Global Woman of Vision: Alice Major
This poet helped Edmonton establish a thriving poetry scene while simultaneously cultivating her own career.
photography by Cooper & O'Hara
Alice Major’s path to a career as a poet certainly wasn’t straightforward. Major grew up in Toronto — where she moved with her family from Scotland at the age of 7 — and found herself unable to even think about a career as an artist because she just couldn’t find the resources. “I grew up in a time and a part of Toronto where there wasn’t a lot of arts activity, and there was no way I could reach out and find other people that did this sort of thing or were interested in it,” says Major. “And you can’t create art without community. Even though you think poets are up there in an attic by themselves, you have to have a community that helps you find yourself, find your voice.”
Major cycled through on a variety of different jobs throughout her 20s, working at a bank, art gallery, newspaper association and PR firm before a job opportunity working in public relations for an electric utility company brought her to Edmonton. “I really expected to stay here a couple of years and move on,” says Major. She met poet Shirley Serviss, who brought her to meet the poetry group she gathered with on a regular basis, and the rest is history. “I did find other poets for the very first time in my entire life,” says Major. “And for the first time, I brought my poems out of the folders and shared. And honestly it was the most heart stopping experience… it was a big deal, and that was the thread that led me in.”
Once she was through the doorway, Major got to work building Edmonton’s poetry community — and was soon named Edmonton’s very first Poet Laureate. Since the job description wasn’t even created at the time she stepped into the position, she helped craft what exactly the Poet Laureate’s responsibilities were. “You were going to be asked to write some poems, but your main job was to be am ambassador for the form,” says Major. She went on to continue championing the written word for years to come — Major has held the role of the president of the Writers Guild of Alberta, chair of the Edmonton Arts Council, president of the League of Canadian Poets, and perhaps closest to her heart, founder of the Edmonton Poetry Festival.
Initially, she thought the Edmonton Poetry Festival would be a one-time event — Major had a vision of spotlighting the different genres of poetry. “My idea at the time was to pull together different strands,” she says. The festival has now been going strong for 13 years and attracts an audience of over 4,000 people, and Major is still constantly trying to weave together all the voices to craft a balanced festival. “We have poets coming from across Canada, we have all the different streams. We have a lot of programming that we’re trying to reach marginalized communities because those voices really need to be heard… we have people from different cultural backgrounds, we have people from racial minorities, we have indigenous writers at all levels, all different approaches to poetry. And they are bringing their skills and their voices to share with our skills and our voices,” says Major.
In addition to championing the arts community as a whole, Major continues to pen her own works and has recently published her eleventh book, entitled Welcome to the Anthropocene.