Author Archives: dogeared

Wednesday, November 9th, 2022 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series presents readings by:

Marlo K. Shaw

Edwige Jean-Pierre

Ayaz Pirani

Emily Urquhart

Special note: As we adapt with current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted in-person at the Glad Day Bookshop, located at 499 Church St., Toronto. We will also live stream the event on the Brockton Writers Series YouTube channel! The event starts at 6:30PM.

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books are available for sale.

 If you’d like to donate, please do so here.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

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GUEST SPEAKER

“Revision and the Four Seasons of Story” by Jessica Outram

Jessica Outram is Cobourg’s 4th Poet Laureate. She is a Métis writer and educator with roots in the Georgian Bay Métis Community. She works by day as Principal of Indigenous Education, supporting all schools, for the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board. Jessica is co-host of The Hummingbird Podcast, a weekly podcast about identity, healing and wellness, the spirit of place, and the pull of mystery. She recently published her first collection of poetry with Piquant Press, The Thing with Feathers. In Spring 2023, her first children’s novel will be released by Second Story Press, Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold.

READERS

Marlo K. Shaw (She/Her) is a neurodivergent, perimenopausal, disabled, fat, queer, Jewish cat mom, who spends as much time as she possibly can playing with words, colour, and creating Zoom Theatre.

Marlo occasionally blogs at mkshaw.ca and posts to her Instagram @marlo.k.shaw.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Edwige Jean-Pierre is a bilingual actor and playwright of Haitian and Congolese descent. She first came on to the scene with her solo show Even Darkness is Made of Light (dramaturgy and direction by Patrick Conner) at Buddies. Other plays she has written include Saint Bitch or also known as Our Lady of Spills, SOS/MS/ASAP, GOIN4BROKE, The Big Mess and Espoir/Espwa (co-written with Les Héritières de Toto B).

Her plays have been presented at many festivals including Rhubarb Festival and Edgy Women Festival, Hysteria Festival, and she was the recipient of the 2010 Summerworks’ Spotlight Award for her performance in Even Darkness is Made of Light. She is ecstatic to be working with Theatre Passe Muraille on the development of her latest play, La déception m’a ouvert les yeux.

Edwige’s work focuses on political and social issues.

Ayaz Pirani‘s books include Happy You Are Here and Kabir’s Jacket Has a Thousand Pockets. His work recently appeared in ARC Poetry Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Guest 16, and The Malahat Review. Ayaz’s new book is How Beautiful People Are, available from Gordon Hill Press.

Emily Urquhart is a journalist with a doctorate in folklore from Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her award-winning long-form nonfiction has appeared in Guernica, Longreads and The Walrus among other publications. Her memoir The Age of Creativity: Art, Memory, my Father and Me, was listed as a top book of 2020 by CBCNOW Magazine and Quill & Quire. She is a nonfiction editor for The New Quarterly and lives in Kitchener, Ontario. Her essay collection, Ordinary Wonder Tales, will be published in fall 2022.

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BWS 09.14.22 report: Writing & Survival: Tips for Mad, Sad, and Neurodiverse People

Kathy Friedman is a writer, teacher, editor, and the co-founder of InkWell Workshops, which delivers free literary programming to people with mental health and addiction issues. She studied creative writing at UBC and the University of Guelph, and was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Grain, Geist, PRISM international, Canadian Notes & Queries, and the New Quarterly. In 2022, her short fiction debut, All the Shining People, was published by House of Anansi. She lives in Tkaronto/Toronto, where she is at work on a collection of essays about travel, music, and mental health. Find out more at http://www.kathyfriedman.com.

Writing & Survival: Tips for Mad, Sad, and Neurodiverse People

By Kathy Friedman

From the Canada Council: “Mad arts are created by people who live with Madness and are an expression of Mad Pride. The term “Mad” has been reclaimed by people who identify as living with mental illness or psychiatric disabilities and symbolizes pride, collective identity and community building. Within this context, mental illness is not framed as pathology, but rather as integral to identity and experiences shaped by social determinants of health such as income, social status, employment, working conditions, housing and food security.”

