Workshop: On Being Here Now: Writing Change and the Social Subject

On Being Here Now: Writing Change and the Social Subject

What happens at this moment in time when we think our way through our writing and write our way through our thinking towards an understanding of what matters?

There are many entrances. The following questions and ideas, small provocations, provide provisional openings. You will bring your own aspirations and ideas to our shared workshop table where we will write and share our writing. 

Dynamic social movements in the past few years have raised the stakes of what it means to be a social subject demanding that we think through our responsibilities and commitments to each other.

The social subject brings to mind the way our individual idiosyncratic lives are embedded in the collective we live within - the neighbourhood, city or countryside, province, nation state, and global world. It asks us to account for a world riven with scripts of difference and dis/empowerment.

Thinking about the social subject asks us about the things we surround ourselves with - the commodified objects and tender attachments. The living beings we connect with - our friends, animals, children, families (birth and adopted or improvised). 

How do we write through our affiliated networks: the political, spiritual, workplace, schoolspace, or other communitarian sites including the natural interconnected world we find ourselves inside by diving deep into our city’s blessed 23km of river valleys?

What is the place in writing for the atomized lonely begonia moments we sit inside at times?

The social subject asks us to imagine the issues and concerns we are implicated or folded into - including explorations of our own histories, immediate or extended. We may reach into the genealogical labyrinth with research that can shape our understanding of our being here now. Productive insight and paradox in new writing can develop when, for instance, the adoptive mother discovers her great aunt probably died in childbirth, probably forced into one of the first urban prairie homes for unwed mothers not far from an understaffed early 20th century orphanage. (Did the child survive?)

At a moment of resurgence when Indigenous voices are publishing a proliferating body of brilliant and innovative work, readers and writers encounter the marked difference between a culture of listening and a culture that hears.

For those of us whose immigration to this land is marked by settlement, the violence of colonial history shapes the very space we take up. Our homes stake out a site of possession overlaid on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples. Mapping the trajectories of settler narratives in Canada reveals the deadly calamity of genocide in what Aileen Morton-Robinson calls “the white possessive”.

How might we write our way towards possible worlds, imagined in a way that illuminates the present? 

How might we find community to share in the labour?

And how do genres of writing offer up useful platforms where we can exercise language and catch on to its dance? Where does one genre begin and another end when, for instance, the prose poem disappears into flash creative nonfiction?

Author Bio:

Janice Williamson began to write as a young girl but didn’t publish until her thirties when she procrastinated long enough on finishing her PhD dissertation to experiment with prose and poetry. She has written and edited books and essays and chapbooks exploring women’s writing, adoptive mothering, sexuality, sexual violence, peace activism, war, difference and power, torture, shopping, death, desire, and other things. For over thirty years, she taught Canadian and women’s literature, cultural studies and creative writing at the University of Alberta. This year she was awarded the UofA AWA Academic Woman of the Year Award for lifetime achievement: