Monday musings on Australian literature: Writer-in-residence programs

I’ve written before about Writers’ Retreats, which are sometimes framed as writer-in-residence programs. However, for this post, I want to focus not on those programs that are designed for writers to withdraw (retreat) to focus on a personal project, but on those for which engagement with the community in which they reside is a significant part of their role. I don’t know about you, but I come across these quite often out of the blue and love that they exist. Some of them are ongoing programs, while others are one-offs. Some are specifically targeted to writers while others, usually described as artist-in-residence, are open to any arts practitioner. The most common ones I’ve seen are those offered at schools and universities, but they can be offered by anyone. They can vary greatly in purpose, targeting all sorts of people from school students to other writers, from potential clients to the general public. And they range from non-profit programs to rather commercial ones. All of this will become obvious from the small selection below:

Accor Hotels MGallery Literary Collection is a program in collaboration with Melbourne’s The Wheeler Centre. It involved providing eight award-winning Australian writers with a short residence in one of Accor’s boutique MGallery hotels and commissioning those authors to write a short story which will be published in a book which will be “presented exclusively to guests at MGallery Hotels”. Associated with these are author events at the hotels, such as that with Favel Parrett at Mount Lofty House in Adelaide in April 2015.

Bayside City Council Artist-in-Residence is open to visual artists, multimedia practitioners, writers and composers. They describe it as a public program in which the resident artist is “required to be involved in community engagement activities. This may take the form of artist’s talks, community workshops, master classes for local artists, participation in Bayside festivals or exhibitions or other activities agreed upon”.

Birrong High School Writer-in-residence was part of the ASA’s (Australian Society of Authors) Authors in Priority Schools program which aims to build “the narrative and literacy skills of school students, from K-12.” It involves authors running creative writing courses at a school, but the exact style of program varies a little in each school in accordance with the school’s needs. The Birrong program involved author Laurene Croasdale who has worked both in publishing and as a writer.

Cocoon Floatation floating writer-in-residence program is a program that runs in partnership with the Wollongong Writers’ Festival. The program involves the Festival choosing an author from the festival line-up  “to receive two free floats in exchange for producing a piece of work to be donated back to WWF and Cocoon Floatation”. The 2015 writer is Candy Royalle, who is “a performance artist, poet, storyteller and educator”.

Editing in Paradise writer-in-residence is part of the organisation’s business of running workshops and retreats for writers. The writer-in-residence is their program for including a writer on their retreats to give “an added dimension to the teaching and sharing of industry knowledge”. So, for example, at their Bali retreat, this October, they will have Ashley Hay whose most recent novel was The Railwayman’s Wife. Previous writers have included Charlotte Wood and Susan Wyndham. I’m assuming the writer is paid to attend and provide expertise at the retreat.

Lotus Asian-Australian Playwriting Project is a project aimed at bringing more Asian-Australian stories to the Australian stage, by “installing” an Asian-Australian resident playwright in three theatre companies by 2017. Supported, at least initially, by the Australia Council and Arts Victoria, this program also includes other initiatives including salon-style play-readings

RMIT Writers-in-residence program is a fairly typical university program. The program aims to make “a significant contribution to RMIT, its writing program and to Melbourne’s broader literary culture”. RMIT writers-in-residence have included Robert Dessaix, Chloe Hooper and Nam Le. It was supported from 2009 to 2012 by the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL)’s Cultural Fund. The web-page implies that it is an ongoing-program, but it is not clear whether this really is the case or not.

I found references to programs in several universities, such as the University of Adelaide and UTS (the University if Technology Sydney), but no clear evidence that they were ongoing programs. Indeed it seems that these programs often have short lives, which is a shame. I wonder why they seem often to be flashes-in-the-pan?

Despite this uncertain history, whenever I come across these programs I feel a little excited – even if I’m not going to have any involvement – because I imagine the stimulation, excitement and creativity that the participants will experience. A little starry-eyed, I suppose, but I hope this is the common outcome!

Have you experienced a writer-in-residence program, either as a writer or a “consumer”? If so, what value did you get out of it?

17 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Writer-in-residence programs

    • Yes, it’s amazing isn’t it Lisa … I love the variety of opportunities and programs around. I had to stop where I did but I was fascinated by all the programs that popped up. I’d love it if there were better documentation on the respective websites re their history, ie past “residents”, etc

  1. Well, of course there’s Ledig House in America! I notice you mention Bali, but apart from that you’ve kept your post to Australian residencies? The other one I’ve been to is Lavigny in Switzerland. I could wax lyrical about that, if it’s not off the topic…

    • Ah yes, Dorothy, mainly because my Monday musings posts focus on Australia. The Bali was included because they are an Aussie company. I think they do retreats in Kangaroo Valley, too. But, I’m always happy for commenters to extend to outside our shores whatever it is I talk about.

