courtesy Markin-Flanagan

Markin-Flanagan turns 10

Past writers coming to town

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A University of Calgary institution reaches an important milestone this year.

The Markin-Flanagan Dis- tinguished Writers Programme celebrates its tenth anniversary on Fri., Sept. 19 at the Rosza Centre. Writers who participated in the program are presenting readings and participating in panels.

Alberta philanthropists Allan Markin and Jackie Flanagan, with the help of the English department, set up an endowment which would allow writers to visit and stay at the U of C. The endowment has now grown to $3 million over the last 10 years.

Writers-in-Residence are promising Canadian writers. They stay in Calgary for 10 months, write and critique samples of works from students or writers. Distinguished visiting writers are international and usually stay for two weeks to three months.

Dean of Humanities Dr. Pierre-Yves Mocquais, believes the program has benefited the faculty and university.

"It's the one, if not the element, that brings prestige to the faculty and university," said Mocquais. "Linked to the program is the fairly unique creative writing program. It's the only creative writing PhD. It contributes to bringing students to university. It fits in the international area of prominence of the university's academic plan."

Many writers who participated in early years are coming back for the festivities.

Laura Robinson, a non-fiction writer, was a Writer-in-Residence from 2000-2001.

While she normally writes books, she came to the program and wrote a play. Frontrunners is about 10 indigenous runners who carried the 1967 Pan-American Games torch from St. Paul, Minnesota to Winnipeg, Manitoba, only to be told the torch would be carried into the stadium by a white runner. In 1999, the Province of Manitoba apologized and at the 1999 Pan-Am Games, the men carried the torch in. The play will now become a movie.

Robinson enjoyed her time with the program and didn't want to leave.

"You really appreciate people's interrelationship with words," said Robinson of critiquing works. "They have a emotional relationship with words. You treat every single work from the public with the utmost respect. Even if it's quality you wouldn't phone your publisher about."

Anita Rau Badami, a 1997 Markin-Flanagan Distinguished Visiting Writer, sat on the creation committee as a graduate student at U of C. She used the program for opinions from people other than friends or colleagues. To her, that advice seemed more valid.

"In second year, I was working on my own book," recalled Badami. "I didn't show [1994 Writer-in-Residence Ven Begamudre] my work. But he urged me indirectly to send my manuscript. He hadn't read it but he read my other works."

Badami's novel was Tamarind Mem and published in 1996. Her second book, The Hero's Walk, was released in 2000 and she won the regional Commonwealth Award.

She believes the Markin-Flanagan program is helpful for young writers.

"You need a dispassionate critique," said Badami. "Someone who has experience can look at a sample of work. A young writer needs that. It's someone they know, but a writer of standing."

Barbara Scott, a Calgary writer, used the program extensively. Her works, which were eventually published as the short story collection The Quick, were seen by many writers. Much like Badami, Scott liked the critique aspect of the program since her creative writing courses at U of C were not giving her enough feedback.

"Workshops didn't give close enough attention," said Scott. "[With Writers-in-Residence], you sit down and talk about your work for one hour."

Scott also likes how the program allows writers from abroad to visit, since many writers can't afford traveling to different countries. The Markin-Flanagan program gave her confidence to pursue writing full-time.

"I don't know of a parallel program," said Scott. "It's quite wonderful. It's astounding how generous writers are with support and suggestions. The program creates happy people."

Despite Markin and Flanagan's divorce, the program will continue, thanks to the endowment. Mocquais believes the program should be viewed as a concrete example of what they did when married and the present state of the program.

"[The tenth anniversary] marks the fact that the program has achieved maturity and a significant level of prominence," proclaimed Mocquais.