Leaving a Legacy

By Terry James
W & B front coverIn 2015 the City of Courtenay celebrated its centennial.  In response to a call for civic participation in the year-long festivities, the Comox Valley Writers Society (CVWS) undertook a legacy project to commemorate the contribution of book authors to this community.  We wondered: Could we find 100 book authors in the last 100 years?

A list of historical writers was brainstormed by the editors and presented to CVWS members with an invitation to choose an author and to write a historical bio.  Some chose to write about authors they had personally known, others chose to research someone unknown.  To assist writers, and to keep entries uniform, a template was presented which required biographical and bibliographical information.

A second, but similar, template was made available to contemporary authors who were invited to complete their own submission.

The project was limited to book authors in order to make it manageable. The only requirement for inclusion was a published book with an ISBN. Self-published books were acceptable, although we did not include ebooks if there were no physical copies. Participation was invited across all genres.

Names of contemporary authors were initially gathered from brainstorming with CVWS members.  The project was then advertised in the local press, in the island branch of the BC Federation of Writers newsletter, and on a local community calendar website.  The long list was reviewed with bookstore owners, local museum staff, and local historians.  Word-of-mouth advertising was by far the most effective method of gathering names.  In fact, the project began to take on a life of its own as  the names of book authors popped up the most unlikely places and conversations.

To our surprise, it did not take long to find 100 book authors.  Rather than limit the number of authors we continued to gather information, not sure of how we might invoke screening.  In order to do justice to all book authors, the decision was made to be inclusive of everyone.  It became apparent, however, with a little more effort it would be possible to include the earliest writers as well, thus providing a very comprehensive historical record.  Writers & Books: Comox Valley 1865-2015 documents 180 book authors over a 150 year period.

Candidates for inclusion were those writers born or raised in the Comox Valley, as well as newcomers. The research involved contact with authors, family members, publicists, and publishers as far away as the USA, Australia, and Japan.  Maintaining a timeline which required publication before the end of the centennial year was one of the most difficult tasks.  

The book was launched at the Courtenay Museum on December 4, twelve months after it had been proposed to the CVWS.  The launch was a gala affair with 58 authors or family representatives present along with CVWS members, invited guests, and the general public.  The cooperation of the Courtenay Museum in accessing historical photographs and book cover images added greatly to the value of the book.  There are 157 author portraits and 205 cover images.

The book has archival value and presents a literary perspective on local history.  There are three authors who have received the Order of Canada and one the Nobel Prize for Literature.  There is a National Geographic Explorer of the Year, two local graduates who have become popular Hollywood stars, an Olympian, and a recipient of the Order of BC who wrote a local history column for 57 years.  There are those who have contributed scientific discoveries, gained international recognition for their fiction or recorded natural history.  There are best-sellers across many genres.  The Appendix list 65 genres.    There are authors of single books alongside career writers.  Feedback suggests that more local books will be read by local readers as a result of this project.

Apart from assistance with the cover design, all work on the project was done by CVWS members.  Of course, the launch did not end the story.  Now there is the marketing.  The City of Courtenay is selling the book at two of its venues.  The book is also available at the Courtenay Museum and through  local independent bookstores.   The production of the book was handled by Poplar Publishing a home-based operation of a member of the society.  Printing was done by Printorium Bookworks in Victoria.  More than half of the production costs were made back in the first month of sales.  It was expected that this book will continue to generate sales for years to come.  The project was budgeted to break even with an initial printing of 350 books.

“Having the gumption to produce a useful directory such as this makes me want to shout hooray,” says Alan Twigg of BC BookWorld in the Foreword.

 

