Reconnecting community through writing and art

The Toronto Writers Collective provides expressive writing workshops to those deprived of voice in our society.

Jesse Cohoon with material from Laura Demers and Doug Grundman

The Toronto Writers Collective provides expressive writing workshops to those deprived of voice in our society.  Writing with others in an atmosphere of dignity and respect, participants discover the value of their own stories.  

After workshops were put on hiatus at over 30 locations in mid-March, the TWC pivoted to find new ways to connect with writers through virtual workshops. In only a few short weeks, this created ways to reach out to a diverse group of writers from Toronto, Mississauga, Ottawa and Montreal. Several regular workshops are now available Monday through Friday using Zoom. 

Doug Grundman, Co-Executive Director of the TWC explained: “Confronted by the new reality of self-isolation, we faced a challenge. The irony was not lost – an organization that meets the needs of the vulnerable and intellectually isolated was given the opportunity to reach out to a larger, literally isolated, community. We realized we could leverage that platform to convene writers. Jesse Cohoon, Director of Programming, and Siobhan Lant, Outreach and Communications Manager, put together email lists of participants, facilitators and supporters and established a community database of over 600 individuals.  Within the first week of government-encouraged self-isolation, we launched our first virtual workshop. Week two found us offering three public workshops as well as our first ‘in-house’ session with Dixon Hall, where I was broadcast into the centre, with writers seated and spaced safely throughout their meeting room. Through social media, we add new writers weekly.”

Community groups, health care and arts organizations are joining the grassroots growth. Several locations that previously held workshops on-site are now hosting virtual workshops for their members and clients. Other programming is being developed for a range of existing and new host organizations. 

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Asymmetries, 2020. Installation view The Power Plant, Toronto, 2020.
Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

As art institutions continue to seek ways to engage their audiences during this time of isolation, The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery (Toronto) is excited to partner with the Toronto Writers Collective to offer a series of virtual writing workshops. Facilitated by award-winning author Susan Ksiezopolski, the workshops will provide opportunities for both emerging and experienced writers to think about the connections between visual art and the written form. Using quotes and images of artworks as writing prompts, participants will gain insight into the artists’ creative processes, and the contemporary issues with which they grapple in their work. Featured artists include Rashid Johnson, Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, and Dawit L. Petros. The first four writing sessions, which will take place online every two weeks during the months of May and June 2020, promise to bring community members together through the act of creating, and to generate uplift for those seeking to share their work with others. Information is available here.

In times of crisis, opportunities appear. Travel, a significant financial and logistical issue for many, is no longer an obstacle to participation. Some feel safer within a format that offers them an opportunity to participate from their own homes. 

The TWC is looking forward to returning to writing tables across the GTA, but this pandemic has compelled it to establish new ways to deliver programming that supports and encourages voice wherever there is a need.  

For more information about the TWC and its workshops, contact Toronto Writers Collective

Jesse Cohoon has been working with the TWC since 2015, currently as Director of Programming. His faux autobiography, Out and Innuendo, will be published posthumously in 2050 after most of the main characters are either dead or forgotten.