Mad culture, including distinct and innovative literature, is thriving. Mad writers who I think are producing (or have produced) some of our most exciting literature include Roxanna Bennett, Janet Frame, Rowan McCandless, Terese Mailhot, Erin Soros, Esmé Weijun Wang, and Syrus Marcus Ware.

I would like to have called this presentation “Writing & Thriving,” but I don’t think we’re there yet. Mad folks still need far better access to secure housing, good food, clean water, and the abolition of carceral forms of punishment, surveillance, and care. Still, liberation and joy are always bound up in revolutionary art and storytelling, and as writers we have an important role to play in the Mad rights movement.

I use the following tools to manage my mental health and to keep writing through adversity:

  • Community: Truly what sustains me as a writer. My literary community includes writer friends, other Mad folks, writing mentors, and my students. Expressing gratitude and maintaining a spirit of generosity have helped me foster this community.
  • Self-Care: A relentless process (at least for me) that includes taking walks, exercising, treating myself, taking baths, cat and dog cuddles, setting and maintaining boundaries, giving myself props and encouragement, and remembering to breathe.
  • Medication: Although I experience some side effects, taking psychiatric meds helps me feel more emotionally stable.
  • Therapy: For the last ten years, I’ve participated in group therapy, support groups, and ongoing individual counselling. I’m always willing to put my name on waitlists for OHIP-covered therapy, but I also prioritize the cost of counselling as a necessary expense (along with food and rent).
  • Rest: I take breaks and afternoon naps. I don’t write every day (not even close). I try my best not to compare my productivity to other writers. And I sleep in whenever I can.

Community Resources

InkWell Workshops

  • Delivers free, high-quality literary programming to people living with mental health and addiction issues (I’m the co-founder and artistic director).
  • Currently has a call for applications for writers with lived experience to work with an experienced mentor on a book-length project; the writer will be given a $500 honorarium.
  • http://www.inkwellworkshops.com

Open Minds Quarterly

  • A literary journal published by NISA / Northern Institute for Social Action in Sudbury
  • Welcomes writing and art from people with “lived experience of what is variously called mental health challenges, mental illness, madness, neurodiversity, etc.”
  • Runs an annual poetry contest.
  • http://www.openmindsquarterly.com

Community Health Centres

  • Offer free individual and group counselling provided by registered social workers, in addition to other primary care services.
  • Focused on communities that experience barriers to accessing health care (2SLGBTQ, unhoused people, refugees, etc.).
  • Usually accept clients based on catchment area; some accept trans and/or unhoused clients from across Toronto.
  • https://www.torontocentralhealthline.ca/listservices.aspx?id=10652

Artists Health Centre

  • Located on Bathurst just south of College.
  • A nurse-practitioner-led medical and complementary clinic for professional artists.
  • Through the Joysanne Sidimus Fund, services can be subsidized for artists in financial need so they only pay 25% of the cost (e.g., RMT, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, etc.).
  • https://www.artistshealthcentre.ca/ 

Affordable Medication

  • Ask your health care provider to request free samples from the manufacturer for you. They can usually do this multiple times.
  • If your income is low and your prescription costs are high, register for the Ontario Trillium Drug Program, so no more than 4% of your income will go to pay for meds.
  • Speak to your pharmacist about getting a manufacturer’s incentive card (if applicable).

Workman Arts

  • A multidisciplinary arts organization in Toronto that supports artists living with mental health and addiction issues.
  • Offers training programs and public partnerships and presentations.
  • I find that dabbling in art forms other than writing helps my mental health and creativity.
  • http://www.workmanarts.com

Arts Councils

  • As a disabled artist, you can get funds from each of the arts councils to pay a service provider (e.g., an experienced artist/grant writer) to help you complete your grant application.
  • If your application is successful, you can also apply for accessibility funds to address barriers that prevent you from completing your project. For example, I’ve received accessibility funds from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) to pay for counselling while I’m writing triggering creative nonfiction material.
  • The Canada Council for the Arts has a Disability Arts program and the Ontario Arts Council has a program for Deaf and Disability Arts Projects. This means that your application can be assessed by an interdisciplinary jury of other disabled artists rather than a literary jury.
  • Be sure to reach out to the program officers before you apply: they’re awesome!

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BWS 14.09:22: In case you missed it!

Click here to see the recorded live stream of our September 14th event featuring Oubah Osman, Jennifer Hosein, Kimia Eslah, and Farzana Doctor, and guest speaker Kathy Friedman, who spoke to us about writing for folks with mental health and addiction issues, titled “Writing & Survival: Some Tips for Mad, Sad, and Neurodiverse Folks.”

This was our first in-person BWS event since the beginning of the pandemic, and we’re so excited to be back!

Stay tuned for our next event on Wednesday, November 9th at 6:30pm!

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Brockton Writers Series 14.09.22: Kimia Eslah

Kimia Eslah is a feminist writer and a queer woman of colour. Her work has been featured on CBC Books, Ms. Magazine, and The Miramichi Reader. She is the author of Sister Seen, Sister Heard and The Daughter Who Walked Away. Her novels explore the effects of bigotry, rape culture, mental illness, and queerphobia on Canadian women of colour. Catch her on The Feminist Podcast (Season 2: Episode 5), YouTube, and Instagram @kimiaeslah. Email her at author@kimiaeslah.com. Meet her at local events.

Kimia Eslah, Author & Advocate

The Feminist Podcast, Season 2 Episode 5

Uphold Your Values, Break the Silence

By Kimia Eslah

*names have been changed

“He’s not talking about you. You’re not Chinese. Let him speak!” Ashraf* scolded me from the armchair across the room.

Our two families had been enjoying a summer barbeque up north. It was the first time we had vacationed together since childhood, and I had arrived with high hopes, imagining our little ones playing together as we bonded over the strangeness of being the grownups.

As a member of the Iranian diaspora, I had few relatives growing up in Canada, and our relationships had been fouled by untreated alcoholism, mental illness, and domestic violence. Once I had my own family, I was determined to build healthy relationships with relatives who wanted the same. I wanted to write a new narrative where get-togethers didn’t end in hostility.

“He’s being racist!” I insisted, glaring at Ashraf’s friend, Steve*. “It’s not okay to talk like that.”

Tears streamed as I explained how Steve’s remarks about East Asians were hurtful and inappropriate. Steve didn’t defend himself; he hadn’t needed to. He’d lowered his gaze while Ashraf stared me down. The disgusted look in Ashraf’s eyes broke my heart. An hour earlier, we had been playing Frisbee with the kids and sharing parenting woes.

Tragically, this scene was all too familiar.

“He can say what he wants,” Ashraf sneered, daring me to challenge him.

Upon hearing our raised voices, my worried eight-year-old made a beeline for Ashraf. With his little hands on his hips and his lower lip protruding, he glared at Ashraf, willing him to stop yelling at me.

To my shock, Ashraf growled, “Make him stop.” I grasped his threat. Make him stop or I will make him stop. While I shook with anger, my spouse corralled my son.

“He’s a bully, just like you,” Ashraf barked. “You’ve always been a bully!”

Ashraf was not the first person to call me a bully; my parents were the first, when I was a few years old. They accused me of bullying my siblings with my opinions. As a child, I accepted their interpretation. They’re my parents, I thought. They know me best. Choosing silence and demanding silence were their defense mechanisms, my family’s strategies to protect themselves from recognizing the tragic truth: my father’s untreated addiction was destroying our lives. When I beseeched my parents and siblings to recognize the abuse and neglect, I was scapegoated by all concerned. They lashed out at me because I was an easy target: a queer girl-child, dependent and without recourse. They exploited prevailing social stigma and shamed me with labels like bully, boor, and loudmouth.

