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It’s time to shake up the month of February with some exciting writing events in the Toronto area!
Phoenix Poetry Workshop
For all of you poets out there, the Toronto Public Library is offering a series of Phoenix Poetry workshops at the College/Shaw branch. There will be ample opportunity for you to share your work with other aspiring wordsmiths and receive helpful constructive criticism on your poems. This will be a great opportunity for you to edit and improve your poetry!
The workshops will take place on February 1, March 1, April 5 and May 3 from 2:30-4 pm. For more information, visit the Toronto Library website.
Toronto Star Short Story Contest
The Toronto Star is accepting submission for their annual Short Story Contest. Entrants must be at least 16 years of age, and can submit a story of up to 2500 words in length. The prizes for the contest are pretty great: the Grand Prize Winner receives $5000 and the opportunity to participate in a Humber College correspondence course in Creative Writing.
If any of you talented youth writers are interested, the contest deadline is February 28. The complete contest information can be found on the Toronto Star website.
Remember when I wrote about “write what you know” and explained that it is sometimes a good idea to write what you don’t know but write about it like you do? Well, what exactly can a writer write about and what is off-limits? Can I write about genocide? Can I write about bullying? Can I write about war? These are questions writers may ask themselves. What about a white writer writing about black people? Is that allowed? Some of these topics a writer could be sued for choosing, but they could still win their case. So, what am I getting at? What’s out of bounds for a writer?
A big issue these days is Aboriginal voice and how Aboriginals need their own voice not someone else acting as their voice. So if a writer wanted to write a book based on the Indigenous, and was being accused of stealing the Aboriginal voice, well, it would be very hard for her to write about Aboriginals if the Aboriginal community wouldn’t even speak to her. Of course, she could still write the book. However, with the writer not being able to speak to the Aboriginal community about their views on the topic, it could be very crippling for the writer and her book. I mean, if you wrote a story about Aboriginal culture and never spoke to a Native in your life, your book would be crap. Writers write from experience and others’ experiences. A part of research for writers is mainly just talking to people. Hey, you could all be writers, couldn’t you? Well, yes.
“A writer is a person who writes.” —Arnie Achtman
And never forget that quote. Some people don’t always seem to give writers support and therefore it can be difficult for writers to get themselves known. I remember when I wanted to be a writer. I told my best friend’s dad and he scoffed at me: “Good luck.”
Thanks, I’ll need it. It’s like someone telling you they want to be a philosopher. OK, so what are you going to do with that? Teach philosophy? That’s all you really can do with that degree. When I say, “I’m going to be a writer,” and I get that question, I answer with: “Write.”
Takes people by shock because I haven’t really answered the question but more avoided it and shown that I really want to write. This is where people can get frustrated with you and mutter to themselves, “Right, writers are crazy.” Well maybe we are and we also may be a bit misunderstood as well.
Writers like any profession though, need support. An architect needs support of her layout for the next structure, a doctor needs support and trust that performing surgery is OK, a rockstar needs to know that when he goes out onstage, he’s not going to be pelted with oranges as soon as he appears. Well, sorry Mr. Rockstar, but that could still happen. But with support also comes voice and that’s really the issue here. I was reading an essay titled “The Disempowerment of First North American Natives Peoples” written by Jeannette C. Armstrong, where she writes about the Aboriginal voice and how it shouldn’t be ignored or cast aside. An important note to make is that yes, you should be allowed to write about whatever you want, but what about write to voice? Armstrong believes that non-Aboriginal people need to stop writing for Aboriginal people. Let the Aboriginals speak and write, don’t speak and write for them. She has a point, actually. She also points out that some claim that when the non-Aboriginal composes a piece that argues for the Aboriginal community, the non-Aboriginal’s argument would then be freedom of speech or the freedom to write, really. Armstrong considers that argument to be bullshit, which I sort of have to agree with. Write what you please but at least consider others as well. I don’t believe a writer who’s writing for the Aboriginal people is trying to take away the Aboriginal voice, nor does it seem that Aboriginals don’t have the permission or strength to write about these pressing issues. Think of these non-Aboriginal writers as support for the Aboriginal culture. Well, Armstrong argues this premise as wrong and that, really, those writers are not allowing the Aboriginals to express themselves because the non-Aboriginal is doing it for them. It’s like a friend stepping in and beating up the bully that beats you up. Shouldn’t you be beating up the bully, not your friend? It was your battle, not his. Again, Armstrong has a point. What’s the message here? Consider voice, just consider it. You don’t have to always write with your voice, but just think about it the next time you pick up your pen and paper.
