to those of other community-run arts organizations that host writer-in-residence programs. Perhaps, though, her approach leads on from their work; perhaps she learned from the experience of other community-run organizations and improved upon it.
The administration of community-based writer-in-residence programs varies from writer’s house to writer’s house. One is owned by a land and heritage conservancy but a community-run society administers the writer-in-residence program (Historic Joy Kogawa House). Another is owned and administered by a museum but applicants are juried by a member of the family and of the local literary community (Roderick Haig-Brown House). Yet another is owned and administered solely by a community-run organization (Wallace Stegner House). The most venerable of the residencies was owned and administered by a community-run organization but is now owned and administered by the Writers’ Trust of Canada (Berton House Writers’ Retreat).
Those involved in community-run writer-in-residence programs represent a wide range of interests. Some speak for the interests of writers, others for heritage and history, but mainly it is readers who bring their love of literature and Canadian culture to the boards of these community-run arts organizations. These board members generally become involved in order to express their interest in good writing and books, beyond their day jobs which may be in other areas of work. Members of the boards of two community-run arts organizations illustrate a diversity of interests and motivations.
As of 2010, board members of the Historic Joy Kogawa House Society (incorporated 2007) include Joy Kogawa―author, poet, and peace activist―as an honorary board member. Vancouver members include a retired consultant on health and child welfare matters for the Department of Indian Affairs; a freelance editor and writer and neighbour of the house; an arts activist; a book collector and retired professor of library sciences; a retired school teacher and member of the Yokota family in Kelowna; a retired school counsellor who experienced internment during the Second World War, and member of Kimoto family in Ucluelet; an arts administrator; a lawyer and creative writing student; and the granddaughter of Conservative MP Howard Green, who was one of the strongest voices calling for internment of Japanese Canadians. Toronto members include a filmmaker, cultural historian, and university professor.
Similarly, founding members of the board of the Haig-Brown Institute included environmentalists, authors, and members of the Haig-Brown family. Serving in an advisory role for the Haig-Brown Institute were a journalist, an international river advocate, and an environmental educator. The shift in administration of Roderick Haig-Brown House from the Haig-Brown Institute to the Museum of Campbell River in 2007 brought the house under the supervision of the museum board. The result is a greater focus on the heritage preservation aspect of the house, although the writer-in-residence program is still strong and well under way.
The question remains, though: Will these and other board members of community-run writer-in-residence programs have the foresight to ensure succession within the organization from generation to generation? A long-term view is essential to allow these organizations to maintain ongoing support to writers, who depend on the continuation of writer-in-residence programs to allow them time and space to write.
A significant factor arising from the research is that most community-run residencies are situated in Western Canada. On the roster of writers’ houses–based residencies, three are located in British Columbia (Haig-Brown House; Historic Joy Kogawa House; George Ryga House). One is situated in Saskatchewan (Wallace Stegner House). Another is found in Manitoba (Maison Gabrielle-Roy). Only one established writers’ houses–based residency program, plus one planned writer’s house, are located in Ontario (R.D. Lawrence Place; Al Purdy A-Frame). The centralization within Western Canada of author residency programs that take place in writers’ homes may have some consequence for their ongoing funding sourced through the Canada Council Author Residencies program. “While funding is not allocated on a provincial or regional basis, there is generally a correlation between the percentage of applications from a given province, region or community (including the arts organizations located there) and the percentage of funding awarded” (Canada Council 2009–2010, p. 1). Concern among the administrators of author residency programs that they compete with each other for funds may reduce their collegiality and their desire to support one another’s efforts. Yet collaboration and collegiality are essential to ongoing information sharing and hence the ongoing success of community-run residency programs.
The sharing of information and policies can streamline efforts and help community-run residencies function more efficiently. A goal would be to share information that would allow community-run residencies to meet requirements of the Canada Council Author Residencies program application guidelines. Those guidelines state that hosts of author residencies “must demonstrate that they have the organizational and financial capacities to host a professionally published Canadian writer in an effective and professional manner” (Canada Council for the Arts 2010). A writers’ houses collective would help writer-in-residence program administrators in a major way.
