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Island castaway

Education professor finds creative inspiration in splendid isolation

Research

By Marcia Porter

When friends, family and colleagues get together and chat about their adventures and travels, Dr. Ursula Kelly can boast a little about her four weeks spent as an island castaway.

The Faculty of Education professor found herself “tossed up” on the shores of Fogo Island after successfully applying for a coveted Fogo Island Research Fellowship, which gave her the time to write the introduction of Songs and Stories of the Woodsmen of Newfoundland and Labrador, a book manuscript due from ISER Books late this summer.

Rare opportunity

“I love islands, and the possibility of spending time in a writing retreat on another island—cast so far into the North Atlantic—was irresistible,” she said.

Dr. Kelly saw the fellowship as a rare opportunity to focus on putting words to page in a community that offers contemplation, renewal and engagement.

Fogo Island
Barr’d Islands, Fogo Island

“I fulfilled this objective in an extraordinary setting, a vista of the ocean and a rocky hillside and a daily parade of numerous icebergs,” she said.

Dedicated time

The Fogo Island Research Fellowship program is open to faculty members from across the university, like Dr. Kelly, who need dedicated writing time to complete a significant manuscript or a major work of artistic creation.

“I maintained a daily journal of reflections on my experiences during the residency,” she said. “I observed and learned a great deal and the journal helped me sift and sort my thoughts.”

Dr. Kelly’s book, Songs and Stories of the Woodsmen of Newfoundland and Labrador, focuses on the expressive culture of woodsmen. It’s a followup to an earlier project, Mentioned in Song: Song Traditions of the Loggers of Newfoundland and Labrador, a CD and booklet produced in 2014 by the Research Centre for Music, Media and Place (MMaP).

Vibrant community

While the splendid isolation of Fogo Island gave her the writing time she needed, Dr. Kelly also met with local residents, including family members of composers whose songs are part of the Mentioned in Song research and Songs and Stories.

“In some cases, the songs were unknown to them,” she said. “It was an honour to be part of bringing a song back home, so to speak.”

“Fogo Islanders know the value of strong communities. They have a very clear sense of the importance of their island and want a voice in determining its future.” —Dr. Ursula Kelly

The residency program also included a public presentation. Dr. Kelly, along with Dr. Meghan Forsyth of Memorial’s School of Music, presented the research published in Mentioned in Song.

“The mixed media show presented the social history of logging and featured archival recordings and historic photographs along with performances by Fogo Island musicians and writers,” she said. “It was well attended and received by the local community.”

Dr. Kelly said her Fogo Island experience offered an important reminder of how much there is to learn from listening to people.

“I encountered an eloquence and passion that moved me deeply,” she said. “The residents I met were open, generous and thoughtful,” she said. “Fogo Islanders know the value of strong communities. They have a very clear sense of the importance of their island and want a voice in determining its future.

“The people and landscape are the true and abiding strengths of Fogo Island and are what is most remarkable about it.”


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