Friday, June 04, 2010

TWUCing it up in Ottawa

The Writers Union AGM in Ottawa started off Thursday night with a talk by Hal Wake, who did a smooth job of recapping the past fifty years of Canadian writing - though by his own admission under questioning (by a nonfiction writer), he was talking as most do about fiction - and withstood the asking of impossible questions by an audience that included a good many of the past 25 union chairs. Who included (name-dropping unavoidable here): Graeme Gibson, David Lewis Stein, Andreas Schroeder, Eugene Benson, Rudy Wiebe, Betty Jane Wylie, Gregory M. Cook, Trevor Ferguson, Susan Crean, Dave Williamson, Bill Deverell, Maggie Siggins, Susan Musgrave, Christopher Moore, Audrey Thomas, Barry Grills, Penney Kome, Bill Freeman, Brian Brett, Ron Brown, Susan Swann and Wayne Grady.

Another past chair, Margaret Atwood, joined us today to be part of a panel on small magazines and presses in Canada and talked about the earliest days of literary publishing in this country.

John Barton and Maurice Mierau were the other panelists. Christopher Levenson, co-founder and former editor of Arc, chaired the panel; Barton had worked with him on Arc before moving to Victoria to take the helm of the Malahat Review, which is is now steering through the choppy waters of reduced government support and greatly diminished funding. He has a lot to say about the manner in which this has been done, and about the resilience and inventiveness required of today's literary editors as they fight for survival under a federal government that requires a minimum subscription level of 5,000 before a journal can even apply for funding.

Mierau spoke largely in his capacity as Associate Editor at Enfield & Wizenty, and offered the opinion that publishers in Canada are handcuffed by the funding requirements for Canada Council block grants, and proposed a system that incorporated more commercial titles and aimed for funding based on sales. About which I - representing that most unsaleable genre of poetry - have mixed feelings.

Preceding this interesting panel were others including one on the teaching of creative writing (is it possible to teach this?) featuring Catherine Bush, Genni Gunn, Tim Wynne-Jones and Ania Szado. Conclusions: well yes (sort of predictable since all the panelists teach/have taught/plan to teach creative writing) but it's complicated.

Other panels covered social media for writers which was a predictable knotting of silvery brows as we struggled to grasp the new realities of marketing ourselves in the digital age. The panelists, Hugh McGuire, Nichole McGill and Jenny Bullough offered kindly guidance on the ins and outs of managing our personal brand online. A lunchtime talk that nudged us Beyond Blogging was also useful, with a lengthy discussion on tweeting, as well as other useful concepts like url shorteners and Google analytics.

After all that I had to find some serious sustenance. The Kasbah Village makes a mean Merguez with couscous...

...washed down with ample house red and conversation, making it a slightly woozy walk back to the National Library to hear Marie-Claire Blais deliver the Margaret Laurence Memorial Lecture - which is soon, with the preceding lectures, to be collected into a book which will be sold to raise funds for the Writers Trust, which sponsors the event.

After which there was a reception. And after many of the millers-about had wandered off, there was some impromptu singing by - among others - Douglas Gibson and Sid Marty, with the piano stylings of Brian Brennan

accompanied by the tempestuous twirlings of Greg Cook and Dorris Heffron

and the soulful "Summertime" of Genni Gunn.


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