Friday, November 11, 2011

(Some) Canadian Writers Starving No More

Writers do not always starved. Some of them strike it lucky, get published and actually earn a decent living putting words on paper. Some of them even earn enough to put a little bit aside for the lean years, so they don't have to write for a living on their death bed.

But most writers do none of these things. In fact, as a living, writing is one of the most difficult professions you could choose. The pay is lousy, recognition is slow (or never) coming and there is not much to look forward as you get older except hunger pangs.

Fortunately for some senior Canadian writers there is a group which recognizes their plight and strives to help them not only survive, but thrive. The Canadian Writers’ Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1931 to support senior writers. Specifically senior writers who were recognized for making a contribution to Canadian literature, but it's better than nothing.

As a writer you might dream of a wildly successful life, eventually settle for some small recognition, then dream of the days when you were less jaded, more naive and believed you might be as successful as Stephen King. The fact is you will be lucky to scrape together a meager living, and even if you do strike some resonant chord with your community, the chances are they will forget all about you once something new comes along.

This does not diminish the quality of the work you once did. It just makes it unlikely you will eke enough residuals to keep the lights on as a senior citizen.

That's where the Canadian Writers' Foundation comes in. They help senior citizen writers continue to search for the spark of their own writing genius and perhaps even find a new way to impact their community with words.

Among the 70-plus writers who have received grants from the $1.8 million distributed by the CWF over the past 80 years are such major Canadian authors, dramatists and poets as Alfred Desrochers, Mollie Gillen, Norman Levine, Dorothy Livesay and E.J. Pratt, even Irving Layton.

“We know that, even if you have a wonderful social safety net, people are always falling through the cracks,” says CWF president and board chair Marianne Scott. “And, back in 1931, there really wasn’t any safety net and there wasn’t much money in writing.”

Although various grants for writers are now available through such organizations as the Canada Council for the Arts, and “these groups play an extremely important role, they offer support for writers when they are writing and healthy,” points out Scott. “But there are significant writers who have not been able to work even part-time, did not have a university position and don’t have a pension. They have to wait for their Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement — neither of which is very much. We are there to fill the gap. Our annual $5,400 stipend makes up the difference and lifts these writers just above the poverty level.”

Click here to read more about the Canadian Writers' Foundation.

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