Canadian writer Kathy Friedman had been writing creatively ever since she could remember, and she also had a long history of mental health issues. She never thought to put the two together until she attended an event called “Art in Madness” in 2013, which explored the connection between creativity and mental health. After attending the event with a fellow writer and friend, Eufemia Fantetti, the two spoke about what a wonderful project it would be to teach writing workshops for others who experience mental health issues.
In 2016, the two friends were able to realize this dream by launching InkWell Workshops, in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association. InkWell Workshops is an organization that provides free drop-in writing workshops to individuals over the age of 18 who have experienced mental health and addiction issues. The workshops are all led by professional writers who also live or have lived with mental illness.
Some workshop participants even get published. So far, InkWell Workshop has had four anthologies published with Dundurn Press that include poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction that deals with themes like madness, grief, desire, and connection. The organization also has its own imprint, InkWell Books, that published “Connected in Creation” last year, an anthology of Indigenous writing.
Friedman, who is now the artistic director, says that they were able to run their workshops virtually through the pandemic, with about 20 people in attendance. Before the pandemic, the numbers were even higher. The attendees would gather in midtown Toronto to write and discuss their work while munching on snacks. The workshops are always drop-in, which allows for continuity, but also flexibility for those who may experience ups and downs due to their mental health.
Friedman stresses the importance of reflecting the diversity of their participants, who range in age from their 20s to their 80s and hail from many different backgrounds and experiences. “As we’ve grown, we’ve tried to look at who is not here and why,” she explains. “We don’t just want to say to people, ‘You’re welcome to join us,” she continues. “We want to be able to say, ‘You’re welcome to join us, and we have created this space with you in mind.’”
Friedman hopes that InkWell will continue to support those with mental health issues hone their craft as writers and bring healing either through the safe community they create, through the writing process itself, or both.