What does memory bring? More exactly what do we bring to memory? In the case of the early days of Prairie Fire, one remembers the coming together of several disparate artists and administrators at the cramped space on Donald St., the Arts Administrative Centre.
It provided the template for Artspace only a couple of years later. What was important about it was that Prairie Fire was one of the groups as it grew into a literary magazine in the midst of composers, publishers, writers, and, most important for this particular memory, playwrights.
Maybe it was because everyone was together yet separate in pursuing artistic goals that Prairie Fire, from the start, recognized playwriting and theatre as literature. Of course a literary magazine implies fiction and poetry, but PF’s serious early commitment to Manitoba playwrights, was important to them and the theatre boom of the 80s they helped to create. I was Co-ordinator of the Manitoba Association of Playwrights at the time. Andris Taskans asked me to be Drama Editor of the magazine.
Looking at those early issues nostalgia doesn’t dominate my thinking; rather it is the quiet excitement I felt then and now that the writing and theatre community weren’t so distant but in fact part of the fabric of the creative scene in the city and province. In addition there were film reviews of local filmmakers, the Winnipeg Film Group being housed only a couple of blocks away.
I don’t know how much I contributed to the early days of Prairie Fire, but I was grateful for the opportunity to build it in a small way through introducing Manitoba playwrights to a wider literary community. It was important to do so.
This is then some notes towards a memoir, and fuller examination might yield more insight.
The basic insight remains clear. The synchronicity of being in the same space brought about the meeting of many minds and for that moment, Prairie Fire shone as a place for writers in all media. As far as I can tell, it still does.
Rory Runnells is a Winnipeg writer. For 34 years, he was Executive Director of the Manitoba Association of Playwrights (1983-2017). He is Drama Editor of Prairie Fire, contributes a “Perspectives” column to the Manitoba Opera program, and reviews fiction for the Winnipeg Free Press.