Brave New Writing Workshops

By Brooke Ford

If the feeling of disappointment over the closure of certain indie retailers is sitting heavily, if the news of certain government cuts to literary magazine funding clouds the spring air, some new and established writing collectives are a sure way to get your literary community-building fix.

“There’s a ton of talented aspiring and established writers hereabouts, and we like to get them together,” says Shirarose Wilensky, editor of Toronto’s Tightrope Books, whose monthly workshop series Writing Without a Net is set to launch its 7th edition this month. The series is rooted by their publishing mandate to reach out to new, young writers, with an emphasis on the urban and subversive. With “Earn a Living as a Professional Writer” as the theme, Wilensky says that Tightrope also hopes “the series will enhance Tightrope’s identity within the local, and maybe even national, writing and publishing community.” With a diverse range of workshop facilitators, the press is also collaborating with Coach House to offer a fiction workshop in the summer.


As of March 1st, the Toronto New School of Writing, cofounded by Jay MillAr and Jenny Sampirisi of BookThug, opened its doors to introduce a new series of poetry workshops, which, for MillAr, hold a very unique distinction. “In Toronto there isn’t a poetry and poetics writing centre, which is surprising considering the size of the city and the wealth of literary history it boasts,” he says. Operating out of the new independent used bookstore Of Swallows, Their Deeds, & the Winter Below at 283 College Street, MillAr says that “the idea for the school is to offer poetry workshops that are a) inexpensive and b) are actual poetry workshops where students will be encouraged to engage in their work and the work of others without having to worry about ‘grades.'” What you can expect from these workshops is the opportunity to “investigate other modes of writing,” says MillAr, like in Mark Goldstein’s upcoming workshop where “you are asked to consider a book in a language you don’t understand and use it to create text.” Or there’s Mark Truscott’s writing workshop on not writing. The bookstore itself, too, is offering a unique experience, in the sense that owner Jason Rovito is striving to create an arts community-building environment where used books are also part of the package.

While a workshop themed “The Art of the Personal Tax Return” might not sound as radical or genre bending, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate Brad Cran easily filled a room in early March with writers, freelancers, designers and artists eager to learn the basic skills about personal finances and taxes, as it applies to the business of art. “It seems to be one of those things that not a lot of writers know about but are really interested in,” says Cran. As part of Geist magazine’s ongoing workshop series — the next session in the series will be led by Vancouver author Ivan Coyote teaching attendees how to transform nervous energy into a memorable reading — these workshops are grounded in the ever-changing business side of the art and lit scene. “You see a lot of different people from different areas of expertise sharing their ideas,” Cran says. “And they’re a lot of fun, too.”