Ramp Up a Writing Career with a Residency

What do Marian Engel, Lynn Coady, Charlotte Gill, Lawrence Hill, Michael Crummey, and Margaret Laurence all have in common (besides the letter “L”)?

If you identified all of these as prominent Canadian writers you’d be correct, but they have a further connection: each of these writers has served as a Writer-in-Residence at a Canadian university.

For writers already enjoying some degree of success on the national literary scene, or for less-well-known writers planning their career trajectory well in advance, writer-in-residence programs are worth checking out.

Writer-in-residence (WIR) programs are offered at many Canadian universities, from St John’s (Memorial) to Vancouver (Simon Fraser.) (Even a few public libraries in larger cities like Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton are offering WIR programs.) Some programs invite applications annually, while others are invitation-only (“don’t call us; we’ll call you.”)

Writers selected for residency and the institution offering the residence program enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship for a period lasting from ten weeks to a year. The writer gains prestige, exposure, and writing time, while the institution gains publicity for its educational offerings and an in-house provider of programming and mentorship.

For writers, participating in a WIR program means valuable exposure and experience, not to mention a little cash. When not working on their own writing projects, writers spend time on such activities as interacting with, instructing, and mentoring other writers, and hosting workshops and other events that may be open to the public. Writers gain experience dealing with the media and the public, as well as skills in instructing students and mentoring writers. In general, writers give 40% of their time to the hosting institution, and in the remaining time pursue their own writing projects.

For universities, having a WIR program draws positive attention to the institutions? programming. Since most WIR programming is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and other arts foundations, universities can offer WIR without taking away from other educational programming. Having a writer who is known or starting to be known nationally attracts students and projects a positive public image. Many universities require their writer-in-residence to host community programming, as well as to coach students.

Honorariums paid to writers-in-residence vary, depending on the term and the program requirements. At Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, for example, residents receive a generous $25,000 for a three-month term in addition to being provided accommodation. Over at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, the resident receives $17,000 for four months; no accommodation is provided.

Athabasca University offers a writer-in-resident program that runs 8-12 months. The honorarium paid to the resident varies from $18,000 to $45,000, depending on funding. AU receives funding for this program from both the Canada Council for the Arts and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. The resident for 2014-2015 term was Anita Rau Badami, who has also served as a WIR at McGill. Not surprisingly, AU’s WIR program is unique among university WIRs, being conducted online. During her residency, Ms Badami received writing samples from AU students and other writers by e-mail, which she would critique and offer suggestions. The 2015-2016 WIR for AU has not yet been announced.

Writer-in-residence programs are a great boost to a writer’s career. If You’re at the stage of your career where you feel you would benefit from a residency, or if You’re planning ahead for when you get to that stage, check out the varies residencies offered. A list of most WIR programs at universities and libraries in Canada is available from http://www.writerstrust.com.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario