It was great spending a productive long weekend in the Vancouver area last month for the 24th annual Surrey International Writers’ Conference. One of the largest of its kind, it attracts Canadian and American writers from all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond—this year, writers came from as far as Wales, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Australia. With 475 writers in attendance, it was sold out long before it started, but the organizers did something terrific and generous: They stayed true to their new mandate to provide support and encouragement to young writers.
This was the second year of the Tan Seagull Scholarship, which is awarded to a deserving writer between the age of 15 and 22. The scholarship underwrites the full cost of the entire conference for that individual. (This year it went to 18-year-old Skylar Gruys of Nanaimo, B.C.) In addition, three full-day scholarships were awarded for for the first day of the conference to three other local young writers. As that day coincided with a province-wide day off for students, nobody had to miss any classes. “On that day,” says conference coordinator Kathy Chung, “we offer the same single-day conference experience for young writers as the adults get but at a fraction of the cost. The writers who come choose to give up their day off to improve their writing craft. They attend the same workshops, panels, and banquet lunch as everyone else rather than being segregated for teen-specific workshops, and can book blue-pencil editing appointments and pitch sessions like anyone else if they want to. For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve been taken seriously as writers. It’s a huge gift to us to be able to give them that experience and see them blossom as they realize they have every bit as much reason to be there as any other writer does.”
The presence of those students added a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the opening day of the conference. We all knew it was going to be a fine event when the typically stormy Vancouver weather suddenly dissipated and gave us this treat from above, which seemed to land right outside the hotel: