Trustee Spotlight: Christina Thatcher
Writing brought me to Wales over thirteen years ago. Before arriving, I completed my degree in English Literature and became a qualified secondary school teacher in the USA. Although I loved this work, I wanted to write and so I applied for a scholarship and, by some miracle, won! I had just 5 dollars left in my bank account when I received the call; everything suddenly felt possible for the first time.
Soon after, I was headed to Cardiff University to complete an MA in the Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing. At a postgraduate welcome evening, someone told me that I should look up Literature Wales – they had a database of writers, ran literary events, offered writers’ bursaries and more. That night, I read all about them and, in the years since, I benefitted from several Literature Wales’ initiatives including Writers on Tour and Lit Reach. I even received a Writers’ Bursary which enabled me to spend time tracking wild, Gower ponies for my third poetry collection-in-progress.
In 2018, I spotted the call for new Literature Wales trustees. I knew that my success as a writer and workshop facilitator was due, in no small part, to the support I had received from Literature Wales. I thought joining the board would offer me an opportunity to give back to this organisation that had given so much to me.
I applied for the position citing my work as a writer and workshop facilitator as well as the experience I had gained in HR and operations at a local language school. I never imagined I’d get an interview. And then when I did, I never imagined it would be such a friendly and stimulating experience: the panel was interested in my work, my ideas, my vision for Literature Wales as well as what it could do as an organisation to support other writers like me. In that room, I realised how valued my experience would be on this board but also how much I could learn and gain from the role.
I was appointed soon after, along with a group of other board members from different sectors – governance, transport, finance, education, publishing, etc. We meet four times a year and, although these meetings are a little different each time, we often celebrate successes and discuss organisational updates; address risks and how the organisation can adapt to change; offer support and expertise to the senior leadership team; and more. As a writer, it has been invaluable for me to see ‘behind the scenes’ of a literary organisation and also see the care, consideration and passion the people at Literature Wales have for their work.
During my time on the board, I have especially loved supporting staff on specific projects. For instance, over the years, I have read applications and shortlisted for a variety of Literature Wales initiatives like ‘Representing Wales’. I have also advised on operational policies, marketing campaigns and two strategic plans, among other things. Having the opportunity to use my expertise in these ways has always been rewarding.
Being a Trustee also means I get some exciting invitations! In the past these have been invitations to visit and stay at Tŷ Newydd, attend Wales Book of the Year award ceremonies, sit in on events at Hay Festival and observe a wide range of readings, workshops, launch parties and more around Wales.
Of course, no board membership is without its challenges. To avoid a conflict of interest, I am not eligible to apply for any funding from Literature Wales while serving on the board. When my second poetry collection was submitted by my publisher to the Wales Book of the Year Awards, I also had to step down for six months while it was being considered by the judging panel. If I had been shortlisted or won, I would have been away from the board for much longer. Although it might seem like these are big downsides to writers considering applying for a board position, I would say that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
For me, being a part of the Literature Wales Management Board has been an incredible privilege. It has helped me develop both personally and professionally, connected me to some amazing people and given me insight into what it takes to run a national literary organisation.