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?