Writer in Residence – Memorial Park Library [PART 1]

My tenure as the 2010 Writer in Residence at Memorial Park Library here in Calgary is winding down, so on Friday I filled out my final report.  The document isn’t quite an apologia pro vita sua – ‘a defence of one’s life’ for those of you who didn’t sit through Miss Bauer’s Latin class for five years of your life.  It is, however, an accounting of what I’ve done to earn my salary from the CPL in the past three months. 

Like any report destined to be presented to a variety of official “To Whom It May Concerns” mine is long on facts and short on heartbeat.  Number of manuscript evaluations and consultations with Emerging Writers (36); number of assessments of revised work (3).  Number of Public Readings and Discussions of the Craft and Business of Writing (16); Number of blogs posted relating my experiences with the CPL or with the writing and reading community at large (12). 

Dry stuff – what Robertson Davies would call ‘the police court facts’.  But as Davies reminds us, the police court facts reveal only a partial truth. 

Here’s the skinny on what I’ll remember of my time here. 

Consultations with Emerging Writers:  Every one of the writers who came down to my tiny basement office in the library brought me a fresh appreciation of how much the act of creating something new matters in a writers’ life.  The writers I saw varied in age, experience and level of development, but without exception they were ready to do what it took to bring their writing to a level where it would pleasure and insight to a reader. 

I heard of a Writer in Residence in Toronto whose meeting with an emerging writer got off to a shaky start when the WIR began to make suggestions about the manuscript and the Emerging Writer loftily announced, “I am a WRITER, not a RE-WRITER.”   Luckily for me (and for them) all the writers who came to my office realized that the re-writing is the burden and the blessing that all writers must carry. Their excitement as they discovered new possibilities in their manuscripts – the advantages of a different point of view; of ways in which characterization might be deepened, tension increased or expression of ideas clarified and smoothed—always ignited a parallel excitement in me. 

There are no guarantees in the writing business.  Some of the writers I saw are creating manuscripts that deserve to be published now; many are writing manuscripts that, with work, will indeed, be publishable.  Every writer who came through the door to my office believes that writing is central to his or her life.  None can imagine a life without writing. This fact alone means that their work has illimitable possibilities.  They will keep at it until they succeed, and that is a very exciting thing for a WIR to witness and remember. I thank them for that.


Public Readings and Discussions of the Craft and Business of Writing:

Not counting the two events I did at Vancouver’s International Festival of Readers and Writers, in Calgary I appeared either alone or with colleagues before 16 large and interested audiences to talk about my writing and writing in general.  For any writer public appearances are immensely gratifying and ego soothing, but my memories have less to do with ego than with simple pleasure.

Each appearance was special in its own way, but I’d like to mention a few that stand out.  On September 11th, Memorial Park Library held the Alberta launch of “The Nesting Dolls” and the launch of me as Writer in Residence.  It was a bright September day and the newly restored Memorial Park glowed.  I remember, Marje Wing, the librarian in charge of me and the event, looking out into our downtown park and saying I’m so glad they have the fountains on for you. I felt the sparkling fountains were auspicious too.  The day was gorgeous and both Marje and I wondered if people wouldn’t be seduced by the sunshine and stay outdoors. 

What I remember most about the day is Marje’s face.  Like me, she is a worrier, and she wanted the book launch to be welcoming. As more and more people arrived, we had to find more chairs.  When we ran out of chairs and knew the event would be SRO, Marge’s smile was wide.  It was a great afternoon.  The audience was warm and when I glanced outside at the water dancing from the fountains I knew my time at Memorial Park would be a happy one.

Literacy Day at Central Library was also an SRO event. Everyone there got a free and very tasty box lunch, and after we munched I read from my new Rapid Reads book “A Good Story Well Told” and we had a really solid discussion of why the ability to read competently and confidently mattered so much.  Literacy Day was one of the many times in Calgary when I took away more from an event than I brought to it. 

My event with the women of the Calgary Women’s Literary Club was gold-edged.  I have blogged about this club, so all I’ll say here is that the women in it are very serious about their reading; they’re very thoughtful; they’re very smart and they’re a lot of fun. After my event and after attending Aritha van Herk’s event with the CWLC, I’ve decided that in the next life I’m going to be a Calgarian and hope the ladies will take a shine to me and invite me to join the group.

The readings at some of the branch libraries – Country Hills, Louise Riley, Fish Creek and Crowfoot--gave me a chance to meet new readers, and to see the Calgary that existed beyond my own downtown-centred world.  This is a big, diverse and ever-changing city and my readings at the branches gave me insight into the energy and dreams that drive Calgary’s growth.

The reading I did at Central Library with Aritha van Herk and Val Fortney during the noon hour of November 12th was an emotional one for us and for the readers who drifted in, were interested in what they heard and stayed.  Our topic that day was Canadians At War, and our talk was talk of the best kind.  As writers and readers we connected. Alistair MacLeod says that writers write about what worries them.  Clearly war and its toll on soldiers and civilians alike worried everyone in that room.  It was good to be together. 



During my time at CPL, I posted 12 blogs that related my experiences with the CPL or with the writing community at large.  I think the blogs reflect the fact that my time as WIR has been an enriching one, but I’d like to close this entry by referring to a blog that suggests the relationship with any library enriches everyone.

In September,  I wrote a blog called “The Most Important Building in the City” about a brief encounter I had when I was WIR with Toronto Reference Library in May and June of 2009.   A young man who appeared to be of mid-eastern descent gave me his seat on the subway (as young men increasingly do). He asked me if I’d had a good day, and I said yes. Then he asked where I worked. When I told him that I worked at the Toronto Reference Library, his face lit up.  “That’s the most important building in the city,” he said. “When I came to this country I went to the Reference Library every day because I knew that the library contained everything I needed to know to be a Canadian.”

The Toronto Reference Library asked my permission to use that blog in their fund-raising campaign.  I gave my assent readily because, like that young man on the subway, I knew that wherever we live, the library is “the most important building in the city”.

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