Markin-Flanagan writers pass the torch

By Diana Lyuber

Huddled beneath their umbrellas, hosts of Calgary bookworms lined up to enter the Engineered Air Theatre Thur., Sept. 14 to watch writer Melanie Little pass the torch to the University of Calgary’s new Markin-Flanagan writer-in-residence Jaspreet Singh.

Both writers are relative newcomers to the Canadian literary scene, awash in critical acclaim as per the residency’s requirements. Little’s story collection Confidence was short-listed for the Danuta Gleed Award, while Singh’s book of short stories 17 Tomatoes won the Quebec Writers’ Federation 2004 McAuslan First Book Prize. The evening­–as described by humanities dean Rowland Smith–was a kind of ‘hail-farewell’ event celebrating Little’s year as writer-in-residence while welcoming Singh.

“The Markin-Flanagan Dis-tinguished Writers Programme is a remarkable program that has brought so much to the literary life of Calgary and to the U of C,” said Smith in his speech to launch the evening.

Established in 1993 thanks to philanthropists Allan Markin and Jackie Flanagan, the program aims to invigorate Calgary’s literary community by hosting public readings, supporting fledgling Canadian writers and bringing in distinguished writers.

“It’s been an extremely successful program,” said Smith. “Melanie has been remarkably successful in the community.”

During her stay at the university, Little began several new projects including a novel in verse.

“[The residen-cy] allows you to experiment and take some risks you would not normally take,” explained Little, offering thanks to the U of C and the community at large before reading from the work-in-progress she began during her 10 month residency. In addition to writing, nearly half of her time this year was devoted to manuscript consultations.

“I can’t believe the warm welcome I got from the community,” she said, adding that she has chosen to stay in Calgary even though her residency is ending.

Singh read his title story from 17 Tomatoes, eliciting noisy bouts of laughter from the audience.

“I am very grateful to the Markin-Flanagan program for inviting me to be here for 10 months,” he said.

Singh, who also holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering, has taken up writing late in life.

“I always wanted to write, but you know how South Asian parents are,” he joked. “They don’t want their kids to starve.”