Reading and Writing in the Time of Covid - theHumm February 2021
Reading and Writing in the Time of Covid - theHumm February 2021
By Jaaron Hamilton
The pandemic has caused a significant number of difficulties for many industries and communities, but one vibrant community is finding new ways to foster creativity during a challenging time.
The Ottawa Valley is full of creative writers and readers, but Covid has created a roadblock for many. While writing may seem like a solitary activity, growth and development comes from the brainstorming and sharing of ideas through the workshops, gatherings, and in-person events that have been casualties of this year. These difficult times present an unprecedented challenge for everyone, but there are many new ideas that are surfacing to bring people together.
How better to connect with other readers, writers and literary aficionados than through book launches, author talks, creative writing workshops or book clubs? The past year saw the temporary end of in-person gatherings, but creative and industrious minds are coming together to build new online gathering places. Lockdown or not, there are plenty of ways for interested writers and fiction-lovers to unite and share in common enjoyment of the written word.
Writer, editor and teacher Robynne Eagan is actively working to find new opportunities to connect people and to bring the Ottawa Valley writing community back together. As she describes, she is looking for ways to “let writers engage together in this time.” Working on projects such as Winterwords and the Lockdown Writer’s Café, Eagan is seeking to discover and build talent on a local level and to feature more writers living in the Ottawa Valley.
“We’re looking at the pandemic and how it’s affected people. We want to provide some sort of platform for people to write about it,” Eagan shares. She hopes to help people process everything that this pandemic has wrought, whether positive or negative, and to gain insight through their writing.
“It’s a cool area, the Ottawa Valley,” she explains in an interview. “I think there’s a lot of hidden talent, and I am so inspired by the people you find.” This community is full of creative writers and poets. In this time of struggle, it is uplifting to discover that there are some who are looking to nurture this raw talent and to share it with others. Writers and readers alike are uncovering fresh new ways to connect with the literary community; not just locally, but around the globe as well.
Eagan says, “The world is open to people now. You can watch any conference and see all kinds of great writers.” Conferences across the world have established themselves on digital platforms and have extended their reach worldwide. From BookCon to the The Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, “you can go online to writing conferences around the world and you hear all of these famous writers,” Eagan describes. “It’s great.”
Connection is possible within one’s own backyard also. Locally, writing groups and author events have moved online and provide ample opportunity for people to tune in from the comfort of their own homes. By way of connecting the literary community against the odds, the Ottawa Writers Festival ran their Fall season virtually this year, and announced virtual programming for the Spring of 2021. Find more information about their upcoming season at writersfestival.org .
Candace Woolley of the Bonnechere Authors Festival says her hope is to consider moving the festival online to a virtual forum in 2021. Plans are still in the works, but festival attendees can stay up to date by visiting bonnechereupl.com/baf.html or contacting the Bonnechere Public Library.
Online video meet-ups also provide a forum for those interested in creating or joining a book club to meet virtually on a regular basis. Eagan outlines her own experience with writing groups online. “I’ve found with my two [creative writing] groups, we’ve gotten a little more personal. There’s a connectedness that wasn’t there before.”
Although writing is a solitary activity, it is easy to feel disconnected or out of sorts without the regular in-person events and sessions to brainstorm and share ideas with others. Eagan explains: “a lot of the writers I’ve talked to are kind of in shell shock. They’re really preoccupied and are having a hard time concentrating, and even reading!”
The pandemic seemingly provides ample opportunity to create and consume new literature, but the motivation is often absent. There is a lack of productivity, but as readers and writers begin to venture online and discover new ways to interact, there are increasingly more ways to combat the fatigue that this pandemic has brought. Zoom and FaceTime allow book clubs and writing groups to connect virtually throughout the winter, with the hope that perhaps in the spring, the possibility of meeting face-to-face will arise.
Staying connected to the literary community may look a little different for each person. Subscribing to the e-newsletters of local bookshops and festivals or following their social media pages allow readers and writers to get relevant, real-time information about what’s going on throughout the turbulence of the pandemic.
For readers seeking to remain connected in this tumultuous time, Almonte’s Mill Street Books offers a regular newsletter to keep the community abreast of their offerings and their pandemic programming. In addition, owner Mary Lumsden explains that their regular book club has moved to Zoom, they continue to offer personal recommendations to readers, and they have even hosted a virtual event with author Tim Cook (The Fight for History).
Challenging times and circumstances allow for transformation to take place. Instead of isolating people in their homes, the pandemic allows people to connect on a very open, human level, setting the stage for creativity to blossom. It may be virtual, but the community is able to rally together and find commonality in this shared experience.
There is so much growth and connection happening within this community and so much to look forward to in the months to come. Although it is easy to feel isolated, the support is there. Eagan says, “It is so inspiring how people are rolling with things and finding ways to get around it and keep things going no matter what it takes.”
By Sally Hansen
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We and Covid - theHumm February 2021
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