Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Automobiles and Literature: An Interview with Anne Osborne, Publicity Chair of the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association

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By Phil Miletic

Recently, I've found myself asking others about the length of time they have spent at a particular job. These conversations typically are with friends’ parents since I’m at the age (I’m 23) where you can have a chat and a beer with your friends’ parents and talk about Life. I am never prepared for their answers: I’m fresh out of grad school, having completed my MA in English this past summer, and am now managing a temporary living as a teaching assistant, which contract lasts until April. So their answers are always incomprehensible to me, not because they are speaking in another dialect; rather, because it’s usually much longer than I have spent being alive, never mind at a job. My response collapses into gibberish, and I end up embarrassing myself, preventing any further conversation. How do you talk about being in the workforce with someone who has 30 years to your 14-week contracts without sounding like a complete idiot, like some young punk who knows nothing of what’s being discussed, yet still talks anyway?

Luckily it was through email when Anne Osborne, Publicity Chair of the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA), responded to my request for an interview for Focus On: Niagara. “You're on! Ask away! I've been here since the branch began in 1983.” That’s 29 (nearly 30) years! Now that’s dedication, and a lot more time than I’ve spent dedicated to finding a permanent job. Allow me to pause for a moment to recollect myself.

If you don’t know about the Canadian Authors Association (Not to be confused with the other CAA, the Canadian Automobile Association, although my recent couple of months as a teaching assistant has had me comparing the study of literature to the study of cars and their parts) and you’re a writer, then you should start getting familiar with it now. As nicely listed by Anne Osborne when I asked her, the Canadian Authors Association offers:

  • Regular writing workshops
  • Speakers from the writing industry
  • Writing groups specializing in fiction, poetry, novels and memoirs
  • A writer-in-residence program (who is currently Harold Rhenisch)
  • Annual fiction & poetry competitions and anthologies
  • Student membership rates
  • Discounts on all-day writing workshops
  • Links with writers coast to coast
  • A friendly, supportive atmosphere!

But lists can be rather intimidating, so let me just expand on this list and try my best to articulate what this list means, or should mean, to you.

The CAA, and specifically the Niagara branch, does indeed offer a wide variety of opportunities for writers to get involved in the writing community. However, most importantly, it has been the Niagara CAA’s efforts over the years that have helped establish the writing communities in Niagara today with the regular workshops, writing groups and writerly connections that create and sustain these communities. In addition, the CAA itself is composed of various writers of different genres and at different stages in their career:

“We have writers of fiction, poetry, memoirs and the occasional journalist,” writes Anne. “Several have published nationally and internationally. Many are learning their craft and working toward publication.” That is to say, there is no sign outside the Niagara CAA’s doors that reads “No Inexperienced Writers Allowed.” All are welcome, the experienced and the inexperienced, and there is always something to learn from each other — the learning process of writing and publishing never ends.

From these communities a “scene” develops, grows out of the CAA workshops and meetings, and establishes the Niagara literary scene. Anne describes the Niagara scene as containing a number of flourishing groups “ranging from formal creative writing classes and courses to independent writing circles that meet occasionally.” Who knows: by attending the Niagara CAA groups and workshops, you may meet a couple of friends interested in starting a collective together, perhaps attempt an independent press or host your own readings. Anne herself, as the Publicity Chair, has made it her goal throughout her time at the branch (need I remind you that this is since the branch has existed) to try to further the branch’s efforts to help writers to become acquainted both with their craft and the current conditions of writing and publishing in Canada.

For example: Let’s just say you’ve recently moved into the Niagara region and you’re a writer and/or you’re a young writer who has written quite a bit (whether it be short stories, novels, poetry, comic books, etc.) but does not know what to do for the next step: what’s after writing, what you're to do with all those sheets of paper collecting (or aging files upon aging files of Microsoft Word documents). You’re pretty sure you’re not the only writer in the Niagara region (you hope), but what do you do, where do you go, who do you go to? Generally, you’d google Canadian Authors Association; specifically, you’d contact Anne: the go-to person for such information to satisfy these burning questions. She would point you in the right direction, towards the writing communities that would best suit you. She would (and I’m writing she would because she wrote so herself) “strongly advise you to contact as many groups as possible to see what each offers. That way you are more likely to find one that is most compatible and suitable to your needs. Of course, we hope that with the wide variety of services we offer you will find what you need with Canadian Authors Association.” And hey, if you’re lucky enough you might be published in the branch’s publications, Ten Stories High (a collection of short fiction) and Saving Bannister (a collection of poetry), that is, if you submit. And there is always the regular poetry contest (which will shortly be in full swing).

And it’s not all writing, you know — there are plenty other activities, whether you’re a member or not. In the upcoming months the CAA Niagara Branch has a number of readings coming up: On December 12 members will be reading their fiction for the public to enjoy at the Mahtay Café in St. Catharines; On March 6, members will be reading their poetry at Mahtay Café; on April 3, there is the Canadian Authors in Action, where published members read their poetry in the Mills room of the St. Catharines Public Library. This event is usually accompanied by the winners of the teen contest, Fresh Ink, and by Brock University English students. The event that Anne is most looking forward to is Brian Henry’s writing workshop, “Writing your Life and Other True Stories” in the Mills Room of the St. Catharines Public Library, happening on January 19, 2013.

When I was asked to write this article, I felt this deep anxiety of trying to write about an establishment — no, a community, that has been around longer than I have and of which I have only been, admittedly, vaguely familiar with for a couple of years. Trying to write about Anne and the CAA felt like trying to comprehend my friends’ parents’ statements. What can I write that’s not gibberish? And more importantly, how can I avoid just listing off what the Niagara branch of the CAA can do and has done in the 29, almost 30 years, it’s been around?

But then again, I reminded myself that I’m writing to those who aren’t familiar with the Niagara CAA, who are similarly like me: curious but unsure of how to follow up on the answers given. So instead of just presenting answers to questions, here’s me trying to show you how the car drives. From here on in, you will have to take the wheel.

Be sure to visit Niagara CAA's Literary Landmark page for news, updates and future events!

Anne Osborne has edited five years worth of Canadian Author & Bookman, and one edition of The Canadian Writer's Guide and several other books; freelanced for periodicals; taught English at Senior Elementary level for many years; produced study units in English literature and conducted teacher training for her Board of Education. In May 2006 she was appointed editor of the CAA’s National Newsline. In October 2010 she completed her term as editor. She continues to serve as technical moderator of the Virtual Branch and the Canadian_Authors listservs. She is learning to write poetry – if one can learn that...

Phil Miletic is an editorial intern at Open Book: Ontario and a teaching assistant at Brock University. Fresh out of the English MA program at Brock, Phil hopes to continue down the road of academia scattering poems, stories and whatever else he can along the way.

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