The History of the Federation of BC Writers Extended

By Ben Nuttall-Smith

Thanks to initial research by George Opacic and my own collection of 30 issues of WordWorks magazine, I’ve been able to glean the following tidbits of Federation of BC Writers history. I would have finished research much sooner if I hadn’t been delayed by my propensity to read so many great stories and articles by our members. Still, please note many vital items of information as well as names and dates are missing. I would urge readers to make corrections and additions to this project. The FBCW was initially founded in 1976 as The Federated Association of British Columbia Authors, “to answer the needs of writers in the province on a grass roots level and to provide more of a western perspective.” Still, I have been unable to find records of meetings nor an AGM through 1977, 78, 79, 80. Trevor Carolan speaks of a meeting 29 June, 1981 at Langara College, when members of various Canadian writer organizations got together to discuss forming a provincial writers’ association. Scribblers at that meeting represented The Writers’ Union of Canada, The Periodical Writers’ Association of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association, The League of Canadian Poets, The Guild of Canadian Playwrights, members of ACTRA and Mona Fertig represented The Literary Storefront. Following that daylong meeting, The Federated Association of British Columbia Authors name was officially changed with a new charter to The Federation of BC Writers. The founding meeting was arguably Saturday, March 20, 1982 when we were registered as a non-profit organization. Writing is, by nature, a solitary occupation. Writers are used to being alone. However, writers also need community. The Federation of BC Writers provides community and much more. According to Sylvia Taylor, long time Executive member, The Federation of BC Writers has “weathered many a storm. It has survived on passion and commitment.”
During Sylvia Taylor’s time in office as Fraser Valley Regional Director, President, then Executive Director, (1999 to 2013), the Fed became “the largest provincial writers organization in Canada, with nearly 800 members—the envy of other provinces.” According to Sylvia, “The President of the Quebec Writers Federation said she was stunned by the scope of what we offer. Never had she seen so much done for so many with so little.” By January 1990, under the leadership of President Heather Glebe, The FBCW counted 950 members. The FBCW has survived many crises, especially when governments withdrew most funding from artistic and literary organizations. We had to close our office and let staff go. Yet, with volunteer help, we carried on. When funding for our “Off the page” Writers in the Schools program was denied, a private donor wrote a cheque for $2,000 and the program continued for another year. Members carried on by donating workshops and serving fellow writers. For several years, we survived on membership fees alone. Still, we struggled to carry on, sometimes with very little volunteer help. The years 2010 – 2011 brought rapid turnover in leadership due to burn-out. Craig Spence, who served as both President and later as Executive Director, termed his stint as president “A wild ride”. “The ravages of fiscal storms nearly drowned the FBCW in the last few weeks of 1989. But do we say die? Never!” and from retiring Executive Director Bob Webster in his final report:
“It has been the most interesting, exciting, stressful position I have ever held.”

Below are a few intriguing lists of important dates and people, as well as a list of journal entries regarding the FBCW AGMs from the date of inauguration, all the way to 2008.

 

(Notes from Jan Drabek’s Diaries)

Saturday, March 20, 1982: Joan (my wife) takes me along with two Saskatchewan delegates to Langara at 9 am for the inauguration meeting of the BC Writers Federation. Tom Fielding (BC Government) arrives after lunch but none of us respond to his smooth talk. I take pix and David Watmough becomes the first chairman of the BC Federation of Writers but I bow out of the dinner and party afterward because I am too beat after the day’s proceedings and come home and am off to bed early.

Saturday, March 19, 1983: I hop on the bike again and drive to Langara for the BC Fed of Writers meeting. About 20 people show up. We elect a new council and I agree to sit on it because the outfit really has to get off the ground this     year…

Sunday, April 29, 1984In the am I work on my report to the federation. The meeting starts at 1pm and by four I have been elected 1st vice despite Dorothy Livesay’s indirect attempts to get me off the council. It’s a generally upbeat meeting all the way and by 5:15 I am home, making an omelette for dinner.

Saturday, April 27, 1985: In the am we have a pretty productive meeting of the BC contingent of the Writers’ Union at our house. Afterwards I clean up, then it’s off to BC Writers Fed meeting. I am the new chairman, Trev Carolan is First VP, Elfrieda Reid 2nd vice. Home about 11.

Saturday, May 3, 1986I walk down Davie to the Arts Council and the long federation AGM which is attended by about 20 people. It’s not very successful I am afraid and there aren’t really many new people on the council. We say goodbye to Trev Carolan and dead tired I go home.

Saturday, April 18, 1987I pick up Ann Walsh to go to the Unitarian Church for the provincial council meeting first. It’s a great success — we sure have some new, enthusiastic types! Lunch at Umbertino’s, then back to the church for a talk by Peter Newman on how to write a bestseller. He’s good, damn good. Then on to the AGM broken in two by an excellent dinner. All went well.

Sunday, May 22, 1988, Naramata: The day begins at 8 with a meeting of the provincial council where members get to know each other. Then there is a capable Keith Maillard reading, then lunch and the AGM. Bob Webster gets his anti free trade motion through, we pass some amendments and things, elect new council and then go to dinner.

Saturday, April 8, 1989, White Rock: I pick up Linda Rogers and together we drive to White Rock for the federation AGM. It’s my swan song on the council.

