Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Stratford Authors: A Home for Local Writers to Connect

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Stratford, Ontario (photo credit: Ann Baggley)

By Erin Knight

However solitary we may be while doing the work of putting one word after another, writers are pack animals at heart. We need our pack — usually made up of other writers who write in the same genre, perhaps even in a similar style — for encouragement, commiseration and inspiration. Not to mention for a little fun. These communities might be easy to find in a literary metropolis, but if you live in a small town known for showcasing the work of a very revered and very dead playwright, you may need to look just a little bit harder if you want to avoid a road trip every time you'd like to take in a reading. And no matter where you live, the opportunity to meet with writers who are doing something entirely different might open up a whole new set of possibilities for your work.

The picturesque town of Stratford, Ontario, home of the Stratford Festival and the Stratford Chefs School, has long been a destination for theatre-goers and gourmands. Until recently, the literary community has remained the area's best-kept secret, with local writers and readers usually travelling to Kitchener-Waterloo to meet other authors and attend literary events. Thanks to Melanie Kindrachuk and Deborah Cooke, co-founders of the website Stratford Authors, writers in Stratford and Perth County now have just the resource they need to connect with like-minded (and unlike-minded) writers right here in their community. Since launching their website in September of last year, Melanie and Deborah have been publishing interviews with local authors every Tuesday and updating literary and local news items every Friday. It's not only about online community: Stratford Authors also hosts monthly discussions on subjects related to writing and publishing. The organization may be young, but they were able to pack the house for a Publishing panel in the frosty month of January, when even the most social writer might feel more inclined to hibernate at home.

"It's a volunteer effort, without any 'membership' so to speak," says Melanie. "If you are a published writer and are based in Stratford and surrounding area, you can contact us if we haven't contacted you yet."

Melanie and Deborah come to the literary scene from different angles, which perhaps explains why they've been so successful at creating an inclusive, welcoming environment for writers of all stripes to connect. Melanie is a librarian and book blogger, and Deborah (a.k.a. Claire Delacroix) is a best-selling romance author. Since getting to know Deborah and initiating the group with her, Melanie has discovered that she had only been connected with one segment of Stratford's writing community. "I met Deborah a few years ago, and as we continued our friendship, I realized that she had amazing connections to a whole other group of writers that I didn't know about," she explains.

"One day when we were talking about this, the idea that others may be in the same situation struck us. What I have really learned in the past few months since we started Stratford Authors is that there are writers of every kind here, and they have been uniformly excited by and supportive of this idea of ours to highlight the local literary scene. They share ideas, expertise and time, both in being interviewed and in participating in our panel events, as panellists or as attendees when other authors are presenting."

One of the aims of the group is to encourage writers to explore genres they haven't read before. Now that Stratford Authors has made it so easy to network, writers with diverse styles and backgrounds have more opportunities to meet and to share advice and ideas. Sometimes you need an entirely new perspective to get out of a writing rut, and a conversation with a writer of a different genre can be just the inspiration you need to take your project to the next level.

The combined creativity of artists of all kinds might explain why Stratford is such a culturally vibrant town. "I love living and writing in Stratford," says Deborah. "Stratford offers a great deal more to creative people than is typical of a town of its size, because of the Festival and the Culinary School. I love that I can walk in a park or a garden to think, or walk to a production at the Stratford Festival. Cooking is a big part of my creative process, so it's wonderful to have local markets, excellent restaurants and even classes available. The library is a great resource for me, and when my research is more demanding, the university libraries at Waterloo and London aren't far away."

Visitors to Stratford won't have to look very hard to find a local author browsing the shelves of one of the town's independent bookstores or sipping coffee at Revel Caffe or the orginal Balzac's. Readers looking to discover some of the region's talented writers might try checking out the Local Authors section of Fanfare Books or chatting with John Callan of Callan Books. Those interested in artisanal publishing can visit the artist's studio of Gerard Brender a Brandis, a wood engraver and book artist who was recently featured in a Stratford Authors interview. Gerard and his sister, local author Marianne Brandis, are perfect examples of the fusion of different arts that thrives so well here.

"There's also a wonderful buoyant energy in Stratford, which I like a lot," Deborah observes. "I do miss my writing groups and writer friends from Toronto, but Stratford Authors is helping me to make more connections with writers here."

Whether you are a local writer looking for community or an arts lover planning your next visit, check out Stratford Authors and the other online arts and culture resource they recommend, STARTStratford. Fuelled by the energy of its diverse artists and the commitment of residents like Melanie and Deborah, Stratford's reputation as a destination for "words, words, words" is gaining fast.

Enter our Focus On: Stratford contest and you could win our Stratford prize pack! Find out more here.

photo credit: Ann Baggley

Deborah Cooke sold her first book in 1992, a medieval romance entitled The Romance of the Rose. Since then, she has published more than 45 romances in a wide variety of sub-genres. She has written under the names Claire Delacroix, Claire Cross and Deborah Cooke. The Beauty, part of her successful Bride Quest series, was her first book to land on the New York Times? List of Bestselling Books. Her books have won numerous awards and frequently appear on bestseller lists.

In 2009, Deborah was the writer-in-residence at the Toronto Public Library, the first time the TPL has hosted a residency focused on the romance genre. In 2012, Deborah was honoured to receive the Romance Writers? of America Mentor of the Year Award. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and Novelists Inc., and currently makes her home in Perth County.

Deborah maintains two websites, one for Claire Delacroix and one for Deborah Cooke, as well as posting most weekdays on her own blog, Alive & Knitting.

Melanie Kindrachuk is a librarian at the Stratford Public Library with an interest in local authors. She reads widely across all genres. Living in Stratford, Ontario since 2002, she?s had the chance to uncover the vibrant literary community which exists in Perth County.

Since 2006, she?s been reviewing books on her personal blog The Indextrious Reader, which has been featured in the Anansi and Penguin Books online newsletters. She works with many Canadian publishers, large and small, to get the word out about new books. Readers? Advisory (helping readers find their next great book) is one of her favourite things to do at the library!

She also runs a small business focused on journaling and bibliotherapy (which harnesses the healing power of fiction and other imaginative literature), found at Four Rooms Creative Self Care.

She is a member of the Ontario Library Association and presented a talk on ?Reading for the Health of It? at the library SuperConference in 2012.

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