Sawyer Thanks Canada Arts Council “For Nothing”

Canadian sf author Robert J. Sawyer says in an op-ed piece in the Ottawa Citizen he has a shelf full of literary honors but is batting zero-for-ten as a Canada Council grant applicant. Does the CC have a bias against science fiction?

Just last month I received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor General’s office. And on March 18, McMaster University picked up 52 boxes of my papers to add to their Canadian-literature archives — surely a sign that SF is now part of the mainstream.

And yet that same week, the Canada Council for the Arts turned me down for the 10th time for a grant to write a novel. The Council’s “Grants to Professional Writers — Creative Writing” are valued at up to $25,000. One might argue that I don’t need the money anymore (although I certainly did when I first started applying). But economic need is not a granting criterion, and bestselling writers of other types routinely receive grants.

Although Sawyer makes no claim of malice, it is eyebrow-raising to read about this experience —

But in 2007, after I arrived in the Klondike at Pierre Berton House, the famed writer’s retreat, I discovered the Canada Council had, for the first and only time, overruled the unanimous choice of the selection committee in Dawson City, denying funding for my stay.

Sawyer is one of the most energetic and effective marketers in the field of science fiction, perhaps in any area of writing. (James Patterson may have an edge, but his first career was in advertising). If the Canada Council for the Arts would benefit from a good word said in their behalf – like most institutions – they missed a golden opportunity.

4 thoughts on “Sawyer Thanks Canada Arts Council “For Nothing”

  1. I was refused a Canada Council Grant myself, a long, long time ago. At the time I was compiling a bibliography of Canadian amateur SF publications. Fanzines, of course, but not entirely fanzines. My bibliography also included the handful of semi-professional magazines that existed or had existed up to that moment. I had the backing of John Robert Colombo and Phyllis Gotlieb for the project, and even pre-orders for it from a small number of Canadian libraries. Phyllis was on the Canada Council panel, if I’m not mistaken. But, the application was refused, and I vaguely remember the reason given as something about the award not for science fiction. That was in the 1980s, long before the Canadian literary mainstream had been grudgingly forced by Margaret Atwood to admit that science fiction *could* be literature under some circumstances … ie: written by one of the establishment. The bibliography was never finished in any case — I got bogged down in a partnership with Mike Hall, who wanted to expand it greatly to include more recent material. In fact, it expanded moment by moment, as more and more apazines were published. Most of them from out West, one reason I suspect that Mike wanted to include them. I still have the core of the original bibliography, and should I ever have time to get involved in it again, I would likely expunge most of the material from after about 1982, which I had no copies of and whose data I cannot check for myself. But, apart from Graeme Cameron and Garth Spencer, I don’t think anyone really cares … certainly not the Canada Council.

  2. Hey, Sarah Connolly.

    During my three months as writer-in-residence at the Richmond Hill Public Library (31 March 2000-25 June 2000), I added a grand total of 1,894 words to HOMINIDS (seven manuscript pages).

    HOMINIDS is 94,765 words long, so that means I wrote just 2% of it while writer-in-residence there (nor did I do any other fiction writing during that period).

    As the official report from the Richmond Hill Public Library to the Canada Council for the Arts said, “Mr. Sawyer gave more than he got” — and I most certainly did: I worked my ass off for very little pay, critiquing sixty-five manuscripts, holding 70 one-on-one hour-long meetings with library patrons, running three major public events, and more.

    The Canada Council for the Arts partially funded my residency at the Richmond Hill Public Library only AFTER, at a public meeting on Thursday, February 24, 2000, the Richmond Hill Public Library Board announced that the Board would fund my residency (scheduled to begin just five weeks later) in its entirety regardless of whether the Canada Council ultimately came through with a portion of the funds.

    In other words, not until after it was public knowledge that another organization — the Richmond Hill Public Library Board — would get all the credit for my residency did the Canada Council cough up, and, as Sarah has demonstrated, the Council has made considerable public-relations hay over that fact ever since.

    But in no way, shape, or form was the Canada Council for the Arts specifically or directly funding the writing of science fiction. I have never received a single dollar from them toward that end.

    So there’s great irony in the part of that article Sarah chose NOT to quote: “Sawyer dismisses the argument from some quarters that science fiction is not serious literature and shouldn’t receive support from arts funding agencies: ‘Canadian science fiction is literature, and is of value. It deserves no less support than any other form of artistic expression.'”

    To date — ten years after the Council quoted me saying those words — they’ve still provided not one single dollar to me, nor, it seems to any other English-language writer who identified his or her project as science fiction.

    Kirstin Morrell — former chair of Calgary’s Con-Version science-fiction convention — reported on the blog of QUILL & QUIRE, the Canadian publishing trade journal, after digging through the Canada Council’s database:

    “I searched each of the last 20 years for grants to professional writers for creative writing projects and only found the names of two people who write science fiction: Derryl Murphy and Elisabeth Vonarburg. And Derryl said that he likely did not put the words ‘science fiction’ into his successful application. So, for 20 years they have given over 100 grants per year to Canadian writers, and I’ve only found one science fiction writer who writes French-language science fiction, and none for English.”

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