I just came across a note to self about pitching a writer’s residency programme to the powers that be. I stared at it for a good minute because was this déjà vu – haven’t I been there, done that? Must be an old note. How many proposals submitted to both public and private sector interests over the years about supporting a programme where the writer and/or writers could plan and execute writing programmes in the schools and community on an ongoing basis? How many non-responses?And yet, if the invitations to speak and do workshops at various schools are any indication, the interest/need is there. I and other writers have done many of these
…gratis …even at those time when we could not afford the time or much else. The reality for me, at least, is that increasingly I’ve had to turn these down, doing one here and there but not as much as I used to , certainly not as much as I’d like to. With passion projects like Wadadli Pen taking away from business (because, you know, bills have to be paid) and writing time (which is, after all, the point, if you’re a writer), it means less time to give to other voluntary activities. Heart willing, resources lacking.
Last summer, I’m happy to say, I was able to get a handful of businesses to patronize a weeklong workshop series targeting young people. But what could really have a profound impact is year round intervention. The purpose not just to create writers but to give young people an outlet, to do the work of building interest and skills in the literary arts outside of the shadow of homework and exams – where reading and writing is not a chore but an adventure; and if there are future writers in the midst, all the better.
Because here’s the thing, as the Wadadli Pen entries come in, and I skim them, I see the potential; sometimes I see the pain behind what is written (and this recent note by a past finalist reinforces that I’m not just seeing things) and while I’m glad that these young people have that outlet, are using the opportunity to express themselves, there’s a honing of that potential that I’m not able to do within the limitations of an underfinanced Wadadli Pen or even on my own steam as a freelance writer and editor. One of the reasons I want to get Wadadli Pen legitimized is so that it can raise funds and do more than an annual Challenge.
Bottom line, I want to do more than I’m doing now but I have to juggle those ambitions with the need to make a living, and the need to balance all of that with the oft neglected need to create my own writing. There are only 24 hours in a day and each day the list of things undone seems longer.
Would a writer’s residency programme make this easier? It could, with an income stream to support these writing programmes I (assuming I was the resident, which, of course, is a not a given) could let some of the other projects go to focus on not just my own writing but writing development programmes in the community. Developmental programmes are what’s really needed – it’s why beyond giving out prizes, Wadadli Pen via its Challenge tries to mentor the promising writers that come across our path, providing editorial notes on short listed pieces, sourcing workshop or one on one sessions to help build their knowledge of craft. Until we can do more, we do what we can. (Two of this year’s patrons are a writer and artist contributing time and access to their hard earned knowledge to two of our finalists; the past two years scholarships to the Just Write Writers Retreat have been earned as well).
Ideally, I’d like to have a major donor underwrite Wadadli Pen for, at least, one year and see how far we get. Beyond Wadadli Pen, though, and I feel more strongly about this after watching both sides speak and, frankly, come up short on the subject of the arts at the January National Youth Forum, I’d like the powers that be to do more than pay lip service to supporting the arts and actually reach beyond to those of us in the community and find ways to support what we’re doing. A writer’s residency might be too much to ask for in these economically tough times; literary arts is not a bread and butter issue after all.
Except don’t the arts kind of tie in with all the social and some of the other challenges we’re facing, I mean if we’re thinking about creative solutions?
I think about what Antigua Dance Academy founder Veronica Yearwood said in a recent interview with me about the importance of the arts in youth development, if only to distract the young people from other, less wholesome activities. I think about things like what my friend Brenda Lee Browne does, on a volunteer basis, with her writers’ group in the prison
– where she works with prisoners to channel their whatevers into words. I’ve visited with her group and I see the positive in what she’s doing. But where’s the backing? And then we talk about youth development and prison reform when instead of investing in the arts which can be preventative as far as youth delinquency is concerned, and instead of supporting initiatives like Brenda Lee’s which can increase rehabilitation, we look towards building a bigger prison to increase warehousing. I don’t know I just feel like we could be more creative and more visionary in realizing the transformative power of the arts; and give it and the artists (read: arts resource people in the community) the support needed to flourish.
Of course, these are not Antigua and Barbuda problems alone; though some countries like Barbados with its Writers in Schools and Education [WISE] programme, a programme in which writers are contracted to provide support in the area of creative writing working along with and supporting the efforts of the language arts teachers in the primary and secondary schools, funded and organized through the Culture Department’s Literary Arts Desk, suggests that some are a little bit more ahead of the game than others. Still, this is a lament made by artists across the region.
A St.Lucian writer colleague recently posted on facebook a call for progressive and creative minded thinking in his country and in particular the formulation of short, medium, and long term artist residencies with support from the corporate sector.
Sounds a bit like what I’ve been saying.