Introduced in 2014, the annual Arnie Achtman Award offers an exceptional new writer the opportunity to publish their collection as part of the Life Rattle New Writers Series.
Every year, through the Radio Program, Life Rattle encounters exciting new writers. Some of these writers have created a substantial body of work. This calibre of writing deserves a broader audience, but the cost of publishing an individual collection is prohibitive for a nonprofit collective.
The Arnie Achtman Award allows Life Rattle to award talented new writers through the publication of their collection.
Who was Arnie Achtman?
Born in 1948, in Montreal, Achtman worked as a store
clerk, a short-order cook, a dance studio caretaker, an independent performance
artist, an actor and for the past twenty years taught Expressive Writing
at George Brown College, and more recently at the University of Toronto.
Arnie Achtman died March 7, 2005 at 11:00 a.m., succumbing
to lung cancer.
Two months before his death, Arnie celebrated the publication
of This is What Happened,
a collection written by a group of his former George Brown students who
continue to meet as the Friday Night Writers Group.
Arnie Achtman's 2004 introduction to This is What Happened
In 1970 I moved from my parents’ basement in the English enclave of Snowdon in Montreal to attend graduate school at the University of Toronto. Unable to engage the world in its variety from my parents’ basement, I hoped the wide expanses of Toronto would allow me another opportunity. I felt quickly disappointed. Toronto seemed like a very big small town. The exceptions—Spadina Ave., Chinatown and Caribana rolling its joyful noise down University Ave.—only reinforced my initial impression of a pseudo-Brit blue rinse culture with lots of Fran’s restaurants.
I spent the 70s and early 80s working as an actor, dishwasher and shortorder cook. Then in 1984, a friend of a friend offered me a three-month course teaching basic prose skills one night a week at George Brown College adult education. I just had to phone the program coordinator and I had the job. I phoned.
“Great to hear from you,” the director said. “Sue mentioned you to me. Classes start September 20. See you then.”
I had never taught before. I didn’t know what to expect.
My first evening in the classroom I met twenty-five people from India, the Caribbean, the Philippines, China, as well as Toronto and other parts of Canada. These people, I quickly realized, chose to leave their tv sets behind to try and find meaning and written expression for some part of their lives. These people wanted to share stories about their lives with other people and they wanted to hear other people’s stories too.
I rode my bike home that night trying to remember every face and every word from class. I had met a larger part of the world than I ever had before and I couldn’t wait to return next week for more.
The next twelve weeks taught me more about every thing that seemed important then the last twelve years. I signed on to teach a winter session class and a spring one after that. I developed an advanced course. Students came.
Teaching once a week turned into two, three and some times four times a week. I met close to a hundred people a week from around the word and the rest of Canada who wanted to express themselves. Discussions on all manner of subjects flowed easily. Sometimes these discussions erupted into animated arguments. My job was to keep the class on the writing track. I encouraged them to find words, sentences, scenes and images to portray accurately and vividly their experiences and observations to the reader.
As in all Expressive Writing projects, writers edited other writers and discussed one another’s work with each other. This helped overcome the isolation writers—especially new writers—feel when composing early drafts alone. Writers working with writers also helped create a sense of community where each member could feel comfortable seeking advice and encouragement from the others.
Four years ago, after completing the second class, a group approached me and asked if we could continue meeting. I found an empty classroom for a few months before moving the sessions to my home. The stories in This Is What Happened come from these sessions. There are others; the selection process proved more anxious and difficult than expected. Finally, these are our choices. I hope these stories find enjoyment with readers and may even inspire some to seek expression for their own voices.