CULTIVATING CREATIVITY: ‘Pivoting’ the A-Frame Residency Program

By Janet Jarrell/Quinte Arts Council

One of Canada’s national treasures, poet Al Purdy, has deep roots in the Quinte area.

His work spans more than 50 years and he wrote and published 39 books of poetry, a novel, two volumes of memoirs and more. One thing that really stands out about this Canadian legend is the famous company he kept at the A-Frame cottage he and his wife, Eurithe, built on Roblin Lake: Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, George Bowering, Margaret Laurence, Milton Acorn just to name a few.

After the death of Al Purdy in April 2000, Jean Baird (wife of poet George Bowering) organized a grassroots movement to restore and preserve the A-Frame with the intention of it being used as a retreat for writers. Today, according to the website, this program provides “a place to stand” for the writers-in-residence who spend some time here. Most of the residents are writers; however, “the residency has also supported songwriters and musicians,” says Baird.

We asked her, how has COVID-19 affected this program?

“Argh. So many things have changed. Zoom has become a verb: ‘I’ll zoom you for a meeting,’” she says. “I fear for independent booksellers and the whole publishing community. But readers will still want to read; the delivery mechanism might need to change.”

In order to comply with health regulations during the pandemic, the residency program has been deferred, and the organization focused on the new online Alumni Anthology. The anthology acts as an archive of sorts. It is a wonderful compilation of photos, thoughts, experiences, tours and written excerpts of poetry from past residents during their time spent in the A-Frame.

“The stories and writing from our past writers-in-residence have brought us joy, and reminded us of the important opportunity that a residency offers to a writer,” says Baird. “Perhaps as well as recognizing the importance to care for our elders, appreciate and properly pay our front-line workers, we will also learn to provide safety nets for those who work in the arts.”

To date, six writers have had their residencies postponed: Charmaine Cadeau, Hannah Rahimi, John Barton, Felicity Williams, Madhur Anand and Sophie Edwards.

For more information, please visit alpurdy.ca

Reprinted from Summer 2020 issue of Umbrella magazine