On February 27, Jason dropped by to give an informative guest talk on writing in Edmonton and opportunities for young or emerging writers. As a follow-up, we asked him a few questions about making it as a writer up here.
BTC: While talking about the 40 Below anthologies, you mentioned that Edmontonians tend to get behind creative projects that are about Edmonton. Any thoughts as to why this is?
JN: I think one of the reasons is that there is less separation in this city between artists and others. They are much more visible than they may be in other cities. We don’t have specific places where we hang out or gather. We are everywhere, just like anybody else in the city. We are your neighbors, co-workers, or maybe we’ve waited on you at a restaurant or made your morning cappuccino. The artistic community does a good job of supporting itself but it also knows that it needs the support of more than just their own community to help them grow and thrive. Edmontonians love to see their city reflected in the artwork of its citizens and would much rather support us telling our own stories than support artists from outside our city trying to tell our stories.
BTC: What do you feel is most lacking in the writing community or scene here?
JN: I think that some kind of a venue that writers, poets, spoken word artists and the like could call their own would go a long way to help with the development of our writing community. Imagine a cafe or bar or performance space that writers could use as a meeting place during the day and use to hold regularly scheduled events in the evenings and weekends. A modest stage and seating area to use for book launches, visiting writer talks, story slams, poetry slams, and other reading series that could also thrive as a stand alone business. A place where writers could sell their books! Musicians and bands in Edmonton have had a relationship with a venue that they felt they could call their own at various times on and off over the years and decades and I think that has done wonders for strengthening the musician community here and also helping with the professional and artistic development of these musicians. Not all writers are interested in performing their work publicly but if they had a place where they could go to see their peers sharing their work it would help strengthen the bonds between writers here in Edmonton. This is my own personal dream to have something like this. It would be pretty amazing. A shorter answer is that I think all the writers and writing groups and organizations in Edmonton need to reach out to one another more regularly and find ways that they can collaborate and share resources. Doing this more often will help all writers.
BTC: What can young or emerging writers do to create opportunities for themselves?
JN: Writing can be a solitary act but there is definitely strength in numbers. A small group can pool resources and support each other by putting a zine together or maybe some chap books. Harangue all your friends and have a launch or writers circle that can help give your fellow writers exposure. You don’t even have to work together on something physical–even teaming up and creating an online lit mag or blog that publishes regular content about the writing scene in Edmonton or something like that could start small but build into something strong over time. A writing group that starts at university like the Bolo Tie Collective is a huge thing for emerging writers. It’s the type of strength in numbers thing that I was just talking about. It can create opportunities for publishing and for exposure that all emerging writers need.
Jason also runs Monto Books. Check out the website to find and purchase a few of his most recent projects.