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Calgary Distinguished Writers Program Celebrates 25 Years

The Calgary Distinguished Writers Program (CDWP) has come a long way since its first event in September 1993.

Over the past 25 years, the program has brought Governor General’s Literary Award winners and Giller nominees to the city as Canadian Writers-in-Residence, including several writers who moved to Calgary for the opportunity, only to fall in love with the city and make it their home.

The program has also had over 50 Distinguished Visiting Writers come to Calgary for free public events, including two Nobel Laureates, one Pulitzer Prize winner, and beloved authors such as Neil Gaiman, Zadie Smith, Thomas King, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Margaret Atwood.

However, as the program wraps up its 25th year, its more intimate impact on the community is in the spotlight.

The CDWP’s 25th Anniversary Celebration at the end of the month will feature readings by eight writers who have consulted with Canadian Writers-in-Residence over the past 25 years.

Harpreet M Dayal, Laurel Deedrick-Mayne, Mikka Jacobsen, Sasha Krioutchkova, Lisa Murphy Lamb, Mallory E. Land Smith, Joshua Whitehead, and Steph Wong Ken will read their work at Hotel Arts on the evening of April 30.

Smith, a PhD student in English who met with this year’s Canadian Writer-in-Residence Liz Howard, says Howard’s presence on campus gave her an invaluable opportunity.

“My collection retells scientific information through the lens of poetry,” she says. “So to have a writer on campus with a background in neuroscience who can combine that information with Indigenous Knowledge in poems was a meeting that I never expected in this degree and gave me a wider sense of community.”

For Steph Wong Ken, who won the 2016 Cosmonauts Avenue Fiction Prize, the impact on local writers isn’t just about meeting with the Writer-in-Residence, although Deborah Willis, who she met with in 2012-13, remains a mentor to her to this day.

“I went to the talk by Marlon James and brought my Jamaican father, who could not believe a writer from the island was telling stories he could recognize and identify with,” she explains. “To bring my father to that event, and hear how James honours the language of his heritage, had a big impact on how I approach storytelling in my own work.”

The selected writers have had a wide range of accomplishments, including numerous awards. They are also heavily involved in the community — Harpreet M Dayal recently hosted Love Notes, a multidisciplinary arts cabaret, and Lisa Murphy Lamb is the director of Loft 112, a literary arts space that includes a micropress and has collaborated with the Calgary Public Library to create its Short Story Dispenser.

The Calgary Distinguished Writers Program 25th Anniversary Celebration will take place on April 30, from 7 to 9 p.m., at Hotel Arts. Reserve your free tickets today.