Writing residency - Emily Stewart

24 January 2014 / Leave a Comment

Emily Stewart is a writer, editor and intallation artist. Her work constellates around contemporary culture, feminism and ecology, and has been published in several local and international journals. In early 2013, Emily’s installation work ‘Dear Reader’ premiered at the Emerging Writers’ Festival (Melbourne). She gave away thirty of her most-loved books along with handwritten letters addressed to the author of each. She is currently a writer in residence at the Arteles Creative Center in Finland.

What are you working on as a writer in residence at Arteles and what are you hoping to achieve while you are there?
My reason for coming to Arteles was to work on a creative essay about darkness. Finland in winter, where the sunlight is beautiful but fleeting, felt like the right place to begin this project. Darkness has so many literal and symbolic connotations, and I’m interested in finding a way to thread these through one another -- John Cage’s writings on silence have been an influential reference point for how this might look, as have been the essays of American poet Eileen Myles.

But also this initial concept has evolved into unexpected shapes. I’ve been working on a long poem that reflects my interest in Language poetry/ecology/feminism. Most of my writing fits somewhere within this triangle.

Something else I’ve started is a series of short texts called Unhappy Situations. These are prose poems written in a direct and plainspoken style, with a strong emotive tension.

Describe your typical day at Arteles?
Because there is nowhere I need to be, this has been a month without alarm clocks, a wonderful thing in itself. The sun doesn’t rise until about 9:30; often I start the day with a walk in the forest. Normally I’ll spend the mornings checking email and working on ongoing project stuff from home (I’m a freelance editor in my other life). Or just gazing out the window. Then in the afternoons and evenings I write. With so many other people in the house it does get pretty social – Finland has a wonderful sauna culture, and most nights that’s where we all end up. I’ve become very skilled at starting log fires.

How is your environment influencing your work?
I think a lot of what I’m taking in will make itself apparent in the months after the residency, but I can see some very obvious influences creeping in already, particularly in the long poem which in part charts the experience of this month itself – walking through birch forest, sweating it out in the sauna, learning Finnish Tango at a local dancehall…

Arteles is a large residency program – I’m here with ten other artists. I’ve found that this environment has encouraged me to extend my writing practice into new areas. There’s a lot to be said for thinking about the act of writing within a broader context of creative practice. Something I’d love to see happen is for writing programs to be housed within art departments at university. Certainly for me I’ve found that thinking about my work in this way has freed me to push in new directions and reconceptualise its delivery and potential audiences. For example, at our residency group show I’ll be presenting Unhappy Situations as visual texts handwritten onto large sheets of paper. I’m interested in how handwriting changes the transmission of texts -- this is something I also explored in my installation for the Emerging Writers’ Festival last year.

What would your advice be for a writer wanting to do a residency?
My advice would be to clear your schedule as much as possible in the lead-up so you can dedicate as much energy you as you can to being present in your environment. I would also say, it’s important to have strong ideas about what you might like to achieve, but don’t be too rigid about them – if you’re not willing to engage in your surroundings and be shaped by the experience, then you’re probably better off renting a room around the corner from your house.

There are some residencies that are fully paid, but these are few and far between and highly competitive. It’s worth considering the different funding options that are available to you – this residency was partially funded and I paid the contributing costs myself, but there are options out there to help fund your trip, especially if you have a generous lead-time. Places like the Copyright Agency and state arts funding bodies. I’ve also seen some successful crowd-funding campaigns for residency fees. And if you’re doing a residency overseas, it’s worth thinking strategically about timing – are there additional opportunities for setting up readings of your work in that city/country? Is there a particular festival you could attend at the end of the trip? Etc.

For more about Emily Stewart visit: http://emilyvalentinestewart.com/


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