Merilyn Simonds Protégé Project
Imagine you’re in high school, and you dream of becoming a writer. No. You are a writer. You know it because you’re always playing with words and listening for rhythms in the way people talk; you’re always inventing characters and stories from snatches of dialogue overheard on the bus. Language—words on a page—come as naturally to you as breathing; writing is the way you make sense of the world around you.
Now imagine you live in a neighbourhood that lacks a branch library. Your teachers are great, but they are working really hard to help the other students in their classes. Maybe your family is under financial strain. Or life at home is a bit chaotic. Your friends aren’t really “into” writing. In fact, they’re not really into academics at all and they sometimes pressure you to stop working so hard. Meanwhile, grownups treat you like garbage, just because you’re a teenager. Or because they think you come from the “wrong” side of town.
You know you have some talent. You love to read. You write a lot. But how can you tell if what you’re writing is any good? And how can you learn to get better?
Enter the Merilyn Simonds Protégé Project. This innovative program gives students who may be facing challenging circumstances an opportunity to focus deeply on their creative work over a period of months with an established local writer. The brainchild of powerhouse author Merilyn Simonds, it is generously supported by the Kingston WritersFest and several local donors, including Oscar Malan at Novel Idea Bookstore, and is offered in partnership with Pathways to Education Kingston, whose record of providing leadership, expertise, and community-responsive programming to youth in need is literally unsurpassed.
Lucky me, because I’m one of the inaugural mentors. Larry Scanlon is the other. Both of us are eager and excited to work with the talented young women the panel chose as the program’s first participants.
When I was in high school, I had never met a real writer. I knew they existed (they must, otherwise, where would all those books come from?) but to me they were mythical beings. I had no idea how one might go about becoming one. What might it have meant to me to work with a mentor as part of a project like this? It would have been a dream come true. That is what makes this project so important and so valuable. It’s a deep investment, one that over time has the potential to enrich our country’s literature and broaden the conversations we have within the arts community.