Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Writers’ Union of Canada Annual General Meeting

The Writers’ Union of Canada, founded in 1973, met in Ottawa from the 3rd of June till the 7th for the Annual General Meeting. I attended four workshops on Friday, and the plenary sessions on Saturday.

What stands out in my mind from these inspiring days is the dedication and passion of the long-time members who work endlessly to advocate for writers. They care deeply about the welfare of writing and writers in this country, and those who have responsibilities for the organization give hours and days of their time along with working as writers.

I was particularly impressed with Merilyn Simonds’s presentation as she spoke about the lack of respect for artists and writers so prevalent in Canada. No other professional group is treated the way we are treated. Workers in other industries, from truckers to farmers to the oil companies, are given government subsidies, but artists are seen as unworthy of such support, are seen as asking for handouts when they seek government funding and are offered meagre “subsistence” grants. As Merilyn pointed out, for no other group is that kind of language used, language conveying that writers and artists do not deserve more than mere survival. Indeed, the average income of writers in this country is $12,000 a year, putting the lie to the strange idea that if you have your name on the spine of a book you are rich.

Writers and artists in Canada have been talking about this for years. In 1950 the artist Paraskeva Clark gave a lecture in Hamilton, Ontario in which she spoke about art as the spirit and soul of a nation (See my book, Perfect Red: The Life of Paraskeva Clark). She spoke out the government’s disregard for artists. Here we are, sixty years later, talking about the same thing and I wonder if this will ever change.