When I speak out against injustice, my heart races, my hands become clammy, my voice quivers, and my body shakes. In the moment, I might cry tears of frustration. Long after the ordeal, I cry from the trauma of being abused for speaking out. My body relives the fear and sadness from past encounters, triggering nausea, tremors, and days of bedrest.

During encounters, I hear my tone: angry, scared, and determined. My voice is clear, loud, and unrelenting. There are also echoes, the voices of people who have called me righteous, uppity, and hysterical. They had tried to shut me up with threats and insults, even imploring others to silence me, bystanders who assured me in softer tones that I was overreacting and misinterpreting events.

As I speak out, I do worry that I am upsetting others and misinterpreting events. I worry that my companions might walk away or side with the offenders. These worries are a normal part of the experience of speaking up.

Afterwards, I remain preoccupied by the encounter, reliving the trauma and recalling the contempt directed at me. I can’t eat or sleep properly, and I struggle to relate my feelings to loved ones, a complication that can contribute to my relapse into depression and substance abuse. This too is normal, however disturbing.

Speaking out against injustice is not easy. Feeling empowered is not the same as feeling uplifted. Truth be told, my gut reaction is to walk away. For a queer woman of colour, it is dangerous to speak up–it can readily lead to violence because my humanity is trivialized by predominant messages: women are unequal to men, people of colour are unequal to whites, and queer people are unequal to cis-gendered heterosexuals. I am seen as less than human, and I am more likely to be the victim of a hate crime.

More often than not, I speak up in the moment. I don’t wait for others to take the first stand. I recognize that despite my vulnerability I am one of the bravest people in any room. I have experience on my side: experience recognizing injustice, experience trusting my interpretation, and experience voicing my indignation. While, I might fear retaliation, I still speak up.

Speaking up requires courage, conviction, and privilege. It is the courage to be wrong, to be dismissed, to be demeaned, and to feel uncomfortable. I don’t have to be perfect to stand up to oppression. I don’t need the perfect words or perfect timing. I need to be courageous: to act, to react, and to break the silence that facilitates victimization.

My conviction is founded on equality and equity. Equality is our universal humanity: we are all deserving of equal rights and respect. Equity is about fair treatment in light of present-day conditions and historical injustices. As an example, imagine a family dinner. Everyone has a plate of food; this is equality. Some members are spoon-fed; this is equity. When my conviction waivers, I ground myself in these principles.

My privilege allows me to speak up with less fear of reprisal. I might be insulted, threatened, or assaulted for speaking up but I won’t lose my job, my home, or my support network. In the past, I have been incapacitated as a result of speaking out, and it took time to recover, but I did. Many people don’t have the privilege to speak up but many of us do, and we continue to remain silent.

Silence is the weapon of oppressors, and we all have reasons for remaining silent, but know this: in the vacuum created by silence, predators and bigots thrive. The vulnerable continue to be abused and neglected when we choose to remain silent. This is the cost of silence, and we need to consider this cost. What does our silence say about our priorities and values?

Ashraf wanted me to be silent. I could have left without a word but my silence would have affirmed his behaviour and his friend’s hatemongering. By speaking out, I disabused them of the belief that they could spread hate without fear of recriminations. It was a lesson in consequences. It was an opportunity to prioritize the lives of the vulnerable and marginalized over the dogma of the ignorant and belligerent.

Breaking the silence is a step towards positive social change. It is equality and equity in action, and it is gravely underused by the privileged. Uphold your values through your actions: choose to speak up.

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Brockton Writers Series 14.09.22: Jennifer Hosein

Jennifer Hosein is a Montreal-born writer, artist and educator of Trinidadian and South Asian ancestry. Her collection of poetry, A Map of Rain Days, was longlisted for the 2021 Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Her poems, fiction and non-fiction have been published in The Fiddlehead, The Quarantine Review, Event, and more.

HEART

As a writer and visual artist, my work tends to overlap. In difficult times, I lean into one or the other, or both, for sustenance. Therefore, when my mother’s aortic valve needed replacing, I began to write frantically about our time together.

After her passing, I did not know how to survive, so I painted. Madly. I painted my mother from old black-and-white photos and found her in the hours that I spent looking into her face. I am still painting her, nine years later, still privileged to be in her company. She never leaves me!

I’d like to share a video of the poem “Heart” from my book A Map of Rain Days, as well as an excerpt from a work-in-progress:

Excerpt:   

January 5th:

Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday. I promised her a cake before midnight, and I do everything I can to stop the car from turning me back home, my heart pounding against the steering wheel. But my mother is waiting by the window. She doesn’t know, and then she does, tossing fragments of her old life into plastic bags: a handful of photographs, a miscellany of yellowed papers, a tattered jewelry box, too-tight clothes, slippers.

I am paralyzed. I cannot pull myself up off the floor where I spent much of the summer in a pile of sleeping bags and pillows, paper and pencils. There will never be another summer like that: doctor’s waiting rooms, Chinese supermarkets, creamy popsicles from the Pakistani grocer’s, trips to the lake. Sometimes, then, I felt caged. Now, it’s all I want.

My aunt’s house is warm, but my mother’s new bedroom is wintry and smells of mothballs and cat. I spray perfume into corners, place a few of my mother’s photographs on the dresser top, tune the clock radio to the jazz station we listened to on dusk drives from my aunt’s house back to my mother’s apartment. How I will miss those drives! Helping my mother dress for bed, I take her socks off, pull a flannel nightgown over her head, kiss her and tuck her into the cold, stinking night before I go.

I race down the Don Valley Parkway toward January 6th, but there is a car rolled over on the highway. I run in the door at 11:54 p.m., just in time to put candles on the cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to my daughter. Love fills me up like a balloon, so full and stretched and thin am I.

Here is the link to my book and website:  www.jenniferhosein.ca  

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Brockton Writers Series 14.09.22: Farzana Doctor

Farzana Doctor is a Tkaronto-based author, activist, and a Registered Social Worker Psychotherapist. She has published four critically acclaimed novels, including Seven, which Ms. Magazine described as, “fully feminist and ambitiously bold,” and was shortlisted for the Trillium and Evergreen Awards. Her new poetry collection, You Still Look The Same, which Quill & Quire has called, “a powerful and necessary collection that breaks silences,” was just released in May 2022. 

Back to BWS

I co-founded BWS in November 2009 a year and half after my first novel, Stealing Nasreen, was published. Back then, I was looking for community, and over the nine years of curating the series, I connected with many writers and neighbours.

Each event inspired my own writing and I would never have imagined that all these years later, I’d have five published books, a large writing community, and that BWS would have grown and developed into the fabulous series it is today. I’m so grateful to the volunteers who took over when I officially “retired” back in 2018.

In September, I’ll be reading at BWS from my recent poetry collection, You Still Look The Same. I wrote or rewrote most of these poems during my forties, a decade that provided a great deal of fodder for this book, including a long-term relationship’s break-up, a first crack at online dating, old trauma resurfacing, and falling in love. All of this accompanied by perimenopause!

My BWS colleagues witnessed some of these adventures, so I’m happy to be returning to share some of the poems inspired by them!

Here’s the book’s trailer: https://youtu.be/B_u96qdDcbM

And here’s a little more info about the book from a feature from the Globe & Mail: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books/article-novelist-farzana-doctor-pours-a-decade-of-love-loss-and-life-into-her/

It’s available in paperback, e-book and audiobook.

I hope to see some of you on September 14th.

@farzanadoctor

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Next Event:

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series presents readings by:

Oubah Osman

Jennifer Hosein

Kimia Eslah

Farzana Doctor

Special note: As we adapt with current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted in-person at the Glad Day Bookshop, located at 499 Church St., Toronto. We will also live stream the event on the Brockton Writers Series YouTube channel! The event starts at 6:30PM.

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books are available for sale.

