Monthly Archives: April 2015

BWS 06.05.15: Zainab Amadahy

Zainab

Zainab Amadahy is an author, screenwriter, researcher and educator. Her publications include Wielding the Force: The Science of Social Justice,which explores how emerging science has relevance for spiritual development, social justice and community organizing, and Resistance, her second science fiction novel. She also has a background in medical and photovoltaic (solar energy) technologies and has worked for a variety of community organizations in the areas of aboriginal services, indigenous knowledge reclamation, non-profit housing, women’s services, migrant settlement and community arts.

Meet Zainab in her guest post below!

An Unfinished Story of Zainab Amadahy

The context of sharing myself in this post is one in which I receive news about another police shooting of an unarmed Black man and reflect upon endless articles concerning disappearances, murders and assaults on Indigenous women. I sometimes feel like there are so many ways in which progressive social change eludes us. Yet, hope never does, and that is why so many of us continue in our writing and other work to co-create a better future for coming generations.

My mother likes to say I’ve been an activist since before I was born, because she recounts tales of going to civil rights demonstrations when she was pregnant with me.

I was born in New York City, to a White mother and a “Black Indian” father. Measuring Indigenous blood quantum on my father’s side of the family has always been an inexact science. Measuring African blood quantum was never an issue since we have always grudgingly accepted the One-Drop Rule, (one drop of African blood makes you African-American), imposed by the U.S. context in which we lived.

Suffice to say, both my father’s parents were mixed-race, with African, Indigenous and European ancestry, and it is unlikely that anyone from my great-grandparents on down knew the exact percentages of any of it. Being enslaved can do that to a family.

My father’s parents died when he was young. His paternal grandmother was Seminole and married a “Negro” who taught at Alabama’s Tuskegee University. His maternal grandmother, who raised him and his siblings in a small Black community outside of Staunton, Virginia, was a mix of Black and Cherokee and had been enslaved since birth on the Reynolds tobacco plantation. She was a child when the Emancipation Proclamation was passed, freeing the enslaved.  She married an African American who had been enslaved on the same plantation. My great grandmother was aware of her Cherokee heritage but not connected to any Indigenous community, so my dad was raised as a Baptist in a Black community outside of Staunton.

I, however, grew up in an urban environment at the height of both the Civil Rights and American Indian Movements. I spent several summers at my great grandmother’s Staunton home soaking up family stories that have served me well as an author.

My mother survived a viciously abusive family. Her childhood was fraught with violence and dysfunctionality. Over the years, authorities arrived a few times at the door of her family home investigating my mom’s broken collarbone, concussion and various other injuries.

My mother’s mother was Portuguese, possibly born in that country; her background is a bit mysterious. After her parents died she was sent to work at a neighbouring farm in New Jersey. Though I lack specific information, I have no doubt she was not only exploited for her labour but otherwise abused while there.  How else could she have learned to be so cruel to my mother? Grandmother was only seven at the time she was sent away and she worked on that farm for an unknown number of years until her newly-married, just-turned-18 older sister obtained legal custody of her.

By my mom’s accounts, my grandmother’s life was idyllic before that farm, and not much was shared about the years she spent there. My grandmother, despite her own cinnamon skin and curly black hair, not only identified as White but was also a serious racist; my mother bitterly recalls being force-fed all manner of hateful notions about Jews, Native Americans and the African-descended. I suspect Grandma had a self-hatred thing going on and more than a few brown skeletons in her closet, but I can’t prove anything.

My mother’s father was of Amish stock and had fled abusive parents at the tender age of 12. He was shunned shortly thereafter and the community never took him back, although his two children, one of them my mother, were welcomed many years later. As a child, my grandfather worked on the same farm as my grandmother. Somehow he managed to do well financially and ended up the owner of a string of gas stations in New Jersey. This business kept the family afloat during the Great Depression. At some point in his adulthood my grandfather became a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan. Hence, when my mother, fresh out of a Tennessee college, hooked up with my “Black Indian” father in the Jim Crow south, she was promptly disinherited and shunned by her family.

I am one of three surviving children my parents had. Two other siblings died in their infancy.  We were poor and lived in various Puerto Rican and African-American neighbourhoods in NYC. I was eight when my parents split and my mom scored a new med tech job in a research lab. She moved us away to Pennsylvania in the turbulent 1960’s.

For a year we lived in the White suburban community of Glenside. Our rented house was located on Pleasant Avenue and the only kid in the neighborhood allowed to play with us was Happy Holiday (no kidding), a preteen geek everyone considered a weirdo. We moved to a mixed neighbourhood in Philly as soon as possible.

Today I respect and appreciate what my mom did for us, working two jobs, sometimes making herself sick, to ensure we had food on the table. I find myself grateful for the strength she role-modeled as a single mom of three mixed race kids in violent times.

To respect my word limit, and in the spirit of hope, I’m going to end my story here with the assurance that everything in my life got much better over the years. I managed to settle in Canada where I now enjoy writing, educating and running a small business. May everyone from rough beginnings enjoy the contentment I now feel. And with my sense of being blessed may I continue to work to make the world more hopeful, optimistic and peaceful. Axe/Wadoh/Thank you.

Zainab Amadahy visits the Brockton Writers Series Wednesday, May 6, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Ghadeer Malek, Mark Silverberg and Jane Woods. The event begins with a special guest talk, “Getting Started in Book Reviewing,” by Emily M. Keeler of the National Post.

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BWS 06.05.15: Ghadeer Malek

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Ghadeer Malek is a Palestinian writer and spoken-word poet. She immigrated to Toronto in 2003 and has been involved in Palestinian solidarity movements and young Muslim women communities in downtown Toronto. Ghadeer is the co-editor of Min Fami: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space, and Resistance, and she coordinated the Young Feminist Activism program at the Association of Women’s Rights in Development. She is currently completing a Masters degree at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Ghadeer sent us this guest post ahead of her May 6 reading. 

Introducing Min Fami

I have always believed that art can be transformative. That it can break what is normal and ordinary, and give us new forms of visual and spoken language that open to us new ways of sensing and feeling. Min Fami literally means “from our mouths”–and what we mean by it is simple: here is a book that is of our own voices. More importantly, as Ghaida Moussa, co-editor of the book, once questioned: what does it mean that a group of Arab women writers feel the need to write a book called Min Fami?

It means that we don’t need to be spoken of or spoken for; that we speak for ourselves, and always have.

In presenting multiple Arab women voices writing in various forms–from academic essays, to poetry, to spoken word, to art–Min Fami tries to urge its readers, whoever they may be, to challenge the image of that silent, passive, Arab woman with no agency, and to realize that in fact, we are embedded in histories of writing and resistance, that we always stood at the forefront of our struggles, and that we exist whole, made up of complex identities interwoven by physical and metaphysical spaces.

For writing to be political, it should be intentional in its purpose to educate, and engage in a process of learning and teaching with the reader: learning by presenting the world with something to dissect, echo and pull apart, and teaching by dialoguing about the conversations the book opens until creating something else becomes necessary. Min Fami is neither a start nor an endpoint, but is hoisted up by books that came before it, and is a jumping off point for those that will come after it. And for books sprouting alongside of it, Min Fami is another set of voices affirming and reaffirming that writing is important.

When Ghaida and I were writing our introductions, Egypt was marking its first-year anniversary since the uprising that toppled Mubarak. Those of you who are writers probably know the introduction is always the last thing you write. The book came together right before and as change was happening in the Middle East and North Africa region. For our friends in the region, it was seeing change happen and be undone, and for us in the Diaspora, home became more distant and we felt more isolated. Theoretically, I believed it was an urgent and important time to write, that a book like Min Fami could open conversations that would bring home closer and help better understand change. But in my words, I felt hesitant.

After all, what is writing when carnage and death are the images that dominate the news coming out of the region? What is writing when the death toll in Syria has risen to over 200,000, and almost four million people have become refugees? What does it mean to write when, despite all the great writers that have come out of Palestine, Palestine will commemorate the 67th year of the Nakba, the day of catastrophe or the lost dreams of a homeland, on May 15?

I called my introduction to Min Fami “Hesitations” because I wanted to be honest: the questions the book poses were not ones I had answers to, but are ones I am constantly struggling with. Receiving so many submissions in response to the call we put out made me realize that there are others struggling with the same. Every story we received was not the same, nor different. Each piece makes a sound unique to its author, and yet the strength that leaks out of their pens is one and the same.

I’m still unsure as to what makes something “Arab” in the same way that I am not sure what makes writing “women’s writing.” Is “Arab” a language, a history, a future we share or a border through which we exclude others? Is women’s writing about being women or writing women’s stories?

