Brenda Baker is a creative and award-winning writer, performer and recording artist from Saskatoon.
Baker, who will be a presenter at this year’s Word on the Lake Writers’ Festival in May, will facilitate a workshop on how a nugget of fact that resonates and nags at a writer can become the basis for a work of fiction.
“I have written many stories based on that one thing I couldn’t stop thinking about,” she says, noting the resonating nugget idea came from an earlier workshop she attended. “Part of it is discerning what’s worth writing about; when something keeps coming back to you, chances are you’re supposed to answer the call.”
Baker maintains people are often afraid to write about certain things because they worry readers will think the subject is built on personal experience. While that may sometimes be the case, she says, noting writers usually mix real people with fictional, or take a sliver of their own experience and flesh it out to its extreme conclusion.
“It is a way for us to imagine extremes without having to live them,” she says.
Baker says her inspiration comes from matters of social justice, a subject in which she has a keen interest.
“I certainly see what I do, in part, as what I am in terms of a social activist.”
She says she didn’t set out to write something to prove a point, nor preach, but can’t help being inspired by the human condition and human relationships – stories in the here and now.
Baker attained a bachelor of fine arts (with distinction) in visual art in 1981, has made coast-to-coast appearances as a songwriter for adults, with two original CD releases. She also starred in a TV series as a children’s entertainer, releasing three CDs and giving regular concerts.
She has won several awards, including two Saskatchewan Book Awards. One award for fiction came for her collection of short stories, The Maleness of God, and one for children’s literature for her novel Camp Outlook, which won the 2015 USA-Canada High Plains Book Award.
As well as her fine arts degree, Baker’s education includes attaining her fourth year in acting at the University of Saskatchewan in 1983, two levels of creative writing classes from the University of Regina Extension Program in 1986-87 and attending the Sage Hill Writing Experience, courtesy of the prestigious W.O. Mitchell Award in 1993.
She has been the recipient of several honours as director of Kids of Note in 2005, the hit performing group for children, with and without disabilities, who love to sing.
Baker began her career as a songwriter for adults, but audiences were small, so when asked to perform children’s songs, she borrowed material from the library and gradually built up her repertoire and a reputation of being a good performer for young people.
“I wouldn’t have continued to pursue it if it hadn’t reached my heart; it really prepared me for Kids of Note,” she says, pointing out that while there are challenges in getting children of different abilities to perform together, she prefers them to more segregated programs. “I really liked the idea of being in community. We all came with unique circumstances and gifts.”
In 2007 Baker launched Nexstage Live Music Performance Coaching to help emerging performers develop their live shows. In this capacity she has been a guest at numerous music conferences and has worked with clients in Los Angeles, Texas and South Carolina.
More recently she has begun to offer “creativity coaching” for artists in a variety of disciplines.
“I enjoy coaching and teaching and I enjoy seeing people’s eyes light up when they ‘see’ (comprehend) something,” she says, noting she likes to frame a lesson in such a way that students can have an ‘aha’ moment, an idea that first resonated with her when she was coaching performers who were gifted but had no idea what they were doing on the stage. “If I had just been able to have someone like me, it would have accelerated my own experience… coaching can speed up the process for people who are becoming who they need to be.”
After taking classes from creativity coach Dr. Eric Maisel, a world-renowned leader in this field, and participating in his three-month creativity support group, Baker began to develop a series of classes and extended weekend workshops that offer participants a deeper, more helpful experience in nurturing their creative lives and furthering their artistic goals.
Baker says she is looking forward to attending the Word on the Lake Writers’ Festival, which takes place May 10 to 12 at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort and Okanagan College.
“Festivals are important for so many reasons; what I get is getting caught up on what other people are doing and what I learn in my workshops,” she says. “I am always trying to draw things out of people more as a facilitator. Everyone opens themselves to the excitement of learning; it lifts up the whole literary community.”