Fifty years ago today, a group was formed that would go on to become a stalwart supporter of the writing community in this province.
In a meeting held at The Press Club in the Newman Building — today’s home of the Arts Council — they chose an executive and a name.
On Oct. 16, 1968, the Newfoundland Writers’ Guild was born.
It’s now known as the oldest continuous writing group in the province.
At its first meeting were Cassie Brown, Grace Butt, Harold Horwood, Paul O’Neill, and Geraldine Rubia, to name a few.
“There were people there who I’d only just heard of, or seen their names in the newspaper,” recalled another founding member, Bernice Morgan.
Morgan said she was “absolutely intimidated” by these “real writers.”
It’s a testament to the guild’s mandate that Morgan is now a household name in the province.
Anyone who writes and would like to improve their writing is welcome to join the group. Since its inception and to this day, the guild holds monthly workshops in which writers are welcome to read their work to the group and receive feedback.
Founding member Helen Porter said that feedback might be positive or negative, “but never discouraging.”
When asked about the guild, its members frequently use the word “community” — something president Elisabeth Tobin says is “very important.”
For Morgan, it’s been essential to her success.
“To have a group of people that you could meet every month and they’re writers, and they think you’re a writer, and they accept you as equal … I don’t think I would have kept on writing if I hadn’t had that support,” she said.
In an effort to encourage publishing, the guild organizes an annual rejection slip contest. The member who receives the most rejection slips during that year is treated to brunch.
The guild has also published four anthologies of members’ work, beginning in 1974 with “Newfoundland Writers” and more recently in 2006 with “A Charm Against the Pain.”
The group takes an active role in the creative life of the province: it holds writing contests and retreats, has protested against censorship and has lobbied the government for increased funding for the arts.
“We kept nagging the government for funding,” said Morgan. “Sometimes we’d even get to go in to meet with one of the exalted leaders. Don’t get me started,” she laughed.
“So now, there is a Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council and there is a regular way to get funding.”
The guild has hosted a plethora of visiting writers, including George Elliot-Clarke, Elizabeth Smart, Margaret Laurence, and Veronica Ross.
They’ve done all of this without ever having an office or paid employees — for 50 years, it’s been entirely volunteer-run.
Today there are 42 members, with two of the newest recruits joining this year.
St. Philip’s resident Lisa McCreary said she writes mostly for herself, but joined the guild this year to learn from others and get feedback about her work.
“There’s a wide variety of types of work people do — some people write memoirs, some people write stories for children, some people write fiction. There’s a whole range of information and guidance that you can get from other people by being a part of a group like that,” she said.
So far, McCreary has attended the special anniversary-year workshops but will go to her first regular workshop on Oct. 21, which others are welcome to attend.
For burgeoning writers, the guild could become for them what it’s been for Porter for 50 years — “one of the highlights” of her life.
“This means a lot to us that we could go on this long,” she said. “Fifty years — we never would have dreamed.”
To mark the occasion, there’s a reception today at Government House.
A history of the guild, researched and written by members Jo Shawyer and Hilda Chaulk Murray, is also in the works. It’s scheduled to be presented at the 50th-anniversary banquet in November.