Perhaps hesitations are what make writing political; perhaps to write without hesitation is to be idle, to write without reassessment, questioning, or struggle. There is an honesty that gives life to writing, a plain truth that comes from a personal and shared understanding–words are born out of love, suffering, resistance, grief, reconciliation, understanding, and self-discovery. Without action, though, words are empty and cannot live outside of the pages on which they have been written.

It is struggle and acts of resistance that have allowed the pieces in the book to emerge from the same lands, to find the same histories and a common language. It is an honesty in our words that makes our voices speak through, despite, and beyond hesitations.

As readers, unless you find a connection to these pieces, unless they tap into a hidden path inside you that leads you to them, then they are just words, simply calligraphy bound together into one bundle of paper.

Ghadeer Malek visits the Brockton Writers Series Wednesday, May 6, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Zainab Amadahy, Mark Silverberg and Jane Woods. The event begins with a special guest talk, “Getting Started in Book Reviewing,” by Emily M. Keeler of the National Post.

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BWS 06.05.15: Mark Silverberg

Mark Silverberg-headshot

 Mark Silverberg is a poet, educator, and critic who has taught in Ethiopia, Malaysia, The Gambia, and across Canada. He is the author of Believing the Line: The Jack Siegel Poems (Breton Books; Eric Hoffer Book Award, 2013) and The New York School Poets and the Neo-Avant Garde (Ashgate, 2010), and editor of New York School Collaborations: The Color of Vowels (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013). Mark is also an Associate Professor of English at Cape Breton University, where he specializes in poetry, visual arts, and poetic collaborations.

Ahead of his March 6 appearance at Brockton Writers Series, he drops by the blog today with some samples from Believing the Line, in which he wrote poetic responses to Siegel’s drawings and painting.

Click here to find out more about Believing the Line

(Click the images to see them in larger format!)

Mark Silverberg-Sample 1

Mark Silverberg-Sample2

Mark Silverberg-Sample3

Mark Silverberg visits the Brockton Writers Series Wednesday, May 6, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Zainab Amadahy, Ghadeer Malek and Jane Woods. The event begins with a special guest talk, “Getting Started in Book Reviewing,” by Emily M. Keeler of the National Post.

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Brockton Writers Series 06.05.15

WEDNESDAY, MAY 6, 2015

bws_May2015

(L-R) Ghadeer Malek, Jane Woods, Mark Silverberg and Zainab Amadahy.

AT

full of beans Coffee House & Roastery

1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto

Guest speaker at 6:30pm

Emily M. Keeler, National Post

“Getting Started in Book Reviewing”

Readings begin at 7:00

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and treats are available for sale. Please note that while the venue is wheelchair accessible, washroom facilities are not.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

Print

GUEST SPEAKER

Emily Keeler

Emily M. Keeler is Books editor at the National Post.

READERS

Zainab Amadahy is an author, screenwriter, researcher and educator. Her publications include Wielding the Force: The Science of Social Justice, which explores how emerging science has relevance for spiritual development, social justice and community organizing, and Resistance, her second science fiction novel. She also has a background in medical and photovoltaic (solar energy) technologies and has worked for a variety of community organizations in the areas of Aboriginal services, Indigenous knowledge reclamation, non-profit housing, women’s services, migrant settlement and community arts.

Ghadeer Malek is a Palestinian writer and spoken-word poet. She immigrated to Toronto in 2003 and has been involved in Palestinian solidarity movements and young Muslim women communities in downtown Toronto. Ghadeer is the co-editor of Min Fami: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space, and Resistance, and she coordinated the Young Feminist Activism program at the Association of Women’s Rights in Development. She is currently completing a Masters degree at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Mark Silverberg is a poet, educator, and critic who has taught in Ethiopia, Malaysia, The Gambia, and across Canada. Mark is the author of Believing the Line: The Jack Siegel Poems (Breton Books, Eric Hoffer Book Award, 2013) and The New York School Poets and the Neo-Avant Garde (Ashgate, 2010), and editor of New York School Collaborations: The Color of Vowels (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013). He is also an Associate Professor of English at Cape Breton University, where he specializes in poetry, visual arts, and poetic collaborations.

Jane Woods is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada and spent a decade working in Canadian regional theatre in before settling in Montreal to work as a voice actress. Later, she began translating and adapting French-language films and television series to be dubbed into English. She now works mainly as a translator. The Walking Tanteek is her first novel.

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