The Museum at Campbell River is offering two-week writing retreats to three local authors in Roderick Haig-Brown’s study at the Haig-Brown House this winter/spring. Photo by Island Life Photographics

The Museum at Campbell River is offering two-week writing retreats to three local authors in Roderick Haig-Brown’s study at the Haig-Brown House this winter/spring. Photo by Island Life Photographics

Prestigious Haig-Brown Writer-in-Residence program becomes retreat

Pandemic leads Campbell River program to focus on local writers in 2020

There’s another victim – at least temporarily – of the COVID-19 pandemic: The Haig-Brown Writer-in-Residence program.

Each winter, the Museum at Campbell River typically welcomes a writer for a live-in stay at the historic Haig-Brown House for the prestigious residency. But according to program coordinator Ken Blackburn, it wouldn’t have been responsible to do that this year.

“The residency typically involves a lot of consultation with local writers, host gatherings and workshops, public talks and the like,” Blackburn says, “and a lot of that isn’t possible this year, so we’re going to open up the study for local writers to have the opportunity to take a two-week retreat.”

After all, Blackburn says, just because the house won’t be in use by a writer-in-residence, Blackburn says, doesn’t mean it can’t be in use at all, and one of the things the annual residency does is foster positive discussion about the importance of the written word. The fact that the residency isn’t happening doesn’t make that conversation any less important.

“All of the arts, including the literary arts, need to keep conversation going, especially these days,” Blackburn says. “The arts are what will be there for people, no matter what happens in the world, and words have as much power to help, heal and inspire as any other form.”

The successful applicants to the retreat program will spend 20 hours per week at the Haig-Brown House – for a total of 40 hours – but exactly when those hours happen is flexible, Blackburn says, to hopefully allow a far broader pool of applicants.

“We didn’t want to say, ‘you have to be on-site from noon to 4 p.m. every weekday’ or something, because that would restrict who was able to apply,” Blackburn says. “This way someone working full-time could do the retreat around their work schedule. We could maybe even get a student who wanted to do evenings and weekends.”

Retreat dates are scheduled for Jan. 25 to Feb. 7, Feb. 22 to March 7 and March 22 to April 4.

During the writer’s time, each writer will have the opportunity to meet virtually with a previous Haig-Brown Writer-in-Residence for collaboration, advice and a bit of mentorship along the way. They will be expected to participate in a blog through the Museum at Campbell River throughout their retreat, but what other work they take on during their retreat is wide open.

“One of the things we’re asking for in the application is ‘What are you planning to work on?’” Blackburn says, “but whether that’s a novel or a poetry collection or a memoir or a play is up to them.”

And it’s possible the retreat program is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. At this point, Blackburn says, they are hoping to welcome a visiting, live-in author for next winter, but that will depend on how the next six months or so play out.

“There are no plans to change next year at this point,” Blackburn says. “We are going to go ahead and plan for a 2021 intake to begin in the spring for the arrival of a writer next November.”

Information on how to apply for the retreat spots can be found at www.crmuseum.ca under “Haig-Brown Writing Retreat.”

The deadline to apply is Dec. 11.

RELATED: Haig-Brown Writer-in-Residence in the national spotlight

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