Eastern Comma Writer-in-Residence

Eastern Comma Writer-in-Residence. Graphic by Christopher Truch http://christophertruch.tumblr.com.

There is a species of butterfly—found often at rare—that bears on its wings a writer’s best friend: the comma. It flies about the fields of asters and black-eyed susans, flutters in the community garden, and hangs out near puddles on the walking trails. With the comma always at its side, the Eastern Comma butterfly measures the shape of its world—just as the writer does—adding a clause here, inserting an adjective there, offering, with words and dashes and commas, a vision of the world.

That’s why this butterfly inspired the name of a new, long-term initiative at rare: the Eastern Comma Writer-in-Residence. Each year in September and October, an accomplished Canadian literary writer will be invited to live and work at North House for three months. During that time, the writer will work on scholarly or literary writing while interacting regularly with the community of people who are present at rare including gardeners, educators, students, artists, botanists, ecologists, geologists, archaeologists, and historians.

We’re very excited to announce Marlene Creates and Don McKay as our 2016 Eastern Comma Writers-in-Residence. Don and Marlene are prolific writers, poets, and educators working and living in Newfoundland.

Creates & McKay

Marlene Creates is an artist, poet, community arts activist, environmentalist and educator who lives and works in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland. For over thirty-five years, her artistic practice has been an exploration of the relationship between human experience, memory, language and the land, and the impact they have on each other. Currently her work is focused on the six acres of boreal forest where she lives. This work takes various forms, including photography, video-poems, a “virtual walk” on the internet, and thematic events with readings of site-specific poems. Creates received the 1996 Artist of the Year Award from the Newfoundland & Labrador Arts Council. In 2001 she was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 2009 she received The Long Haul Award for Excellence in Visual Arts (EVAs) from VANL-CARFAC, and the 2009 CARFAC National Visual Arts Advocate Award. In 2013 she received the BMW Exhibition Prize in the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto. In 2014 she won the Grand Jury Award at the Yosemite International Film Festival. Her work has been presented in over 350 exhibitions and screenings, both across Canada and internationally, and is in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Canada.

Don McKay is the author of many books of poetry, including Long Sault (1975), Birding, or Desire (1983), and Apparatus (1997). He has twice won the Governor General’s Award—for Night Field (1991) and Another Gravity (2000), and in June 2007 he won the Griffin Poetry Prize for Strike/Slip (2006). His collected poems, Angular Unconformity, appeared in 2014. McKay taught creative writing and English literature at the University of Western Ontario and the University of New Brunswick for 27 years before retiring to write and edit poetry full time. From 1991 to 1996 he edited The Fiddlehead magazine, and he has also served as a faculty resource person at the Sage Hill Writing Experience and The Banff Centre for the Arts. Since 1975 he has been a co-publisher and editor with Brick Books. As an essayist addressing poetry and ecology, McKay has published three books of essays. One of these, Vis à Vis (2002), was nominated for a Governor General’s Award and another, The Shell of the Tortoise (2011), won the Winterset Award for Excellence in Newfoundland and Labrador writing. In 2008 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada “for his contributions to Canadian literature as a nature poet and mentor of many emerging writers from coast to coast.” He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.


Our 2015 Writer-in-Residence was Lee Maracle.  Maracle is the author of a number of critically acclaimed literary works including Sojourner’s and Sundogs [collected work of novel and short stories]; Celia’s Song [her latest novel]; Ravensong [novel], Bobbi Lee [autobiographical novel]; Daughters Are Forever, [novel]; Will’s Garden [young adult novel]; Bent Box [poetry]; and I Am Woman [creative non-fiction]. Maracle is the co-editor of a number of anthologies including the award winning publication, My Home As I Remember. She is also co-editor and contributor of Telling It: Women and Language across Culture [conference proceedings]. Maracle is published in anthologies and scholarly journals worldwide.

The 2014 Writer-in-Residence was Karen Houle, a poet and philosopher at the University of Guelph. Since her residency, she was invited to speak about that experience in a Keynote Lecture at the International Conference Forms to experience the environment. Theory, experience, aesthetics and political criticism (Paris, October 1-2, 2015).  Her lecture is titled “Co-building environmental poems (ecopoetry) with, and for, different audiences and users.”

