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CDWP reunites resident writers

By Ally Baharoon, September 13 2016 —

The Calgary Distinguished Writers Program (CDWP) will contribute to the University of Calgary’s 50th anniversary celebrations by bringing 14 past writers from the program together for a literary reunion festival from September 15–17.

“The program started 23 years ago as a result of a generous donation by a U of C alumnus. It was intended to enhance the literary and intellectual life of the English department, the Faculty of Arts, the U of C, the city of Calgary as well the writing life of Alberta,” says acting chair of the CDWP and U of C department of English head Jacqueline Jenkins.

One stream of the program — Writers-In-Residence — brings a Canadian writer of emerging to mid-career status to the U of C for 10 months. The writer interacts with the university as well as the community. Writers spend half of the time dedicated to their own work, which they propose during the application process. The rest of the time they engage in manuscript consultations and have their work read and commented on by students and the community.

The other stream has distinguished visiting writers come for a shorter period of time, from a couple of days to a week. In the past, the CDWP has hosted two Nobel Laureates, Derek Walcott and Wole Soyinka, as well as literary luminaries including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Oliver Sacks, Timothy Findley and Thomas King.

Previous writers have given talks on and off campus, gone to public schools and given readings at local bookstores. The program does not have a set theme while selecting applicants and invites writers from all genres.

“The committee thinks about how to best represent the diversity of Calgary. Gender diversity as well as generic diversity have housed poets, prose writers, memoirists [and] sports writers in the past. The writers have also had immense diversity of accomplishments in the way they impact our national literary community,” Jenkins says. “I have loved getting to know the writers in residence because they are housed in our department where we facilitate office space for them.”

Opportunities to meet and have dinner with Zadie Smith, author of the best selling White Teeth, as well meeting important writers like Evelyn Lau and Shyam Selvadurai are particularly fond memories for Jenkins.

“Every English nerd’s dream is to get to know the writers who produce the work that we read and enjoy,” Jenkins says.

The reunion festival will begin  with a film screening of Niigaanibatowaad: FrontRunners by Laura Robinson, who worked on the screenplay while she was the Writer-In-Residence here for the 2000–01 season. It is the true story of the First Nations boys who served as torch runners during the 1967 Pan American games in Winnipeg. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with Robinson and Elder Bill Chippeway, one of the original runners.

The three-day festival includes events, readings, workshops and screenings spread across the Calgary Public Library, Arrata Opera Centre and U of C campus.

The reunion festival, as with all events of the CDWP, is free and open to the public.

The Canadian Writers-in-Residence Reunion Festival will take place September 15–17 at John Dutton Theatre.

For more information, visit ucalgary.ca/cdwp

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