Literary talent comes to U of C

By Katherine Fletcher

The University of Calgary is well known for its innovative research in science and technology, but the school also fosters a creative and artistic environment, thanks in part to the Markin-Flanagan Distinguished Writers Programme.

Established in 1993, the program aims to further the careers of writers and enrich the local literary community through two annual residency programs.The Markin-Flanagan program offers a 10-month residency to an emerging Canadian writer, and hosts several internationally renowned authors for shorter periods.

The program welcomes Melanie Little, author of the acclaimed short story collection Confidence, to Calgary as the 2005-06 Markin-Flanagan Canadian Writer-in-Residence, and will host award-winning author Rudy Wiebe as the 2005 Markin-Flanagan Distinguished Visiting Writer during the month of October.

Little noted her attraction to the city and its vibrant literary scene, as well as the university setting, as her reasons for applying for the residency.

“It’s really diverse, it interacts,” she said of Calgary’s literary community. “There’s a lot more dialogue about what people are doing and why. There’s a lot more interest in the process, whereas in some places it’s just like ‘Well, I write, but I don’t talk about it, I don’t try to question the process.’ But here it’s more of a scientific interest in how writing is made.”

Little added the Markin-Flanagan program is receptive to a writer’s needs.

“It’s one of the only residencies in Canada, or maybe the only residency in Canada, that pays enough that you can actually write full-time,” she explained. “[The program is] very realistic about the fact that writing takes time and you have to pay the bills some how and it’s just really generous and really wonderful.”

During her residency, Little will divide her time between working on several writing projects, which include a young adult novel set in medieval Spain, and participating in community activities such as manuscript consultations and public readings, including Wordfest in October. Her residency began on Aug. 15 and so far she’s been busy.

“I’ve had manuscript consultations already,” said Little. “I’ve heard that the previous resident Natalee [Caple] was very helpful with students and anybody in the community who came in for manuscript consultations. There’s a lot of interest already. My schedule’s really filling up already because she’s set up a really great precedent, as other residents have done beforehand. I don’t think I’m going to have a dull moment.”

Little noted the starting date of her residency was a good time for her to integrate into the campus community.

“It’s nice to be on campus before everybody’s back,” she said. “I’ve been able to meet the professors that are in the [English] department one at a time rather than all at once. As a writer, I love to see things gradually come to life, so I’ve been enjoying watching the campus gradually come to life. I feel established here already rather than starting on Sep. 15. I would have been plopped into the middle of all this action and I would have maybe felt very alienated.”

Little will read along with outgoing Writer-in-Residence Natalee Caple on Thu., Sep. 15 ­at 7:30 p.m. at the Engineered Air Theatre, Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts. Little will read from her book Confidence while Caple will read a selection of fiction and poetry written during her 2004-05 residency. The reading is free and open to the public.

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