On Wednesday, Sept. 18, the University of Manitoba’s centre for creative writing and oral culture (CCWOC) welcomed singer-songwriters John K. Samson and Christine Fellows into their recently-announced posts as this fall’s writers-in-residence.
Samson and Fellows, both of whom are noted for a distinctive sense of place in their writing, call Winnipeg home.
Fellows has released five albums to date, and will add one more to her discography sometime next year. Samson has recorded four as a member of the Weakerthans—five if you count their work as the backing band for Jim Bryson’s The Falcon Lake Incident—and one commercially-released solo album. He has also published a book—Lyrics and Poems, 1997-2012—and is the co-founder and managing editor of Arbeiter Ring Publishing.
Husband and wife, as well as occasional musical collaborators, Fellows and Samson performed a short set on unamplified acoustic guitar and piano for a crowd gathered at University College’s Great Hall.
They opened with “Prayer for Ruby Elm,” an ode to a recently deceased elm tree on Wolseley’s Ruby Street. Other highlights included a popular Fellows song, “The Spinster’s Almanac,” off 2007’s Nevertheless, as well as “Heart of the Continent,” and “When I Write My Master’s Thesis,” from Samson’s 2012 solo effort, Provincial.
Following their performance, Samson talked to the Manitoban about the benefits of his new job, and whether pursuing a university education is an advisable path for the aspiring artist.
“I think that anywhere there is life of the mind and labour going on is a good place to work,” said Samson. “I find it really helpful to be in the university community.”
“A lot of my friends are academics. I’ve always felt like I’ve gleaned a lot from them,” he added.
Fellows, who also spoke with the Manitoban following their set, shared her advice for up-and-coming writers.
Acknowledging the difficulty many face in sharing their work with the community, she nonetheless argued that it is necessary for improving one’s skill at the craft.
“The workshop process of showing work and getting feedback is absolutely critical,” she said. “It’s hard, but it’s important [ . . . ] Prepare to be shamed.”
Fellows and Samson will be hosting public songwriting workshops every Thursday afternoon from now until the end of their tenure at the CCWOC.
“Hopefully we’ll be a good resource at the university for other artists,” said Samson.
“And we’re going to try to get our own work done as well.”
Samson and Fellows will be at the CCWOC until Dec. 13. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (204) 480-1067 to arrange a free consultation.