 If you’d like to donate, please do so here.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

OAC_REVISED_NEWCOLOURS_1805c

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GUEST SPEAKER

“Writing & Survival: Some Tips for Mad, Sad, and Neurodiverse Folks”

Kathy Friedman is a writer, teacher, editor, and the co-founder of InkWell Workshops, which delivers free literary programming to people with mental health and addiction issues. She studied creative writing at UBC and the University of Guelph, and was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Grain, Geist, PRISM international, Canadian Notes & Queries, and the New Quarterly. In 2022, her short fiction debut, All the Shining People, was published by House of Anansi. She lives in Tkaronto/Toronto, where she is at work on a collection of essays about travel, music, and mental health. Find out more at http://www.kathyfriedman.com.

READERS

Oubah Osman is a writer and poet. She has been published in 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The New Quarterly, and CV2, among others. Her chapbook titled Hereditary Blue was published by Anstruther Press in 2019, and was shortlisted for the bpNichol Chapbook Award. She is an MFA graduate from the University of Guelph. Oubah is based in Scarborough, Canada.

Jennifer Hosein is a Montreal-born writer, artist and educator of Trinidadian and South Asian ancestry. Her collection of poetry, A Map of Rain Days, was longlisted for the 2021 Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Her poems, fiction and non-fiction have been published in The FiddleheadThe Quarantine Review, Event, and more.

Kimia Eslah is a feminist writer and a queer woman of colour. Her work has been featured on CBC BooksMs. Magazine, and The Miramichi Reader. She is the author of Sister Seen, Sister Heard and The Daughter Who Walked Away. Her novels explore the effects of bigotry, rape culture, mental illness, and queerphobia on Canadian women of colour. Catch her on The Feminist Podcast (Season 2: Episode 5), YouTube, and Instagram @kimiaeslah. Email her at author@kimiaeslah.com. Meet her at local events.

Farzana Doctor is a Tkaronto-based author, activist, and a Registered Social Worker Psychotherapist. She has published four critically acclaimed novels, including Seven, which Ms. Magazine described as, “fully feminist and ambitiously bold,” and was shortlisted for the Trillium and Evergreen Awards. Her new poetry collection, You Still Look The Same, which Quill & Quire has called, “a powerful and necessary collection that breaks silences,” was just released in May 2022. 

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BWS 07.13.22 report: Which Creative Writing Program and Why?: One Writer’s Perspective on MFAs, Continuing Education Certificates, and Private Workshops

Anna Lee-Popham is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph, and a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Education Creative Writing Certificate, where she received the Janice Colbert Poetry Award. Anna co-hosts the Emerging Writers Reading Series.

Which Creative Writing Program and Why?: One Writer’s Perspective on MFAs, Continuing Education Certificates, and Private Workshops 

By Anna Lee-Popham 

Have you ever wondered about the difference between creative writing programs? You’re in the right place! I recently presented at the Brockton Writers Series about MFAs, continuing education certificate programs, and private workshops – and I’ve outlined what I shared in that presentation here.  

To start, there are many different ways to approach learning creative writing. Many writers don’t engage in organized courses or programs and focus instead on a self-directed approach. I’m certainly of the belief that whatever gets you writing is the approach to take. In this very insightful conversation between Dionne Brand and Harryette Mullen, they were asked what advice they would give to aspiring poets and writers in the context of protest and rebellion. Dionne Brand said:  

“Write, write. And read, read the tradition you are in. Read everything and just write it. It’s important and it’s urgent. … Write till four in the morning, until six in the morning. …  Do whatever kind of work you need to do so you do that work. We need that work. We need this production of our life.” 

Harryette Mullen replied: 

“I would add: You don’t need permission. You give yourself permission…. Your voice has value.” 

So most importantly: follow their advice. 

If you do decide to engage in a formal education program geared to creative writing, think about why you want to do so, what your goals are, and so which program might best suit you. It might be helpful to glance at this table outlining three different approaches: 

There are many other reasons you might want to get involved in a creative writing program. Think about what your reasons are and which program best aligns with your goals. Also, while the MFA is the only option that will get you a degree, not all university institutions require a degree to teach creative writing.  

