Amongst the stacks of paper and books, Harold Rhenisch has his pen poised as he meets with residents as the very first writer in residence at the Vernon library.
With the library having recently opened its doors after a flood closed the branch down for two weeks, Rhenisch is now meeting with anyone interested in writing.
Paid for by the Vernon Friends of the Library, the residency, which continues to April 18, will see Rhenish conduct workshops, open consultations and discussions, as well as readings among other events.
All sessions are open to writers or those interested in writing, of varying ages and to all genres of writing.
“I have worked in so many genres, that I can jump back and forth easily,” said Rhenisch.
With a keen interest in natural history, Rhenisch has written 27 books of memoir, fiction, poetry, environmental writing, essays and translation.
He previously was the writer in residence at Douglas College and the Klaustrid Institute in Iceland.
For his residency at the library, Rhenisch will not only be meeting with writers but working on his own book entitled Atomic Okanagan, about water, salmon, the Okanagan, and the link to the electrical and nuclear industries in Washington.
“I spent two years travelling around the Pacific Northwest for this, and have collected about 40,000 photos. Now I am deep in the writing,” he said.
Rhenisch’s connection to the Okanagan goes back to the Cawston orchard where he grew up.
In 1992, he left the Valley to live in the Cariboo region, setting up homes in 108 and 150 Mile House, before moving to Campbell River on Vancouver Island.
Familiar with Vernon, having come to town for readings through his association with local writer John Lent and Okanagan College writing professor/publisher Jason Dewinetz, Rhenisch and his wife moved here three years ago.
“My wife grew up at Mara and my children were raised in the Cariboo. Vernon seemed like a cross section of all those areas where we lived,”
he said. “I had wanted to come back to the Okanagan and once we arrived in Vernon, it felt like we had always lived here.”
In 2007, Rhenisch won the George Ryga Award, named after the late Summerland author/playwright, for social awareness in writing for his book, The Wolves at Evelyn: Journeys Through a Dark Century, which is one of seven of his books currently available at the Vernon library.
Rhenisch has already become part of the writing and artist community here. He writes the blog, Okanagan Okanogan, and is a director and webmaster for Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo. He also continues to edit and help fellow writers with their work.
Rhenisch’s idea of a residency is much more than turning the pages of books.
“I hope to have a body of writers in the community with renewed vision in their projects including new ideas, practiced skills for implementing them, community with other writers, experience and skills at public presentations, and openness to new genres and approaches,” he said.
While in residence, Rhenisch is working out of the office, located on the second floor of the library beside the reference sign, which is open Monday to Friday, with one evening each week devoted to a variety of workshops. (No appointment is necessary.)
A number of public activities are also planned including after-school writing lessons for children ages eight to 15. The sessions will help them prepare for the Okanagan Story Contest and to have some afternoon fun with words, said Rhenisch.
They take place Mondays starting this week from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. No registration is necessary and the sessions are free.
Rhenisch will also be running two contests: one for adults on the theme of renewal, with prizes for both poetry and stories, and the other for young writers called The Big Orange Tent, in celebration of the new orange construction tarp decor on the main floor of the library.
“We chose renewal to help celebrate the way the library is rising again from our winter flood, and because, well, spring is coming, and that’s a great time of year for growth and new directions,” he said.
The residency will wrap up with a closing gala and talk about the future of books through community writing projects, which Rhenisch previewed to the Shuswap Writers’ Association in February and will expand on for the 2015 Shuswap Writers’ Festival.
For more information and a schedule of events, visit www.orl.bc.ca/writer-in-residence or call the library at 250-542-7610.