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Last Modified: December 12, 2022
Feature graphic for Carol Holmes Profile: A Lifetime Achievement: A collage of photos of Carol with Writers' Guild of Alberta members.
Carol Holmes Profile: A Lifetime of Achievement

by Ellen Kartz

Searching through the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s (WGA’s) archives for a picture of Carol to accompany this piece, the available images break down into two general categories: photos of Carol posing with WGA members, fellow arts administrators, award donors, writers of all genres, and photos of Carol standing at a podium speaking into a microphone. That alone says volumes about Carol.

The Writers' Guild of Alberta Board of Directors.
Carol and the Writers’ Guild of Alberta Board of Directors.

The deluge of images is tireless, at times even moving, as memories of the events where the pictures were taken come back to me—award galas, conferences, AGMs, an endless parade of industry celebrations. “Tireless” is a good word to describe just about anything about Carol, because that’s how she was in her work. I know because I worked for her at the WGA for more than seven years before she retired at the end of March of this year.

One day while I was still new to the WGA team, I needed to draft an email response on behalf of the organization to some now-forgotten inquiry. I asked Carol, “Should I say ‘I’ or ‘we’ here?”

“‘We,’” she said. “You’re part of an organization now. And we are behind you.” Working for Carol was like that: it always made people feel like they were part of something important.

Carol Holmes standing at a podium speaking. Carol’s career in the literary arts began in 1989 when she went to work for the Banff Centre (now Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity) as Director of Commission Services, Writing and Publishing, Leighton Studios for individual residencies, and International Agreements. Of that time, she says, “Writing programs had a significant history, and I was happy to build on that with the launch of the online Wired Writing Studio, the first literary translation centre in the Americas, and a science communications program.”

In her years at the Banff Centre, Carol worked with a great many people who have left deep marks in Alberta’s writing and publishing landscape, including the veteran book publisher Glenn Rollans. Together, they expanded on programs for publishers, and worked collaboratively with the Aboriginal Arts Department in the launch of a program for emerging writers. She also worked with Mountain Culture on a Mountain and Wilderness writing program.

It was this wide-ranging work within the writing community that built a foundation for future successes and lasting relationships that continued once she left Banff in 2008 to begin working for the WGA as its executive director, and that laid the foundation for many of Carol’s success at the WGA.

Writers' Guild of Alberta members at the 2016 Conference.
Members at the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s 2016 conference.

“Working with the WGA opened me to a range of responsibilities and an understanding that an executive director often juggles multiple roles of HR, financial, fund development, IT, board relations … while keeping an eye on the big picture of direction, vision, and relevance,” she says. Carol faced many challenges during her time as director, not least of which was to increase diversity in the WGA’s membership. “I am pleased that the membership number has remained stable and diversity in membership has grown. I believe I left the WGA recognized by members, public funders, sponsors, and fellow organizations as a key player in the literary community provincially and further afield.”

Carol always encouraged a healthy and strong work environment in the office, and beyond. “I believe the staff was strong and felt supported and did wonderful work as evidenced in the quick turn around and increase in programs and support during COVID—support in terms of legacy funding and endowments, and legacy has grown and is a strong endorsement of the WGA and its future.” Carol’s focus on support for her staff carried over into how she dealt with WGA members and the larger writing and publishing community. She encouraged those initiatives she felt would serve the community well in the long run and her vision has proven true. Today, the WGA is a strong advocate for writers on matters like copyright and fair compensation for writers. Under Carol’s guidance, the WGA has become more diverse and has adapted to the shifts in the writing community, pushing into online delivery and involving rural communities—Carol always recognized that Alberta and its writing community was more than the main urban centres.

The images I found in the WGA archive reveal the leader Carol truly was, one who was unfailingly available to those who reached out to her, and who connected deeply with the community she served. Both of those traits are a strong part of the legacy of work that led to her twice being nominated for the Rozsa Award for Excellence in Arts Management, and to her receiving the Book Publishers Association of Alberta’s Lifetime Achievement in Publishing Award in the fall of 2022.

Carol describes the Lifetime Achievement Award as a great honour, and a wonderful and generous recognition of her work in literary arts and from an organization she respects greatly.

Carol Holmes standing with an author.
Photo credit: Melissa Penney

I asked her what she considers to be the legacy of her career, but she avoided my invitation to reflect on her own achievements, turning instead to the community she served for so many years. “I am grateful to have worked with a wonderful range of people and organizations, and on projects and service initiatives that I have found satisfying or creatively rewarding. I admire the dedication, determination, and strength of writers in pursuing their work.” I push her again. This time, she’s a little more forthcoming, but still reluctant to focus on herself. “In terms of legacy, it would be gratifying to know if, through one’s work and the programs and services offered, there has been a positive impact in a person’s writing career, or (that) advocacy initiatives helped the writing community as a whole. But it’s hard to track when working from a distance, and when the impact may be cumulative with no specific reference point. If my work has helped, I am happy to live vicariously.”

I don’t think of Carol as someone who lives vicariously. Working with her she was always present, invested in the moment. Even as she describes her legacy in terms of what others have achieved, I think: that’s it. Carol’s legacy is her ability to make others shine. The Lifetime Achievement Award is a recognition of the work she has done, of her selflessness in developing existing writing and publishing programs, generating new programming, and her endless support of writers, staff, WGA members, award sponsors, publishers, visiting authors. Her decades-long career in the literary arts has touched countless lives. I know because mine is one of them.

Ellen Kartz holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and a professional writing certificate from Mount Royal University. As an active writer and freelance editor throughout her career, Ellen worked with and for the Edmonton Poetry Festival for many years as a volunteer coordinator, event planner, founding member, and board member. Currently, she is the Communications and Partnerships Coordinator for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. In 2018, she self-produced a one-person stage show and poetry chapbook, both titled The Tenderness of Stone about a trek she made in 2016 through Nepal’s Khumbu Valley to Mount Everest Base Camp. Most recently, Ellen founded Armistice Press and launched a quartet of chapbooks by emerging queer Edmonton authors.

The photos used in the article and feature image are courtesy of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta and Melissa Penney.