Vancouver Manuscript Intensive founder, director and mentor Betsy Warland was honored earlier this month with a Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for her contributions to literature. The ceremony, held at the Roundhouse Community Centre, was hosted by Bill Richardson.
“Literary Vancouver would not be the same without her,” Richardson said as he introduced Betsy. He was referring not only to her twelve books of poetry, lyric prose, and mixed genre, but also to her leadership role in the literary community.
Betsy co-founded the Creative Writer Nonfiction Collective in 2004 and designed the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, where she teaches and mentors new writers. She’s also the founder and director of Vancouver Manuscript Intensive, a program that matches writers from all over the world with mentors in all genres of creative writing.
“Politicians talk about prosperity. Is this not prosperity tonight? This is true prosperity,” Betsy said in her acceptance speech. She was referring to the twenty-five artists being honoured. They came from diverse fields, including Culinary Arts, Film, Performance and Public Art.
Betsy also spoke about the writing process: “I feel we are given our stories. It’s a sacred act when these stories seek us out, and we have to work very very hard to meet them.”
Each honoree at the Mayor’s Arts Awards was asked to select a promising emerging artist as co-honoree. Betsy chose Jónína Kirton, whom she mentored at The Writer’s Studio in 2007.
“Jónína has worked very hard on her first book, page as bone–ink as blood” Betsy said. “It’s a very important book, an investigation of her Métis Icelandic heritage–many stories that were given to her that were muffled or denied. And this takes–for any of us to write these stories–a great tenacity and faith.”
On stage, Jónína said that, prior to applying to the Writer’s Studio nine years ago, she had never taken a writing course. She was grateful that Betsy saw promise in her submission: “Thank you of course to Betsy for her kind guidance over the years. I never imagined I’d be standing here. I now see this as a career.”
The jury for each category consisted of previous Mayor’s Arts Awards honorees. They consulted the community at large for nominations.
During the ceremony, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson acknowledged that artists contribute immeasurably to a city’s vibrancy. He said that the City would support their endeavors by creating affordable spaces–not only studios and theaters, but also housing, because artists “need to live and sleep.”
Performances included a song by Sewepagaham, a Cree-Dene musician. Vancouver Poet Laureate Rachel Rose read a poem and spoke about her current project, a collaborative book of poetry inspired by food. Proceeds will buy Farmer’s Market coupons for refugees.
The night was truly one of prosperity.