The Eastern Comma Writer-in-Residence is a joint initiative of Musagetes and rare Charitable Research Reserve, founded by their mutual benefactors, Michael Barnstijn and Louise MacCallum. Musagetes is a philanthropic artistic organization based in Guelph with a mandate to make the arts more central and meaningful in peoples’ lives. Working in small cities in Canada, Italy, and Croatia, Musagetes creates intersectoral collaborations between artists and communities. (www.musagetes.ca)

Eastern Comma will immerse writers in the landscapes and environments of rare and North House, an oasis literally in the crossroads of conservation, urbanity, industry, high-tech, agriculture, the arts, environmental sustainability, watersheds, gardens, and gravel pits. In addition to the writer-in-residence, Eastern Comma will convene symposia and literary gatherings, organize school trips, and establish post-secondary partnerships. Over the next few years we intend to establish an Eastern Comma publishing program with PS Guelph, a print-on-demand publisher that celebrates ideas and the social life of books.

North House is literally a house. It was designed and built by architecture students at the University of Waterloo, Ryerson University, and Simon Fraser University as Canada’s entry to the prestigious US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in 2009. With the capacity to produce twice as much energy as it consumes, the high-tech North House is permanently located at rare as a research and education facility. While in residence over the next few years, the writers will share their experiences of living in such a leading-edge house, complementing scientific research into the mechanical systems of the building. This will be an invaluable contribution to our understanding of how we might live in the sustainable houses of the future. More…

rare Charitable Research Reserve
Founded in 2001, and located at the confluence of the Grand and Speed Rivers, rare Charitable Research Reserve is home to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, and is an urban land trust located in Waterloo Region. With 900+ acres of natural landscape, rare offers the community, including the international community and future generations, a natural area, protected intact and in perpetuity. The reserve’s natural landscape provides historical and archeological evidence of human occupation for over 10,500 years and is a common possession set aside for its ecological value and to provide unprecedented opportunities in ecological and cultural research, education, and passive recreation. We have three foci: conservation, research and education. Our activities are guided by scientific observation and findings of our environmental research; the success of our three-fold mission linked to effective and varied communication and language. These fields of study have developed along the lines of scientific complexity of process and interaction between organisms and the physical environment. New ideas are emerging as we strive to include the human element by examining the role of humans within the ecosystem and development of novel ecosystems. In this we need also to move beyond a solely scientific or logical positivist framework and take into account human conceptualization and expression in the exploration of ecosystem. Language and communication in varied forms are essential to our successful outreach, furthering our conservation, research, and education aspirations. At rare we welcome with this novel writer-in residence initiative that will further the human-ecosystem connection.

North House
North House is a new and innovative, pre-fabricated renewable energy house that makes sustainable living attractive and rewarding. North House produces more energy than it consumes with a combination of passive and active solar design, integrated solar and geothermal energy production, customized components and mobile interactive technologies, produces an attractive high performance home that sets a new standard for solar design in Canada’s northern climate.

North House was designed as an entry in the 2009 United States Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The University of Waterloo School of Architecture led an interdisciplinary team with student and faculty members from the School of Architecture and the Faculty of Engineering at Waterloo, as well as students and faculty members from Ryerson University and Simon Fraser University. Team North finished fourth in the competition. North House now has a permanent home at rare Charitable Research Reserve to be used for research and education. It is a public venue for visitation and knowledge dissemination, introducing the public to alternate ways of living, alternate ways to engage with our interior and exterior environments, allowing public to correlate broader environmental issues with the way we go about our daily lives. In research at rare, it is a prototype to test systems and assemblies; to monitor its performance under a range of real-life conditions.

North House has been called a living lab to be used to continually test the limits of performance of systems and materials, investigating new and innovative technologies, and to develop a set of responsible parameters for the design of homes in the natural and urban landscapes. In this light, the sense of North House as a deliberate human habitat, in all its unique physical and esoteric attributes, can only be fully experienced and sensed in a full-time residency. Our hope is that that novel sensibility will give rise to some element of the creative process. Along with this benefit, North House residency also presents an opportunity to explore the human experience in an urban-nature interface.

Selection Process
For the first three years the writer is selected and invited by the organizing committee. Given the limited availability of this opportunity (one 2 month slot is available each year) unsolicited applications for the residency will not be accepted. In 2017, the committee will offer an Open Call for Writers, reserving the right to solicit select writers. Invited writers are requested to submit a short text on why they are interested in southern Ontario, ecology, the rare site, and North House. Every effort will be made to engage writers from diverse backgrounds.


These residencies offer participants the ability to delve into their work two complementary ways: as part of the research environment of rare Charitable Research Reserve and as a solitary retreat for focused work. We hope that visiting writers will contribute significantly to culture and the arts in the tri-city area, Ontario, and Canada. Writers are invited to the Eastern Comma Writer-in-Residence program for two months at a time. They are expected to participate in public events connected to rare. SOME EXAMPLES MIGHT BE: giving guest lectures, hosting other guest writers, holding readings, and/or writing articles for newspapers or magazines. Participating writers are expected to be present on site for two months without any major absences of more than 4 or 5 days.