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COLUMN: Airdrie library's Writer-in-Residence connects with writing community

Airdrie Public Library's latest Writer-in-Residence, Lee Kvern, reflects on her time at the library this November.

Twenty years ago, I met the Writer-in-Residence at the Calgary Public Library. The author of 22 Young Adult books, Cora Taylor’s encouragement and community resources set me on a writer path that fast forward two decades has brought me here to Airdrie as your third Writer-in-Residence at the Airdrie Public Library.

Library programs and Writer-in-Residencies offered at universities and colleges are the only democratic places that a writer might engage with a professional writer for free. It's a concept virtually unheard of in the writer world, where creative courses, mentorship programs, MA programs, writer retreats, and editorial services can cost thousands of dollars, already putting a writer behind the eight ball financially.

I’m equally grateful for libraries that so generously provide paid, purposeful work for writers, and even more grateful for this opportunity to give back to the writer community in Airdrie. My thanks to Pam Medland, library director, Lisa Murphy-Lamb, program coordinator,  Wyatt Tremblay, communication coordinator and Lucia Gomez, in human resources administration.

So what did I see and do at the vibrant, bustling Airdrie Public Library this month? Outside my office door in the children’s section, I saw mothers reading to their squealing babies, dads chasing their laughing toddlers, teenagers engaged in chess and books alike. I saw newcomers to Canada and their smiling children, robust, friendly games of Scrabble, and a knitter’s club that I heard about, but didn’t get to see, although I wished I had. Who doesn’t need a pink angora scarf or cable knit sweater in our long winter months?

What I did see was writers abound. I had the wonderful treat of meeting and speaking with 20 writers over the course of November whose backgrounds spanned the country from Ottawa to Canmore to Banff to Cochrane to Calgary, and of course, the solid writing community of Airdrie in my Blue Pencil Sessions.

As a writer coach, I got to read everything from memoirs to science fiction to historical fiction to fantasy to short stories to novel excerpts to delightful children’s stories. And let me tell you, the people I conducted these sessions with were an impressive swath of writers. They not only brought their manuscripts, but also their fervour, their drive to learn the craft of storytelling, and their impressive ability to find and make space for their writing, often while juggling full-time or part-time jobs, feeding their kids and cats and dogs and partners. There was much to admire in this eager writer community.

“If you build it, they will come.” The quote from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams referred to a baseball field. But given my experience at the Airdrie Public Library this past month, “If you build it, the writers will come,” holds especially true.

Writers of all ages, at various levels, each with their creative pieces clutched in their nervous hands came to see me. When they left my wee little office in the library's children’s section, they left with home plate in their writer sights. Go home, practice, be a better writer, learn your craft, and write like mad.

The loveliest affirmation of the Blue Pencil Sessions became evident in the Wednesday Night Presentations. A small, shy group at the start of the month, by the end, every writer that I’d had the pleasure of reading and speaking with were there, a strong circle of writers who were keen and engaged.

“I’m glad I didn’t wound you,” I told them. “I’m so happy you are still here.”

Writing is like catching a flyball in your bare hands, and yet here was a room full of writers with hands raised and ready to catch. Bravo to the writers and Airdrie Public Library for building this terrific program.

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