I decided to pursue an MFA because I felt it would assist me in the work I wanted to do, the community I wanted to build, and the confidence I wanted to develop. In regard to work: I am interested in teaching creative writing and it would give me the opportunity to learn from teachers I respected and whose writerly and pedagogical approaches I was interested in. This would also help me in my role as an editor, as I could watch writers in the role of teaching others about writing. I was also interested in working with writers I respect in terms of what they think writing is doing politically. In regard to community, you certainly don’t need to do an MFA to develop a writing community – at all! I was interested in the opportunity to write actively with a cohort of writers over a multi-year period. The MFA did that – and gave me access to writers approaching the written word in many different ways. Doing the MFA also prompted me to take my writing seriously. But again there are many, many, many other ways to do that.  

The University of Guelph MFA program is a two-year program that allows students to focus on a number of different genres: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, or drama. In addition to the workshops, students take two plenary (reading-based) courses called Writers on Writing and Writers in the World. There is a 3-month mentorship which matches students with a professional writer. The thesis writing period occurs from January-June of the final year and students defend their written work in the summer of their final year. The deadline for applications December 5, 2022. Interested in more information? Check out the links below: 

• General info on the program: https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa

• Want to apply?: https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa/apply 

• Info about funding and awards: https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa/financial/funding/ 

• Tuition fees: https://www.uoguelph.ca/registrar/studentfinance/fees/guelph_gr 

A few general suggestions 

When you are looking at a program – whether it’s an MFA, continuing education certification program or individual workshops – try to think about which program will best help you work towards your goals, in a format that works for you. You might also want to consider if you’ll get access to instructors whose work you appreciate, are interested in, and find challenges you and your writing in some way. 

If you decide to apply to the University of Guelph MFA program: this program is mostly interested in your writing sample, so I’d suggest you think through what you are doing with the writing that you submit, why are you submitting it, and what it is doing with language. 

Lastly, if you are an emerging writer looking for a place to read your writing, the Emerging Writers Reading Series (where I am a cohost) has an upcoming call for submissions: https://linktr.ee/ewreadingseries 

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BWS 13.07:22: In case you missed it!

Click here to see the recorded live stream of our July 13th event featuring Wayne Ng, Joelle Barron, Elizabeth Allua Vaah, Sheilah Madonna Mortel Salvador, and guest speaker Anna Lee-Popham, who spoke to us about her experience in a Creative Writing MFA, titled “Which Creative Writing Program and Why?: One Writer’s Perspective on MFAs, Continuing Education Certificates, and Private Workshops.”

Links from Anna’s talk:

https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa

https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa/apply

https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa/financial/funding/

https://www.uoguelph.ca/registrar/studentfinance/fees/guelph_gr

https://linktr.ee/ewreadingseries

Stay tuned for our next event on Wednesday, September 14th at 6:30pm!

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Brockton Writers Series 13.07.22: Elizabeth Allua Vaah

Elizabeth Allua Vaah, author of Maame, grew up in Bakanta, Western Ghana and moved to Canada in 2010. Allua calls herself a Maternal Health Migrant. She is co-founder of a Maternal Health advocacy group, an advocate of girl-child education and a strong environmentalist. She lives in Brampton with her family.

A Conversation with Allua Vaah on Maame

Tell us about the book and why did you decided to write. 

I loved reading and writing growing up. As one of the few who could read the local Nzema language in elementary school, I read at church and at events. I competed in easy competitions and wrote letters to the editor in high school. As I moved to the city, and later outside my home country Ghana, I felt the need to tell the stories of the incredible women of my village, especially as my grandmothers and even my mothers’ generations have started to die off and things are beginning to change. 

In fact, I would have done it earlier but as we say, life got in the way.  So, about five years ago, my GO Train home was delayed and we were stuck on the train tracks somewhere between Weston and Etobicoke in the GTA. That was when I opened the notes app on my phone and started writing.   

It was like I never left. The characters started pouring out.  

Was it a challenge to write? 

