It sometimes seems as if there are as many writers' organizations and associations in Canada as there are writers.
If you write mysteries, for instance, you might belong to Crime Writers of Canada; SF Canada, according to its website, "exists to foster a sense of community among Canadian writers of speculative fiction" – meaning sci-fi, horror, fantasy and the like; there's the Canadian Science Writers' Association, and, if you work as a freelancer, the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Write erotica and live in Edmonton? The Alberta Romance Writers' Association is probably for you.
"There are many, many, many different writers' organizations in Canada and we're all, to a certain extent, siloed in our concerns, our own genres, our own disciplines," says John Degen, executive director of the Writers' Union of Canada, whose membership includes more than 2,000 authors. "For the most part, and for whatever reason, historically at this time of year we've all gone our separate ways, gone off to separate cities in Canada, and had our own little conferences. And I think, a long time ago, it started to feel like we were just talking to ourselves and our own little groups."
In March, 2014, representatives from many of the organizations – national, provincial and territorial – gathered in Banff, Alta., for the first-ever National Summit of Writers' Associations. "Our thought was that it would be helpful to get those people together," says Mary Osborne, executive director of the Writers' Trust of Canada, which organized the three-day retreat. "A lot of them are small organizations, working in isolation, and don't have the opportunity to connect with other people who are doing the same thing."
One of the main takeaways from the retreat was the participants' desire to work more closely with their counterparts from other associations. Recalls Osborne: "One evening, over drinks, we were talking about a 'superconference' that would bring everyone together."
A little more than two years later, the inaugural Canadian Writers' Summit, billed as the largest gathering of Canadian writers in the country's history, is about to take place. While not every single relevant organization is attending ("We knew that we wouldn't get them all," admits Degen) there are 14 organizations taking part, ranging from the Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers to the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society, to the International Festival of Authors, which is hosting the event at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
"Each of the organizations could never do something this large on their own," says Lesley Fletcher, executive director of the League of Canadian Poets. "They all have things to teach one another."
More than 75 events are scheduled, ranging from workshops and panel discussions (topics include "That elusive writing grant" with Canada Council for the Arts director and CEO Simon Brault and "Canadian invasion: Writing opportunities in the United Kingdom") to keynote speeches from Lawrence Hill, Heather O'Neill, Kenneth Oppel and Nalo Hopkinson.
"There's a very important shift going on right now in the literature sector," says Francis Farley-Chevrier, directeur général of Union des écrivaines and des écrivains québécois. "It'll be very interesting, at this juncture, to sit down and discuss how all those changes are affecting the way we write and the way we see writing as a profession."
As of earlier this week, over 800 writers were confirmed to attend, not to mention editors, agents, and others in the publishing industry and related fields.
"It establishes a united front amongst all writers across Canada," says Robin Sokoloski, executive director of the Playwrights Guild of Canada.
"Writing is done in solitude," she adds. "So this is a great opportunity for everyone to come together, share their ideas, inspire one another ... so that everyone can go back [home] and feel invigorated, that they're not alone, that the issues that they're having are very similar to others."
The hope, says Degen, is to hold a similar event every two years.
"It would take some sort of disaster for us to say 'That really wasn't worth it, let's go back to doing things on our own.' "