Last night, I had the pleasure of reading to about fifty people at the launch of my Writer in Residence term with the Calgary Public Library. September thru to the end of November, I have an office, a computer, and the fine company of the library staff at Memorial Park, our venerable Carnegie library. And even more; the company of writers who will bring me manuscripts and come in to talk about their work, and visits to some of the other CPL branches to do presentations to writing groups, book clubs and seniors groups. Surely this must be, as past Memorial Park WIR Rona Altrows told me last night, the very best gig in town.
While I was preparing for last night’s reading and a couple of upcoming events for Alberta Arts Days, Sept. 18-20, thinking about how to promote the arts in Alberta without painful cliche, I came up with what will be my manifesto through these months as WIR.
The reasons for supporting local art and culture are perfectly obvious from an economic perspective and out of a sense of regional pride. I don’t, however, like to ever sound as though I’m suggesting narrow provincialism in our tastes, so always feel the need to qualify; we must embrace art globally, read internationally. If we only ever read Canadian or North American fiction, we would be sadly deprived. We need a balance. But in our typically Canadian way, it seems to me that while we bleat every now and again about Canadian content and preserving a distinct Canadian culture, we get caught up in thinking that art of real value comes from exotic places, or wins major awards, or is reviewed in the New York Times. So my message will be to treat what is being produced under our noses with the same respect as we treat art from away, and celebrate resonance and familiarity rather than assuming it makes the work somehow less exciting.
If you have read any of my writing, you likely know where I’m coming from with this and where I’m going. I write domestic fiction. The OED definition: 1. of the home, household, or family affairs. 2. Of one’s own country, not foreign or international. This is what I know best. I don’t apologize for domesticity in my writing, or feel particularly humble about it. I believe that home, whether it’s a house in the suburbs, or a cardboard box in a back alley, or a tent in a desert, is where life plays out. For better or for worse.
We are a province rich in artists: writers, visual artists, musicians, dramatists. Whether they write, sing, make music, paint, take to the stage, on subjects as familiar as your own street or as far away as Jupiter, embrace the work. Take pleasure and pride in knowing that you may, in a small way, have helped fund this art, and throw your support behind even greater appreciation and support. That’s all we need to do.