Not really. There was a lot of nostalgia to some extent. It felt like I was going down memory lane both from what my grandmother told me and what I saw growing up with those generations of women. I have a lot of fond memories of my childhood in my village. The carefreeness, community, belonging. 

The village where the book is set – why did you choose it? 

I grew up in paradise, although it will take me years of living away from home to realize it. Aakonu is beside the sea (Gulf of Guinea, off the Atlantic Ocean) and the river Amanzule. A shimmering beach on one side and rich, beautiful, green mangroves and the fresh river on the other. For the formative years of my life, it was all I knew. Even now most of the time when I fall asleep that is where I find myself.  

It was bound to be the right setting for a book about rural women. 

The characters, what are they about?  

Each of the Characters in Maame I chose to celebrate and reflect the strength and resilience of the women of Aakonu, and by extrapolation the women of rural West Africa. 

Nana 

Represents strength & sacrifice. She steps in to care for her deceased sister’s children and she does it without hesitation, becoming a pillar of strength for them even in their adulthood. 

Ahu 

 A young, widowed mother. She pulls herself together when she had had enough and drives her children to go for more than she could. Even then, her focus wasn’t just them, but how they can impact her community as well. Ahu represents the many women in rural West African communities who wouldn’t hesitate to sell the cloth on their backs to see their children get educat[ed], something many never had. 

Ebela 

Ebela’s character reflects the dilemma of many young women everywhere, especially in close-knit, community-oriented settings: should she follow her heart or should she be a good daughter and marry her family’s choice of man? 

Aso 

Aso is a hardworking, enterprising woman, but how does she navigate a superstitious system that does not favour women with no children, and a husband bent on doing whatever he wants? 

Bomo 

Bomo represents those from these communities who become the first in their families to leave the safety of the community in order to seek education and a better life. They don’t only have to navigate the unfamiliar, and they also have to continually fend off the pressure to come home and get married.   

In addition, there are powerful women in special roles that make them revered by everyone, even the men.  

Women like Priestess Yaba, Queenmother Ekeleba and Traditional Birth Attendants like Mozuma. These women transcend gender barriers and are revered by both men and women. 

What excites you about the book? 

My publisher will tell you how emotional I was when I first held Maame in my hands. I am excited to share these stories of strength, resilience, heartache, and triumph seeped in Nzema culture with the world. I want people to get to know this place and [be able to] picture it. I want them to learn the songs and some of the proverbs in there as well.  

Why did you choose the title Maame? 

Maame is an endearing word for mother. It is used by most Akan people in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. This is a book about women and motherhood, which makes it an apt name for it. I had considered the unique Nzema word for mother, ɔmɔ. However, I had to abandon it due to the special characters in it. 

What is your vision for the book? 

Schools: I see Maame in the hands of every high school student in West Africa, Canada, US, and Europe. I see this book on the shelves of libraries and as supplementary reader for gender and women’s studies programs. 

For travellers and those involved in humanitarian activities in rural West Africa. 

For people generally interested in learning about other people, and for a mosaic-like place like Canada where the world is virtually here, I’ll say it’s worth a read.  

I am glad to say that Brampton Library carried Maame as one of the books for its 2021 Local Author Showcase collection. 

I see documentaries made with the stories in Maame. Even a movie. Heck, why not?  

For first generation Ghanaian immigrants like myself, whose Canadian children may not understand why certain demands are made of them from home, it is a good conversation starter between us and our kids. 

What do you want people to take away from the book? 

 I want readers to get to know the rural African woman. A picture of resilience, sacrifice, and strength. Her loves, laughs, her culture, and her aspirations. She is versatile, adaptable, nurturing, and she makes it work no matter what. 

Where can someone buy the book? 

In Brampton – Knowledge Bookstore, and major book retailers. Online: Mawenzi House website, Amazon, Indigo Chapters websites. 

Reach me: 

elizabeth@alluavaah.com; lizvaah@yahoo.com 

Social media: @lizvaah; @alluaVaah 

www.alluavaah.com 

First discussed during the launch of Maame at this link: Maame Book Launch 

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