April 7, 1990, Nanaimo: At seven my wife and I are on our way to Tsawassen and the ferry to Victoria. We park the car at the Empress. At 12:15 there is lunch and at 1:15 the AGM gets rolling, I am presented with honorary membership in the federation by the prez Heather Glebe.  

NOTE: Throughout the 1990s I was not only absent from the affairs of the federation, but also from Canada: I lived in Prague, then Nairobi, then Prague again, followed by Tirana and finally Prague once more.

April 27, 2007, Victoria: Eventually I find Murchie’s Tea Room and arrive half an hour late for the board meeting. I also attend the AGM in the hotel above (Bedford Regency?), where I meet some old friends – Michael Hetherington, Leona Gom and Richard Olafson. In the end I am elected the fed’s president again.

May 9, 2008, Vancouver: It all starts on a wobbly note at Starbuck’s across the street from the hotel where the AGM is to be held later. Fernanda Viveiros and I get into each other’s hair over some constitutional matters but the AGM itself goes smoothly with Sylvia Taylor elected the new prez. One of the subsequent readings is by Trevor Carolan.

Founding Members**: 

David Watmough, Trevor Carolan, Jan Drabek, Sandy Duncan, James Barber, Christie Harris, Mona Fertig, Andreas Schroeder, Bill Bissett, Michael Mercer,  David Conn, Scott Dunlop, Daniel Wood, Alan Twigg, Dona Sturmanis, Richard Payne, Christopher Moore, Jennifer Alley, Keith Maillard, Donna McCluskey, Frank Gerber, Betty Millway, Madeleine Allsbury, Richard Payne, Leonard Angel, Gary Marcuse, Robin Skelton, Ron Stanaitis, K.O. Kanne, Sonia Craddock, Bella Chen, …..  

Other early members and benefactors have included:

John Gray, Judy Villeneuve,  Knowlton Nash,  Spider Robinson,  Pierre Berton,  Ann Walsh,  Linda Rogers,  Angela Hyrnuik, Bob Webster,  P.K. Page,  Susan Musgrave,  Joe Rosenblatt,  Al Purdy,  Betsy Warland,  Howard White,  Peter Newman,  Moira Morningstar,  W.P. Kinsella,  Patrick Lane …..

 

Members of Note:

David Fraser – long-serving Regional Rep –  The Islands
Sylvia Taylor – Fraser Valley Rep for 9 years, 1999-2008
President for 2 years
Executive Director for 3 years
Barbara Coleman – Secretary & Membership Manager for 15 years
Margo Lamont – longtime volunteer editor of WordWorks
Susan Greig –  volunteer editor of WordWorks and website developer

PRESIDENTS  

David Watmough – 1982-1985
Jan Drabek  – 1985-1989
Heather Glebe 1989-1990
Linda Rogers  – 1990-1992
*Unknown Period*
George Fetherling – until 2004
Margaret Thomson   2004 – 2005
Brian Busby   2005  2007
Jan Drabek   2007 – 2008
Sylvia Taylor  2008 – 2010
Margaret Thomson  2010
Hendrik Slegtenhorst   2010
Craig Spence – 2010
Candice James –  2011
George Opacic – 2011 – 2013
Ben Nuttall-Smith – 2013 – 2015
Coco Aders-Weremczuk – 2015
Ann Graham-Walker 2016 –

EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS (ED)

Trevor Carolan – First ED, 1982-1986
Bob Webster – 1987-1990’s
Merrill Fieron – 1990s to 2005
Fernanda Viveiros E.D. – 2005 to 2010
Sylvia Taylor E.D. –  2010 to 2013
David Blinkhorn E.D. – 2013 – 2014
Craig Spence E.D. – 2015
Shaleeta Harper  E.D.  2016

Life Members:  Jan Drabek, George Fetherling,  Lorna Crozier,  Patrick Lane, Naomi Beth Wakan,  Ann Walsh,  Ben Nuttall-Smith

Annual:  Write on the Beach initiated June 2011 [there were previous events in Crescent Beach, along with many other places]

Fed Anthology – most recently, Winter 2007

In 2014, we donated our large collection of Books by B.C. Authors, which had been held in storage, to the new North Surrey Library to be displayed and lent out from an especially marked section.

**Names & information gleaned from What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been … by Trevor Carolan – WordWorks – Summer 2007. see https://issuu.com/wordworks  

 

If you have information to add to this, please email communications@bcwriters.ca

Thanks!