The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, May 22, 2006

An emerging what? Staggering towards the Fortress

by Tamara J Lee

As part of my on-going writer’s identity crisis, I am frequently mystified by what to call myself.

This very blog’s subtitle refers to us as ‘emerging voices,’ which seems to fit. But when I have a quick look-see through the various definitions of ‘emerging writer’ listed on sites for potential funding, I notice a kaleidoscope of definitions are at play. And this does not play well with my identity crisis, to say the least.

Whenever I look at a bio for an ‘emerging writer’ I am immediately filled with angst. People are able to define themselves so impressively. What, I wonder, do others call them? I know how others define me. To wit:

According to my mother, I am directionless.
According to my father, I am just like my grandfather (i.e., a ‘failed,’ read impoverished, writer)
According to my sisters, who brag about me to somehow, inexplicably, boost their standing, I am a struggling writer.
According to my former employers, I am an editor; a temp; an assistant; a hack.
According to my friends, dear hearts, I am a writer. Of course, they’ve gotten the primer, and sat through countless wine-sopped dinners, rife with my mis-content.
And according to the Canada Council, I am a filmmaker and not a writer, even though my filmmaking experience is mostly writing-related.

When it comes to pursuing funding for projects, the first-stop in potential funding for a Canadian artist is likely the mother of all funding options, the Canada Council. And the CC has its own special definitions, its own terms, for how to define various ‘artists.’

To put it simply, Canada Council has very thorough requirements so as not to let the riff-raff in. Here is what they say is required from fiction-writers to even make it past the gate on their way to the esteemed Canada Council palace. For those of us without a book published, the CC will allow:

“[F]or fiction, a minimum of four texts of creative literary writing(e.g. short stories, excerpts from a novel) published on two separate occasions in literary magazines, recognized periodicals (including general interest magazines), or anthologies published by professional publishing houses.”
Four published texts, now that doesn’t seem so unreasonable, does it? Oh, but there are conditions, of course. Further down the page, we find this little bulwark, full of all manner of subjectivity:

“Only literary publications that publish professional writers and are available to the general public are considered eligible. The author must receive compensation and have gone through an independent editorial selection process.”
Aha, ‘professional’ and ‘compensation’ are the ‘open sesames’. We all know how little compensation is awarded, if at all, for fiction. I mean, do issue copies count as compensation? We also all know that only a precious few Canadian lit mags are able to offer more than the ubiquitous ‘two copies of the issue’ to their writers as compensation. And the ‘emerging writer’ circle just got a wee bit smaller.

Many of us have a healthy list of online publication credits, for which we are justly proud. But Canada Council, just slightly out of step with what its citizenry is up to, has a word of warning for online writers, lest we even think about trying our luck with the Council:

“Web publications, co-authored publications and privately printed publications, as well as writing published in community newspapers, student magazines, or newsletters of associations or other organizations are not eligible for this program.”
So, even though I was compensated for my web-pubbed work, this still does not qualify me, in Canada-Council-land, as a writer. In fact, none of my writing experience qualifies me as a writer there. It seems fitting that here in Canada, the Canada Council--definer of all thing artistically-meritorious and worthy of the title “Canadian’--would contribute so wholly to the on-going Canadian writers identity crisis.

Obviously, a definition must be drawn, chiseled out of rock and cold to the touch, to keep the wanna-bes away, those nasty critters. Even the Writers’ Union of Canada has its very clear definition of ‘writer’, to deal with the vermin.

In a 1999 BC Bookworld interview, Brian Burtch, the BC/Yukon regional rep for the Writers’ Union at the time, said:

The Union is for practicing writers. I should emphasize that while there are ongoing debates about who is a writer and who is not a writer, the Union currently takes the stand that to be accepted into the union you must have a book published; or the equivalent of a book. It may be a book of short stories, a book of poetry, a novel, biography, a natural history of a settlement, it could be any number of genres, a children's book, but it must be a book. So, just publishing a chapter or an article does not qualify you for membership. But the Membership Committee considers all applications.

On the other hand, we are exploring a more inclusive format. We are, for instance, sensitive to the plight of emerging writers. Sometimes with somebody who I think might be eligible in a few months or a year, I invite them to one of our meetings. We also invite guests, although they are not open to the public per se. But people can be invited to see how we work.
But a quick look on their site reveals that things have not changed a whit for the 'emergin writer' at the Union, but unions, like medicare, are not what they once were in Canada, are they?

So, should a writer ever make it up to ‘official’ emerging status, when does ‘emerging’ end and ‘established’ or ‘professional’ begin? Obviously, preoccupation with this identity thing, however typically Canadian it is, is not healthy.

Thus, I propose there should be a ‘staggering writer’s grant,’ for those of us who whiskey our way through various genres, bumping into all manner of projects along the way. And the fringe benefits for this grant should include a bottle of Canadian Club, for this CC is the only club that the likes of me seem able to enjoy.


Blogger Anne C. said...

I've always been curious about "new and emerging."

Mon May 22, 08:40:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Denis Taillefer said...

Hear, hear! Very interesting, Tamara. And now you've got me wondering what exactly the CC does for a writer (not the whiskey, we're already well acquainted). I imagine they will help fund specific, well defined projects? If one IS a 'writer', that is. Are there time constrainst involved? Now, I'm curious.

Mon May 22, 09:23:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

An eye opener, Tamara!

Mon May 22, 10:56:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Yes, they fund 'Projects' with a capital P, and preferably of the obscure-no-one-else-will-touch-it-but-it's-somehow-commercially-viable kind. At least, that's the impression I get... But I haven't tried to get past the gate. I did get funding for the doc I'm working on, and I am immensely grateful. Perhpas, when I become a Real Writer, I will look at what the CC can do for me...

Thu May 25, 05:13:00 pm GMT-4  

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