Purple Wednesday Society
The Purple Wednesday Society is a university society and publishing group active on the University of New Brunswick Saint John (UNBSJ) campus from the early 1970s to the present day. When Professors William Prouty and Carl Tompkins moved to the Tucker Park Campus at UNBSJ in 1969, they saw the need to arrange events to bring the new community together. These events, usually film showings, became popular with students and faculty. Wednesdays were a convenient day for showing films, and Prouty recalls that “one Wednesday in an afternoon class I was wearing a purple shirt and a purple tie. Someone quipped – ‘Oh, it must be Purple Wednesday!’ The next week several students turned up wearing purple and the name suddenly stuck.”
Affectionately known as “WP” to his friends and colleagues, Prouty became the driving force behind the Society, shaping it “to focus attention weekly on the arts and to serve as a vehicle for the publication of occasional collections of poetry” (Condon 23). The goal of the Society is summed up in the following statement from Prouty: “behind the PWS lay the idea that one does not need the permission or authorization of ‘those who are put in authority over us’ to initiate events and have fun doing so.” Society members strove to have fun, and Prouty encouraged the celebration not of individual successes, but of writers as members of the Saint John community. Purple Wednesdays at UNBSJ were thus a manifestation of his love for the arts and an extension of his work to promote class, quality, and community in artistic pursuits.
The chief activity of the Purple Wednesday Society thus became the publication of chapbooks of poetry. This began when two writers asked Prouty how they might publish their poems. The first volume by Constance Soulikias was produced in a rather hurried fashion. Prouty then applied for and received ISBN patent, after which “Purple Wednesday Society Publications” had official designation and were sent for deposit with the National Library. Prouty took extreme pains in this editorial stewardship, which often involved hours of consultations with the poets. Since the early 1970s there have been approximately forty publications of poetry.
In the late 1980s, the society became a co-publisher of The Cormorant, a bi-annual magazine of New Brunswick poetry and art. Prouty encouraged society members to contribute to the magazine. To mark Prouty’s retirement from teaching, the last issue of The Cormorant is a celebration of his life and work. Prouty, Cogswell writes, is the magazine’s “founder and chief maintainer” (21). Perhaps the most touching thing about the 1998 issue is that it is lovingly printed in purple ink, a tribute to Prouty’s colour of choice. The Cormorant is no longer published.
The Purple Wednesday Society also held a series of diverse events to promote arts in both the university and greater Saint John communities. One memorable event was a one-act play by Arthur Motyer entitled “Poets for Lunch.” The society not only published the text but presented a one-night performance of the play in the presence of the author, with UNBSJ faculty members as actors. Other events were the Paul Newman film series, Beethoven’s 200th birthday party, Science Fiction Day, a 70th birthday party for Fred Cogswell, and many, many other unique celebrations of the arts. A special publication entitled 7x5 consisted of chapbooks of five poems by seven poets: Fred Cogswell, Carol-Ann Noble, Kurt Skov-Nielsen, Charles Stewart-Robertson, Liliane Welch, Kay Smith, and William Prouty. These were published to coincide with the 1987 annual meeting of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick held in Saint John. Readings were arranged to launch these publications. One of the memorable readings was by Constance Soulikias, whose raised a poem from the page and dramatized it for the audience. As well, in conjunction with Ann Compton’s course "Maritime Poetry," the Society organized “Poets Talking,” a series of five talks by Maritime poets. In 2009, PWS sponsored “Spying on Books,” a series of discussions of novels. This was followed by “Spying on Books II” and “Spying on Books III” in 2010.
Authors published by the Purple Wednesday Society include Fred Cogswell, Hazel Hazen, Phyllis McKinley, Carol-Ann Noble, Kurt Skov-Nielsen, Kay Smith, Charles Stewart-Robertson, Liliane Welch, Constance Soulikias, Daniel Scott, Gail Bonsall Kaye, Alexander McGuiness, Rinske Salmon, Donna Lea Spinney, Stanley S. Atherton, Arthur Motyer, Douglas Lochhead, Muriel Cooper, and Mary Lou Joyce.
Jessica Davidson, Winter 2010
St. Thomas University
Bibliography of Primary sources
Prouty, William. E-mail interview. 21 Nov. 2010.
Bibliography of Secondary Sources
Cogswell, Fred. “William Prouty: An Appreciation.” The Cormorant (Fall 1998): 21.
Condon, Thomas J. “Purple Wednesdays, Happenings, and WP.” The Cormorant (Fall 1998): 23.
Noble, Carol-Ann. “To WP . . .” The Cormorant (Fall 1998): 54.