The University of Manitoba is putting its money where its mouth is, so to speak, with the creation of a new Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture, where scholars, students and storytellers from many disciplines and cultures will gather to research oral traditions and create new oral works.
Reportedly the first such institute in Canada, it has been operating for the past few months out of temporary offices but will move to a new space by March. The university has contributed $100,000 to the venture to fund workshops, lectures, community events and seed grants for collaborative research projects.
“We tend to think of oral stories as something of the past, but we also have to recognize that stories are a living thing,” says Warren Cariou, a professor of English and the centre’s director. An award-winning writer dedicated to the art of Métis storytelling, Dr. Cariou is excited about the prospect of bringing more study of aboriginal cultural expression – from the most traditional stories to those of contemporary urban youth – into the university.
“Aboriginal cultures are fundamentally different because of their oral base,” notes Dr. Cariou. Today, with more scholars forming networks and researching these oral traditions, in all languages and cultures, the new centre can act as a hub of scholarship and collaborative activities related to oral culture and literacy.
The centre’s inaugural writer/storyteller in residence, Métis poet Gregory Scofield, has already begun mentoring emerging writers and storytellers at the university, and plans to visit local schools to give readings and discuss the art of storytelling with young people in the community. As well, a program called Words in Motion will see storytellers and researchers traveling to rural and aboriginal communities throughout Manitoba and becoming involved in ESL and literacy programs.