Writers’ house advocates Katherine Govier and Sharon Butala had, as previously described, begun to plan a collective for community-run writer-in-residence programs, in particular, for those hosted at writers’ houses. “We see benefit in working together … Experience gained … can be shared … Funding approaches can be general—as well as particular—and we can make some effort to involve government agencies not at present involved” (Govier 2006). A collective for writers’ houses–based residency programs could produce materials such as websites, pamphlets, or maps that advertise writers’ houses to writers and to readers alike. “We can expand and equalize opportunities for writers using these facilities,” Govier wrote. “We wish to maintain vital links to the writing community amongst operating Writers’ Houses” (2006). To begin the founding of such a collective, funding inquiries were made to the Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council, and Saskatchewan Arts Board. “All we wanted was about $3,000 so about five of us could meet, and get someone to write up and distribute the ideas to start an organization,” says Govier. “After a number of turndowns we both decided we were too senior to be doing this, and hoped that some others in the writing community would come up and start the network.” Phone calls and email connections made during the research phase of this report are only the beginning of a nation-wide connection that will serve writers and, by extension, readers and book publishers. Further efforts are needed to connect administrators of writers‘ houses–based residency programs with a website and online network.
Such an organization would never be in the business of getting funds together to buy writers’ houses. “That is a bottomless pit,” says Govier. But the current state of writers’ houses “working in a vacuum” means that conditions existing for various houses are very different. Govier asks why Berton House gets Canada Council money for its writer-in-residence program when Wallace Stegner House does not. Is the requirement of a two-month minimum stay necessary, or should shorter stays also qualify for Canada Council support? A collective of writer-in-residence programs would offer feedback to administrators of funding programs to allow them to better serve the needs of writers.
One further recommendation relates to the fact that all writer-in-residence programs publicize the author’s new work while it is under way in residence. The writer-in-residence program also develops community around the author and the work through the author’s public programming and other connections with the community. This built-in audience can be used to good effect in the publicity campaign for the book produced.
The marketing director at one of Canada’s largest publishing houses says, “I like to know when a manuscript has been developed at one of the prestigious literary houses such as Historic Joy Kogawa House or Berton House. I’d use this information as a secondary anecdote. The information would not be included in catalogue copy or press release but I’d definitely use it when pitching a book or talking to anyone about it. It’s that ‘little extra,’ deeper insight that gives people a deeper connection to the work and author. The built-in community definitely helps” (Morita 2010).
Clearly, community-run residency programs and book publishers can work in partnership.
Writers, writers’ houses–based residency programs, book publishers, and readers—all are partners in the ongoing production of Canada’s literary heritage. The Canada Council’s Author Residencies program is a further partner producer in this literary heritage, as are provincial and municipal agencies, corporations, and private donors. Working together we can house writers in places of historical importance, places that originally inspired creative work in the hands of the namesake writer, and that through preservation, reparation, and new life will become the site of exciting contemporary writing.
1 Grant applications to the Canada Council are evaluated by peer assessment review committees, made up of specialists in a particular field who “reflect a broad range of artistic practices. For example, dancers are assessed by other dancers, choreographers and artistic directors; musicians will evaluate the submissions of musicians; and so on. In addition to being peers of the applicants, the committee members are chosen to ensure fair representation of both official languages, gender, Aboriginal peoples, regional and cultural diversity, and genres of expression within the artistic discipline” (Canada Council 2009–2010, p. 1).
As a result, peer assessment committees are expected to be familiar with grant applicants from the regions they represent, and in effect, serve as advocates for them at the decision table. Peer assessment committee members are otherwise outside the realm of influence for grant applicants. Lobbying is impossible, as the names of peer assessment committee members are not made known to grant applicants until after the awards are granted. The grant applicant may rely solely on awareness of their project within the general population of peers from which members of the peer assessment committee might be drawn.
Selection by a jury of peers is meaningful to authors. “There is no doubt in the minds of Canada Council individual grant recipients that both they themselves and recipients of Canada Council grants in other programs are excellent artists. This is because artists respect that the Canada Council has a history of funding excellence through a nation-wide peer review system, that many artists unknown to them apply for the same grants and are judged by the same peers, and that the jury members are chosen from among the best artists across the country” (Wilner 2000, p. 26).RETURN
2 Writers say that selection as writer in residence by any of the sponsor organizations “provides recognition and validation of the artist’s worth of the artist and his or her work” (Wilner 2000, p. 20). Writer-in-residence appointments allow a writer to “‘buy time,’ while visual and media artists purchase a variety of often-expensive materials that become parts of the works themselves upon completion… In the words of one well-established literary artist, these grants provide artists with ‘uninterrupted, incremental, cumulative momentum, and this is very powerful'” (Wilner 2000, p. 2). RETURN
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