A post on social media: Wilfred Laurier University seeks applicants for the Edna Staebler Laurier Writer-in-Residence position on its Waterloo campus in southwestern Ontario.
For ten weeks, starting in January, 2018, the WiR will read manuscripts from students and the public, visit classrooms, lead workshops and give readings and lectures. The formal workload is designed to take up forty per cent of the writer’s time and leave sixty per cent of the forty-hour week for the writer’s own work.
I’ve done writing residencies and love them. It makes for an intensely busy period since, in my experience, the only way you can carve out sixty per cent of your time for writing is if you push past the hard-won forty-hour week into insanity--well, like most people these days.
Back in the palindromic year of 2002, I did my first residency, spending seven weeks in Hobart, Tasmania, as an International Writer in Residence brought in by the Tasmanian Writers Centre. (Sadly, they don’t seem to run this program anymore, although they’re offering Tasmanian writers a chance to compete for a residency on Prince Edward Island this September.)
After winning the residency, I worked the net to find a yoga class in Hobart, thinking I could meet local people that way. Great yoga class, but meeting people didn’t prove to be a problem.
Local writers asked me out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When my workshop on travel writing filled up, they asked me to do another, and aspiring writers from both classes invited me out for breakfast, lunch etc. The local high school asked me to come in to teach a class. On and on. I was told that part of the reason they offered an international residency is that Tasmanians often feel isolated, and bringing in a writer from away helps them feel more in touch with the world. I managed to write the first chapter of a new novel, but it was a stretch.
Yet that one chapter was also unexpectedly enriched by living in another former British colony, since the opening of my novel was set in Upper Canada during the early 19th century. I'd applied for the residency thinking, Hey a chance to go to Australian and--bonus--get started on my novel.
Then I arrived in Hobart and found myself staying in a cottage built by convicts who had been transported from Britain during the 1840s, its windows small and whitewashed walls three feet thick. I already felt a little displaced by visiting a country that was almost but not quite like home, and the feeling was doubled down by living inside the work of those poor convicts, who were no doubt precisely where they didn't want to be.
Thinking about this made me conscious of the displacement that must have rocketed through 19th century Canada, felt both by settlers who had often been forced to leave their home countries and, tragically, by the aboriginal people they were displacing. So I was happy with the one chapter I wrote in Hobart, even if it wasn't as much as I'd wanted to get done, and it proved a false start. I worked on that novel off and on for years, never quite getting it right, putting in the first chapter and taking it out, putting it in and taking out, and only finally finished the book a couple of months ago, the Hobart-inspired chapter now locked into place.
The other important part of any residency is the people, the students—since I love teaching. I hope I was able to help some of the people I worked with in Tasmania. Certainly teaching enriches my own writing by forcing me to think about process and style. Hearing myself teach, listening to the notes I give, to everything we say in class, allows me to hear my own unconscious priorities and biases, which I’m always happy for students to challenge. It also lets me hear theirs, and to challenge them, too.
The Edna Staebler Laurier Writer in Residence position offers a $2,000 per week salary and accommodation (if available and needed) in the century-old Lucinda House near the Laurier campus. The deadline for applications is July 31, and requirements are given at https://www.wlu.ca/information-for/community-members/edna-staebler-awards/edna-staebler-laurier-writer-in-residence/applications.html
I wish I could apply. Good luck to writers who can. And to local community members and students—please take advantage of the experience that is about to descend on Waterloo when the residence begins next year.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Lesley Krueger is a novelist and screenwriter. Richard Dadd’s first cousin-in-law five times removed (if she has the genealogy right), Lesley drew on family information unknown to biographers in writing Mad Richard. The author of six books, she lives with her husband in Toronto where she’s an avid member of a women’s hockey league and a writer-mentor at the Canadian Film Centre. Find her online at LesleyKrueger.com.