CJSW Profile: Writer’s Block

Paul Kennett, Stephanie Weidmann and Stephanie Clark take to the air every Tuesday evening with a bag full of books and their brains. The trio run one of CJSW’s spoken word programs called Writer’s Block, a foray into the topsy-turvy world of literature. They train their astute eyes on local talent whenever possible, but also have nationally and internationally renowned authors on the show — Yann Martel and Chuck Palahniuk have both made appearances. They also embrace month-long themes that have previously included sex and science.

The Gauntlet: How did you all get involved in CJSW?

Stephanie Weidmann: I was the first. I was a summer student and at the end of the summer, Jane [McCullough, former CJSW Program Director] asked if I wanted to take over Writer’s Block. At the time, it was Thursday nights at 6 p.m. for half an hour.

Paul Kennett: I thought I was going to pursue a career in broadcasting and I figured I could learn a lot by volunteering here. My goal was to get on the CBC. Then I tried to get a job at the CBC and realized it was an impenetrable fortress. Mark [Shields], another former programming director, knew that I was into books and had some connections with writers in Calgary. He asked if I wanted to help on Writer’s Block with Steph, and so I started to help fill the hour. That was two years ago.

SW: That was when all our big changes came in — we started doing more live interviews. The “Skull Session” came in, which is like a monthly book club.

Stephanie Clark: I got involved for the hell of it — I was in my last semester and I was like, “What the hell am I going to do now that I actually enjoy?” I started volunteering and on my last day of training, Paul showed up and was like, “Who likes books?” — verbatim. I responded, “I like books!” and I was hired.

G: Could you talk briefly about what the show is about?

PK: We fantasize about one day working for the CBC?

SW: No! [laughs] It’s an honest and frank discussion about literature, language and the practice of writing and how that’s evolving.

PK: We try to focus as much as we can on local writers — poetry, short stories. We have done non-fiction in the past, but we don’t focus on them. We kind of privilege Calgary over international writing. We’ll certainly take big names writers, if they’re in town, for an interview, but if we miss them it doesn’t break our hearts. Part of the mandate of the station and the show is to try and throw the spotlight on people who don’t get any spotlight. Just like CJSW does with bands, we’ll do with writers.

SW: Part of that has been building good relationships with the reading series that are going on and the writing guilds that are in town.

SC: And some of the agents that bring writers through towns.

PK: We try to promote the various reading series — there’s at least four. We are in constant contact with The Single Onion and Fly Wheel Reading Series that happen every month. There’s also Kirk Ramdath and Passion Pitch with Frontenac Publishers. Lastly, there’s a poetry slam run by Sherry -D Wilson at the end of every month.

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