Finding the voice within

Heather Killen
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Writers’ group works from the inside out

By Heather Killen

The Spectator


Altered Pens, Altered Lives: Creative Writings of Authors’ Ink, an exhibition of writing and visual art, is showing at the Macdonald Museum April 8 through April 28.

Jane Baskwill organized this exhibit in celebration of the creative work of local writers and their connection with Authors’ Ink, a writing group that meets regularly at the Macdonald Museum.

Baskwill said this exhibit began as a sabbatical project two years ago through her work at Mount Saint Vincent University. She wanted to talk to a group of women about their lifelong connections to writing.

As the project evolved, she decided to create a visual exhibition to illustrate the spirit of the group’s sessions. Baskwill says many of the women she initially included in the project began writing when they were still children.

“I wanted to focus on women who had been writing all of their lives,” she said.

“Some were encouraged to write by their parents, or grandparents. In some cases, they were encouraged to write thank you letters.  In others, something happened and they found that writing helped them to overcome an obstacle.”

Baskwill says that early on, her parents encouraged her to write, even allowing her to write her thoughts over her bedroom walls.  When she was older, she began writing in a journal.

Many of the those participating in the exhibit have written their way through life’s challenges, finding their voice changing throughout the course of their life’s journey. Donna Burton, of Middleton, said she spent most of her career as a corporate writer, preparing communications materials for business and government agencies.


New Voice

A few years ago in 2008, an accident altered the course of her life. She found herself struggling to regain her voice. A few years ago, she joined Author’s Ink and this has rekindled her passion for writing and helped her develop a new voice.

Now she is turning towards creative writing and has discovered a passion for Haiku.

“I joined the group with a belief in arts and medicine and it has helped me find a new voice,” she said. “Jane has been an amazing leader, bringing out the best in all of us.”

Paulette Whitman, another lifelong writer, is also part of the Altered Lives project. For the past several years she has struggled to maintain her voice after being diagnosed with a neurological condition that interferes with her ability to find words. She has now begun to express herself visually through painting.

 “I still want to keep my voice, it comes and it goes. I don’t know how much longer I’ll have either voice,” she said. “I do what I can. I started painting because I missed writing and it was a way to keep busy. I still need to anchor the paintings with words.”                                


Writing Helps

Baskwill says that the Altered Lives project explores how writing has helped each woman to connect her inner world with the outer world. Just as writing fosters self-awareness, the process also connects the inner voice with others.

 Writers are better able to find and accept their own voices with support from fellow writers, she added. Each writer needs an external audience in order to build confidence in her own voice.

“I found that most of the women I talked to belonged to some kind of writer’s group,” she said. “So I began looking at writers groups and the importance of belonging to a community of writers.”

Baskwill said the women she interviewed convinced her that their group is such an inspiring and supportive part of the process, she needed to invite all the writers of Author’s Ink to participate in the exhibit.


Own Voice

“The group helps each member to recognize her own voice as a writer, rather than someone who writes,” she said. “They were each challenged and motivated to write pieces the others would enjoy. And having this supportive audience also helps writers to better accept their own voices.”

Writers of various levels and interests contribute to Author’s Ink. Some voices are published authors, others are writing to preserve stories for their own family.

“What each member contributes is important to the whole group,” she said. “What each one says ripples outwards. You never know when you will have an impact on others, but you have a responsibility to speak from your own place as a witness.”

Altered Pens, Altered Lives: Creative Writings of Authors’ Ink, an exhibition of writing and visual art, is showing at the Macdonald Museum April 8 through April 28.


Organizations: Macdonald Museum, Mount Saint Vincent University, New Voice

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