If you're a writer, publishing employee, or enthusiastic follower of CanLit, you've probably heard of CITADEL, the new project launched by award-winning writers Jaclyn Desforges and Robin Richardson. Intended to offer the kind of mentorship and structure of an MFA without the associated cost and time commitment, CITADEL is a unique initiative, operating on an annual membership model.
On September 5, 2019, CITADEL will host their first fundraising event at a secret location in downtown Toronto. Tickets are $100 and the event will feature live music, tattoos on offer for guests, a DJ set by Russell Smith, tarot readings by Liz Worth, and more.
We got to speak to Robin and Jaclyn about what promoted them to create CITADEL, the difficulties they see Canadian writers encountering that they hope CITADEL will address, and the meaning behind the project's mysterious name.
They told us about how CITADEL will work, their existing members, their focus on accessibility, and what they see for CITADEL down the road.
Tell us a little bit about what CITADEL is right now and what the near future holds for the project.
CITADEL is a membership-based MFA alternative (or supplement) for writers.
We provide an immersive and totally supportive environment, with regular workshops and seminars that drive more authentic creativity, improve and refine craft, and provide practical career guidance. Each of our members also receives one-on-one mentorship with myself or Jaclyn. This mentorship includes line edits on a manuscript in progress, overall editorial notes, recommended reading, prompts, and tailored publication help. We begin each membership with an in-person consultation to ensure we are able to provide each member with exactly what they need. We accommodate both local and long-distance members.
Our mandate is to provide education, creative community, and career guidance, at the fraction of the cost and time commitment of traditional programs. We’re an incubator, really. Writers come to us overwhelmed and riddled with questions. Am I good enough? How do I get better? What should I read? Should I get an agent? Is my project working? Should I be networking more? Am I supposed to be tweeting? How do I get published? Where do I submit my work?
Our members range in experience levels, but these questions can cause even the most seasoned writer to get stuck. Some of our members are writing novels, some are writing poetry collections, some are just starting out and are looking for a nudge in the right direction. Ultimately, we are here to make sure they take those next steps with confidence, accountability, and dedicated support. We care and are passionate about seeing each project through to publication.
At this moment, we have eleven founding members. Our official launch is happening in September, but we’ve already held lots of workshops, a mimosa-fuelled open house, and a publication seminar. We’ve also published our first long-form interview, a conversation between myself and Miranda Hill about creativity, mentorship, excellence, and the pain that often accompanies creative work. And our community lending library of Canadian literature is always growing.
Beyond planning a hell of a launch party, our next steps are to improve financial accessibility – we want to provide support for writers applying for grants to be able to fund their memberships, and also to provide scholarships of our own. We’re also interested in formalizing our process into a certificate program, though our primary goal right now is to take our founding members’ projects to the next level and help them achieve their goals in their first year with us.
What prompted you to launch CITADEL? Why is this the right time and how did you choose your location and timelines?
Over the years of teaching and mentoring, as well as through our own experiences with MFA programs, Jaclyn and I noticed a serious lack of intensive and individualized support for writers. As valuable as I found my MFA to be, I left without a mentor, and navigated the writing life on my own, taking a decade to learn the lessons I am now able to pass on in just a few years. Great art needs great guidance, and in the structures that exist now, that guidance simply isn’t there. The way I’ve seen writers grow under my tutelage, gaining the confidence and capability to publish outstanding collections and gain quick notoriety, has shown me that this is an invaluable approach and has been needed in this country for some time. I’m just grateful to have found a partner I can pull this off with.
What’s so special about CITADEL as a format is that while many writers attend workshops in and out of an MFA setting, they have not had the opportunity to be a part of an ongoing community of peers, with mentors dedicated to their projects over the long haul. CITADEL is the answer to a writer’s often crippling isolation. We are here to be accessible, available, and totally committed to your betterment as a writer, and frankly, as a human.
Robin and I have been friends for years and have been playing with the idea of starting something like CITADEL for quite a while. We have both approached a place in life where we are ready to commit and set this in motion. As to why this is the right time to start something like this – frankly, the world is on fire right now. It’s all feeling a bit apocalyptic. The old ways of doing things – the old gatekeepers – are falling away. Personally, in the midst of all this, it feels more important than ever to create something new that aligns with our values. We want to help people bring forth the best creative work they possibly can. To speak their truth in a way that connects them to the wider world. In our current political context, that feels incredibly important.
How do you see CITADEL fitting into the guest writers' lives and processes? What do you hope to provide?
The core of a CITADEL membership is a combination of writing workshops, seminars, guest speakers (agents, publishers, writers, etc.), reading, one-on-one editorial feedback, and career planning. But each of our writers ultimately needs something different from us, depending on their unique projects and strengths. In our initial planning sessions with new members, we drill down and identify any stumbling blocks between the writer and their goals. Then we solve those problems. Some may need help pulling themselves away from their desks to expand their networks and connect with other writers. Some may need the exact opposite – encouragement to keep their heads down and keep writing to push through that final draft.
