Given its small size, Sackville contains a surprisingly vibrant literary community. In addition to the author talks, writing groups, and other campus-based events, many writers and groups off campus contribute to Sackville’s bookish flare.
“You get exposed to a lot more cultural information [here] than in any other small town of four or five thousand people,” said Chris Eaton, a Mount Allison graduate and fiction writer now based in Sackville.
Ian McKinley, Sackville-based fantasy writer and Tantramar’s regional representative of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, believes that this cultural breadth is in part due to the nature of the Sackville community, which is comprised of dedicated people willing to put in effort toward its growth.
“We sometimes view institutions as being important without remembering that institutions are made of individuals. If you have committed people in a community, things will start happening,” McKinley said.
Eaton said that the town’s small size makes it supportive for writers. “It’s easier for a community to form because everyone becomes part of it de facto,” he said.
Marilyn Lerch, who moved to Sackville in 1997 and has served as the town’s poet laureate since 2012, said that she came here with the intent to get involved in the small community.
Inspired by Sackville’s rich literary history, which continues to influence writers today, Lerch said, “I learned very quickly that behind us were G.D. Roberts, John Thompson, and Douglas Lochhead,” referring to several Sackville poets whose writing was heavily influenced by the region’s physical landscape. “When I first came to Sackville, I was doing that…walking the land, just trying to look around,” Lerch said.
McKinley thinks there currently exists a divide between student and non-student groups and events in Sackville. He feels that an increased interconnectedness between students and other community members is key to the literary scene’s continued growth.
As part of an effort to bridge this gap, Lerch organized a variety of events for National Poetry Month last April that allowed for collaboration between students and other community members. As one part of this, volunteers visited elementary and middle schools in Sackville to run classes about poetry and lead activities related to reading and writing.
“That was a community effort from students at Mt. A to a committed group of community leaders, the town of Sackville, all pitching in,” said McKinley.
In the wake of Poetry Month’s success, Lerch has begun to organize a literary arts committee in Sackville, comprised of students and non-students, that strives to continue to foster collaboration. She believes that in order to overcome the student/community divide, “the first thing we have to do is talk to each other.”
“There’s no reason we can’t sit down and read our work to each other and be excited…there’s room for that, and I think we’ve started to do that.”
Lerch and McKinley both said that they were hopeful that the community will continue to develop even after they leave their formal positions.
“I think we are in a period of literary growth,” said Lerch.
For more information about the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, visit wfnb.ca/
Cecilia Stuart is a member of the above-mentioned Sackville literary arts committee.