Meet the Tenants: The Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society
The Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society (AWCS) was incorporated in 1981 as a non-profit organization and registered charity, and has been offering creative writing programs for all writers in the Calgary area with a mission is to enhance the creative writing experience through learning, community and support. The organization has many award-winning and published Canadian authors and continues to have new and emerging writers of all genres join their membership of over 350.
Together with AWCS’s creative writing classes and workshops, programs and events are designed to enhance the core offerings and bring writers and the community together. Programs include Student readings, monthly Open Mics, an annual Writer in Residence program, and community events that bring prominent Canadian writers for special speaking presentations and workshops.
We spoke with AWCS Program Director, Robin van Eck:
Q: What makes AWCS different from other writing–based organizations in Calgary? What are your influences and inspirations, local or afar?
A: Like other local writing organizations in the area, we foster a community of writers who can come together and share and learn, get feedback and support on their work. Where we differ is in our focus on ALL writers. We offer courses and workshops and other programs for the brand new writer who may have had an inkling of an idea to write at one point in their life but never did anything with it and now wants to give it a try and we offer programs for those who may be a little more seasoned and want to improve on their craft to create the best possible version of a story or poem or creative nonfiction piece. While many of the other writing organizations out there might be focused on one genre or style of writing, we are multi-genre focused. We offer courses and programs on poetry, creative nonfiction: articles, personal essay, travel writing, nature writing, memoir, fiction: contemporary, science fiction, romance, mystery, urban fantasy, noir etc.
We are also focused on writing as an art form, as a means for catharsis, to inspire and foster creativity in an individual. Courses such as journaling, working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, women’s issues, truth and reconciliation, engaging with our senses and the landscape around us, all help to nurture the artist inside and connect with our world in a new way.
And of course we can’t forget out about our youth program. Reality is Optional Creative Kids Program is more than just writing. It’s a great group of kids who are writers and artists. We have a cartooning club and poetry slams. Lots of great fun for everyone.
Q: Who are some of the writers that have been nurtured by AWCS, and where might our readers be able to read and find their work?
- Betty Jane Hegerat has published numerous books, her most recent young adult book, Odd One Out, can be purchased at Owl’s Nest Books and other independent book sellers.
- Sarah L. Johnson recently published a collection of short stories called Suicide Stitch. It can be purchased from Owl’s Nest Books and online at Amazon. Her first speculative fiction novel, Infractus, will also be coming out later this year.
- Rea Tarvydas’ first short story collection, How to Pick Up a Maid in Statue Square will be coming out this fall.
- Karen Lee wrote a memoir, The Full Catastrophe, also available at Owl’s Nest Books.
- Inge Trueman’s novel, A Rootbeer Season, is available at Owl’s Nest Books.
Besides book deals, many of our members have had short stories and poems and essays published in literary magazines across North America and have been finalists for contests and awards across the country.
Q: Why is the “Free Fall” method of writing AWCS method of choice, and how can this help writers?
A: The free fall method of writing was first designed by WO Mitchell. Our founder, Michael Fay, had the opportunity to work with Mitchell back in the late 1970’s and adopted and adapted his method and made it the basis for all writing for the AWCS. Because of that, it’s always been a part of us, but also something we firmly believe in.
The hardest part for a writer is shutting off that inner critic and just allowing words to flow onto the page in whatever way they want to. We’re so worried about it sounding bad or that our ideas are going to be judged that for many it can stall the writing process. Free Fall writing allows the writer to just let the ideas flow. It’s a great way to get around writer’s block, it’s a great way to discover new ideas, it’s a great way to get over a hurdle when you’re in the midst of story and don’t know where to go. It’s freeing, it’s liberating, it’s creative.
Q: What are your plans for cSPACE King Edward (future programming, how you plan to interact with other tenants etc.)? How do you imagine that being in this space will affect your membership, organizational sustainability and future.
A: We have been in discussions with Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners and Alliance Francais (fellow cSpace King Edward tenants) to see how we can work together. Writing and other forms of art go together very well, and it’s our hope that we can collaborate with various groups and create some dynamic collaborative art.
We believe this new space will be a place that our writers will want to come to, whether it’s to take part in a course or workshop or drop in program or just hang out with friends and talk about writing and share ideas. I think we will fill more classes and be able to continually develop the programming that our writers want.
Q: For those who have never had the pleasure of attending a workshop at AWCS, could you please describe to aspiring writers what they might expect?
Our classes are small. No more than 10-12 participants. This allows a better way of learning and sharing and connecting. Our instructors are supportive and encouraging and no one will ever be judged for what they write. The classes are typically a lot of writing exercises to energize and motivate, as well as group discussion and some lecture. It’s a very interactive experience and can be very rewarding.
Writers are very solitary people by nature, but what we have learned over the last 35 years and what we try to share with people is that it can’t be done alone. There comes a point where you can no longer see the story for what it is because you’re so close to it. That support you get from other writers is invaluable and necessary to continue to develop your craft.
Writers also struggle with a lot of self-doubt. When you get together with other writers you realize you’re not alone and there are people who can help you because they are going through the same thing.
Q: Do you have any advice to aspiring writers in town?
A: All I can say is come check us out. There’s something for everyone!
Our fall courses are online now.
Want to try free fall writing? Drop in to our current location, every Friday from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. It’s lots of fun and a great group of people.