Ultimately, what we want is to be the go-to resource for our writers when it comes to craft, community, and career development. We curated a personalized list of residencies for one of our writers to apply to recently, and we frequently provide reading lists and submissions plans. We’re there, whatever they may need.
Where did the name come from? How was it chosen?
We went back and forth with name ideas at the beginning – we had quite a few different ideas, but once I suggested CITADEL, we knew it was right. It’s that archetype of a central, protective space where people can pursue excellence.
You've got a launch and fundraising event coming up soon. What do people need to know about it?
First of all, it’s going to be really amazing! The party is happening on September 5th at a private loft near King & Bathurst. 6pm. We’re going to have Ronley Teper's Lipliners playing, along with DJ Russell Smith. We’re also bringing in an awesome artist named Chris Cook who will be doing tattoos during the party. There are some other immersive arts experiences up our sleeve as well, and we’ll be raffling off a free membership. Tickets are available on our website and everyone’s invited.
This fundraiser is all about being able to provide the best possible services to our members, as well as to the creation of scholarships that will make memberships accessible to those who don’t have means. If you are able, it’s a great opportunity to contribute in your own way, while getting a great party out of it.
Can you tell us a bit about the writers involved in launching CITADEL and the current membership?
Our members are a continuous source of inspiration. Milree Latimer, one of our distance members, is in her eighties and hard at work on the first draft of her second historical fiction novel. Another member, nancy viva davis halifax, is an incredibly talented poet and a professor of critical disability studies. She’s the author of hook, a book she wrote alongside her experience and witnessing of poverty, disability, and chronic illness on the streets and within women’s emergency shelters. We’ve recently signed up Reid Neufeld, who is working on a book-length project about the social economic environment around service labour. We screen our members carefully before accepting them, and are so excited about everyone we’ve taken on so far. You will see a lot of great work coming out of CITADEL in the coming years.
On our end – I’m a Pushcart-nominated writer, editor, and workshop facilitator. My work has appeared in The Fiddlehead, Contemporary Verse 2, Minola Review, Hamilton Arts & Letters, and others. My first poetry chapbook, Hello Nice Man, was published by Anstruther Press in early 2019. And my first picture book, Why Are You So Quiet? will be published by Annick Press in fall of 2020. I’m the winner of the 2018 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices award and an MFA candidate at the University of British Columbia. I have a four-year-old daughter and I live in Hamilton.
I’m a poet and seasoned mentor. My latest collection, Sit How You Want won the Trillium Book Award and was named one of CBC’s best collections of 2018. I received my MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where I received the John B. Santorini, and Joan T. Baldwin Awards. I am a Berton House and MacDowell Fellow, and my work has appeared in Tin House, APR, and Poetry Magazine, among others. I am the founding editor of Minola Review, and I live in Toronto.
When you picture CITADEL ten or even twenty years down the road, what do you hope for?
First – well, I sure hope we humans will have solved the climate crisis by then! But my biggest dream, beyond my general hope regarding humanity’s continued survival, is that we will have launched and supported a new generation of Canadian writers. That we’ll be watching our members go off and have a bigger impact on the world than they’d ever imagined.
I see us expanding to involve more quality mentors and teachers, expanding our reach and capacity, and diversifying our approach and offerings. We plan to offer retreats up north as well as in South America and Europe over the winters, providing immersive, week-long experiences for our members. Beyond that, who knows; the sky is the limit.
Jaclyn Desforges is a Pushcart-nominated writer, editor and workshop facilitator whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Puritan, The Fiddlehead, Contemporary Verse 2, Minola Review, and others. Her first poetry chapbook, Hello Nice Man, was published by Anstruther Press in early 2019. Her first picture book, tentatively titled Why Are You So Quiet?, will be published by Annick Press and released in 2020. She's the winner of the 2018 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award and is currently completing her MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. She lives in Hamilton, Ontario.
Robin Richardson is the author of three collections of poetry, including Sit How You Want (Winner of the Trillium Book Award for Poetry / named one of the best books of the year by CBC), and is Editor-in-Chief at Minola Review. Her work has appeared in Salon, POETRY, The American Poetry Review, The Walrus, Hazlitt, Best Canadian Poetry, and Tin House, among others. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, is a MacDowell and Berton House fellow, has won the Fortnight Poetry Prize in the U.K., The John B. Santorini Award, The Joan T. Baldwin Award, and has been shortlisted for the CBC, Walrus, and ARC Poetry Prizes, among others. Richardson's work has been adapted to song by Andrew Staniland through The Brooklyn Art Song Society.