  2. So many interesting programs! There is one here sponsored by Coffeehouse Press, an indie publisher in conjunction with the public library. The residency is a couple months at a different public library each time. I’ve also heard Amtrak passenger rail service offers a writer in residence program cross country on a train. How cool would that be?

  3. I guess the connection is that Australian authors can apply, and if they’re lucky be chosen for overseas residencies. Le chateau de Lavigny, to give it its full title, is an eighteenth century mansion a short, steep bike ride from Lake Geneva. It was once the home of post war publisher extraordinaire Ledig Rowholt, after whom the American writers’ residency is named. His widow bequeathed it to the writers of the world. All sorts of famous people stayed there, and there is collection of their letters in the library – Hemingway, who complained a lot about his publishers not paying him, Nabokov, William Faulkner…
    You would love it, WG.

  4. Thank your for your splendid, and amazingly energetic and enduring Whispering Gums blog. I have one Writers (and Artists) retreat to bring to your readers’ attention: Google” La Muse Inn” or “La Muse – Writers and Artists Retreat in France”. A terrific place: an isolated village above the famous medieval town of Carcasonne. Nine rooms for the nine Muses in a 14th century stone house – a place where you can meet mature and beginning writers and artists in a gorgeous mountain, forest and river environment. I’ve been there three times now over nine years and have written two books of stories there (‘Her Father’s Daughter’ (UQP) and ‘SIX’ (Finlay Lloyd) over a total of four months. If you’re self-sufficient, if you want to spend your days in silent work, if you want to talk books and writing with talented fellows who – for me – have become long-term friends/helpers/readers/editors/publishers/urgers from the US, Europe, Australia et al.,
    then have a serious look at this site. To say nothing of the wine in this district 🙂
    PS: I have no ‘interested’ (monetary or other) connection to La Muse. I’ve just loved my times there, and done good work there.
    John Clanchy

    • Thanks very much John for your compliment … But as I’m sure you realise it’s a pleasure doing this blog, a hobby.

      And thanks for your contribution. I had no idea there were so many places that were open to international writers but you and Dorothy have opened my eyes. I can imagine this one in the south of France would be hugely sought after! If it supported your writing SIX then it has done it’s job I’d say.

      • Great post Sue. Oftentimes it’s very difficult for writers to access all the information they need so you’ve created a great resource here. Poets and Writers magazine also has a huge directory of over 300 residencies that some of your readers may be interested in.

        Also, thanks John for the lovely comment! We look forward to the times John comes back to La Muse. It truly has been a joy for myself and Kerry, never mind all the writers and artists he’s entertained and mentored, even though he’d be too self-effacing to ever say so himself.

        Actually, we’ve had a lot of Australians at La Muse, but not just writers, musicians and artists too. Lisa, above, also commented on your post from 2011 on writers retreats that “Former Arts Minister Mary Delahunty donated her home Rosebank as a retreat in 2009.” We’ve had the pleasure of having Mary here twice on retreat now and really admire her efforts in support of the arts. In fact, Dorothy, who commented above, wrote about her experience at La Muse for the Sisters in Crime newsletter in Australia. You can read the lovely things she had to say in the newsletter in the short interview we had with her at the end of her retreat here.

        Again, congratulations on the blog!

        • Thanks so much labastide … I have fun putting together my Monday Musings and one of the best things is that the posts usually engender conversations like this which add to the start I make. La Muse sounds truly wonderful. I hope John comes back and reads your compliment.

  5. Great post, Sue. Writers need resources like your blog to find out about things like retreats. Poets and Writers Magazine over in the states has a very comprehensive free online database listing of over 300 residencies in the United States. They have great listings there too of Lit Mags to send mss to, with deadline times, agents, contests etc.

    Thanks, John, for the lovely comments about La Muse. It’s been a delight to have you here over the years. We look forward to your visits! And it’s been a delight for the many writers you’ve mentored informally here too on the terrace, although you’d never use the word mentor because you’re so self-effacing.

    Actually we’ve had many Australian writers here but also musicians and artists too. You can see a sample listing of some of the artists and writers – we’ll upload more soon – who’ve been here by clicking on the dropdown menu of our “Blog.” Lisa, above, commented on your post from 2011 about retreats saying “Former Arts Minister Mary Delahunty donated her home Rosebank as a retreat in 2009.” Mary has been to La Muse twice now and we think it’s wonderful that she’s supporting the arts the way she is. Also, Dorothy, who commented on Lavigny above, has also been to La Muse. She wrote a lovely piece about us for the Sisters in Crime newsletter in Australia after she got back from her retreat here. You can read it in the interview she did with us for our blog.

    Again, congratulations on the blog.

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