How to Build Community

Writing is a singular activity, which allows for isolation. This is especially true for those working and writing within academic institutions: outside of seminars, there are not many opportunities to engage with peers or other academics. Lectures – though everyone shares space – are often spent alone, attended alone, dismissed alone, to go off to work… alone. The nature of this work – writing, researching, reading – involves primarily isolated activities.

Being an events coordinator, both at University of Toronto Press and within the Toronto poetry community, I think a lot about how to facilitate growth and comradery, and the situations and physical spaces necessary for these things to transpire. In my experience, building community is easiest when folks are exposed to and understand how they can benefit from participating. Whether you’re dealing with professors or poets, these benefits include both inspiration and output.

Communities make competition possible, which can, in turn, inspire output. When you’re aware of what others in your field are doing, you are inspired to keep up to date, to challenge ideas, and to improve your own work. In addition, being part of a community includes shared deadlines, which help to encourage output. Publishing and conference deadlines force writers to work towards a goal and to produce material they otherwise would not be so driven to complete. When considering what it means to be part of a community, deadlines in this case are a perceived benefit.

In my role at UTP, I coordinate all of the events that the press attends, including exhibiting at conferences. Academic conferences are meeting places of shared, specific interests. They allow for people with hyper-specific interests to come together to discuss, disagree, and grow. These connections and conversations are integral to knowledge sharing and allow for ideas to be workshopped, new perspectives to be added, and arguments to be challenged. It is only through this process that disciplines can be strengthened. Things do not exist in silos, and when they do, they are not productive, current, or valuable.

These ideas extend to all communities, including creative writing communities. In Toronto especially, there is a lively poetry community, with regular events and outings. It is through community that there is such productive growth, both collectively and individually. With submission deadlines to journals, poetry readings, and writing groups, folks are held accountable to their writing, motivated to produce new material, and inspired to explore new ideas. There is both praise and confidence, in the form of verbal affirmations and monetary encouragement. Through book or chapbook purchases, awards and grants, or GoFundMe campaigns, writers are supported and encouraged in ways that isolation does not allow for.

All this is to say that participating in community building is nothing but beneficial. Joining and contributing to communities – academic or otherwise – is a very powerful, exciting decision. To build community is to be open and desiring of more, from yourself and your work. To be open to community requires presence, passion, and the desire to share ideas and to provide platforms for others to grow.