The Newfoundland Writers Guild celebrates their 50th anniversary in this in-depth feature
During a reception at Government House on Oct. 16 to celebrate the Newfoundland Writers Guild’s 50th Anniversary, Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote congratulated members on their writing accomplishments.
“I’m an avid reader and many of you here I know from your writing. You’ve given me hours of peace, consolation, comfort and relaxation,” she said. The Guild is an organization where veteran writers work alongside young upstarts.Members encourage one another in their writing endeavours through regular workshops and are offered constructive criticism as well as encouragement.
From monthly workshops to a yearly awards banquet, the Guild fosters relationships among writers and helps in their quest to publish.
Charter members Helen Fogwill Porter, Bernice Morgan, Rae Perlin, and Geraldine Chafe Rubia, first became acquainted with each other during a creative writing course they enrolled in at Memorial University in the early 1960s.
Fast forward to Oct. 16, 1968 – to a gathering of writers at the Press Club on Springdale Street in St. John’s. That’s when writers formed the Newfoundland Writers Guild.
Actor, author and historian, Paul O’Neill, became the Guild’s first president. Fogwill Porter credits O’Neill (who passed away in 2013) for the Guild’s formation. “If it wasn’t for Paul, we wouldn’t be here,” she said.
A playwright, poet and novelist, Fogwill Porter said people she met during her early years in the Guild have remained among her most cherished friends.
“The Guild has been an important part of my life for all these decades… The amount of writing, including books, that has been produced by our members is just amazing,” she said.
Morgan shared that while the Guild has never had a paid employee or an office, members often lobby government on important issues. “We helped organize WANL (Writers Alliance of NL) as well. Our member, Lillian Bouzane, she was the first (WANL) president.”
Current Guild President Elizabeth Tobin Hastings also gives accolades to those she’s met in the Guild for encouraging her in her writing initiatives.
Hastings joined the Guild “somewhat accidentally” in 2007 after sitting with Lily Bursey at a poetry reading. Bursey was the Guild’s president at the time.
“I reluctantly admitted that I had done some writing. I had written a series of hospital poems when my mother was in hospital with a broken hip the year before. But, I had no intention of sharing them publicly at that point,” Hastings said.
That changed after Bursey invited her to a Guild workshop. “It has also given me the courage to share my writing at several out-of-the-province writing institutes – a marvelous learning experience. I don’t think I would have continued writing without the tremendous support from my Guild colleagues,” she said.
Guild members have been recognized with honorary degrees, have been invested into the Order of Canada and presented with accolades including the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council Lifetime Achievement Award.
In writing an extensive history of the Guild, members Jo Shawyer and Hilda Chaulk Murray noted that members today are grateful to those who founded the organization and established the practice of workshops as a way to encourage writing and mentoring.