I’m reflecting on what an historic year this has been for TWUC and Canadian literature, in this, my final report for WRITE. Surely, what will be remembered by most is that our founding member, Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature. At the AGM in St. John’s we will make a grand to do of presenting her with a Lifetime Membership at the Saturday night banquet. Since Alice does not travel far, her daughter Sheila Munro, also a TWUC member, will receive the prize on her behalf. The presentation will be videoed and available on the TWUC website.
We celebrated the 40th anniversary of TWUC at the Ottawa AGM and at regional meetings held in November commemorating the founding date of November 3, 1973. Because of the scanty records kept at that meeting, it is only through the Founding Members Interview Project, conducted by Christopher Moore, that we have learned who all the founding members were and what issues were debated. For instance, the interview with Sylvia Fraser revealed that Pierre Berton led the charge to have non-fiction writers included from the start. Chris hopes to complete the project by interviewing Farley Mowat and Alice Munro. John Degen will make podcasts of all the interviews.
The most historic change for TWUC came with the passing of the referendum to include qualified self- published members. TWUC has been working on developing the criteria for this with input from the membership, for over three years. Now, (as I write this in mid- March), Eric Enno Tamm who led the task force, has agreed to chair the new task force aiming to develop guidelines, with membership feedback, for the jury judging the ‘professionalism’ of applicants’ self- published books. We plan to have the guidelines agreed upon at the AGM so that applications can be made once the Constitution is amended in the autumn.
I learned from the founding members’ interviews that TWUC has always sought to be an organization of professional writers and there has always been debate over what constitutes ‘professional’. From the beginning, a small minority wanted only ‘literary’ fiction writers to be included. But TWUC has always been intensely democratic and the majority rules. Within that, diversity of opinion is always respected. In this crucial year, I have sought to make the members as informed as we could, through reports, e-blasts, meetings, website, etc, so they could be informed voters. It is a relief to have a large majority in favour of this historic change. But minority and diversity of opinion will always be respected. We remain a union of diverse professional writers working together to maintain and improve our lot.
This is also the year of test- piloting TWUC’s new structure consisting of three standing committees, task forces with clear mandates and time limits, and liaisons. It has involved more work for Council to set up the task forces and liaisons. But they are working well, as you can see from their reports in the 2014 AGM Booklet available on the TWUC website.
Liaisons for improving representation in the 4 provinces of the Atlantic region will be implemented by the new Rep, Vicki Grant. This new system can be adapted in other regions. The forums, I must say, are not well used. Members prefer to receive direct info through e-blasts and reports. But use of the forums can be improved.
Universities opting out of Access Copyright licencing is our great disappointment. However, Access Copyright is creating a new structure and mandate that is meeting with approval and gives us hope for the future.
Our collaboration with PEN Canada on issues of censorship in Canada and the effect of mass surveillance upon writers has, and will, lead to more effective reaction to violations of freedom of expression. Our 2014 Freedom to Read Award highlighted our continuing concern with ‘muzzling’ scientific research.
I am grateful to all TWUCers for helping to make this year so productive, especially to National Council and our invaluable staff, Siobhan, Valerie, Kristen, Nancy and the multi- talented John Degen. Harry Thurston has been my wise helpmate throughout. He will lead you well in the coming year.
My departing words are from the Wolf Credo: “Have a howlin’ good time as you leave your mark.”
Chair, The Writers’ Union of Canada