What about writing from the Aboriginal perspective, though? Well, you see, that’s a bit different. If we want to believe that non-Aboriginal writers are stealing the voice of the Aboriginal people, we might also want to believe that these writers are also stealing stories as well. It’s not stealing, it’s “borrowing.” You have a story in mind but the community is not allowing you to write that story. Let’s pretend I want to base my next novel in Afghanistan and involve the Taliban. I go to Afghanistan to find out that no one will talk to me. Sure, I have the scenery and yes I have the films I’ve seen on Afghanistan but it’s not the same and I then decide to not write the book. Writers need support from the community; the community they are writing about. Without it, well, we writers can still be daring and write it, but risk our novel, book of poems, book of essays, what have you, to not be bought. Writers take risks though, so maybe with that knowledge I might still consider writing about the Taliban. The point is to consider write to voice, but to also know when that voice is not being used. I have a story! Let me write it! Stop telling me I can’t! So write the story and see what happens. Will the world explode in anger or applause? Will the world just be passive and not even care? Will the world and anyone in it ever speak to you again? Take risks, writers. If you need a friend, I’m always here. I’m your support. Never forget it.
Hello again! The temperature may be decreasing, but the amount of available literary events sure isn’t! Here is a quick summary of some opportunities for the near future.
Essentially, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a writing event where thousands of people attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I like to view this as a fun and challenging month-long “free fall” writing exercise: an opportunity for you to find some ideas for later use, explore new genres or thoughts, and learn more about yourself as a writer. With NaNoWriMo, the experience is more important than the finished product.
However, it is important to note that NaNoWriMo is not always for everyone—it can be extremely time-consuming! If November is already a busy month, trying to juggle NaNoWriMo may be more stressful than educational. Nevertheless, if you’ve got the time and are willing to experiment, I recommend trying it out.
For more information, visit the NaNoWriMo website here.
Young Voices Conference
Once again, the Toronto Public Library is hosting its annual Young Voices conference for writers aged 12 to 19. The conference will occur from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 26 at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street).
The day will consist of interesting and innovative writing workshops run by published writers and artists, with ample opportunity for youth to learn about the writing craft and interact with other talented young writers from across the city. There will also be an opportunity for you to publish your work in an instant anthology created for the conference!
There are a limited number of spots at the conference, so if you’re interested, register soon here.
Fellow youth blogger Benjamin Gabbay will be presenting at the conference, and his workshop will take place from 10:45 am to 12 pm, in which he will teach participants how to brainstorm the perfect story and fend off writer’s block by stringing together a watertight plot line.
Take a look at the flyer here.
It goes without saying that David Gilmour’s inept comments for his Hazlitt interview are wholly embarrassing and will probably—hopefully—cost him his instructional position at Victoria College. Spawning a frenzy of reactions across all social media platforms and numerous newspapers locally and globally, David Gilmour unintentionally reminds us all of the necessity to include and embrace the work of writers from all backgrounds into the canon of great literature.
Gilmour’s remarks sadly, are not shocking to me (and evidently, many others), as a woman writer and recent graduate of the University of Toronto. I’ve got enough heterosexual males on my bookshelf to last a lifetime. There’s no doubt in the merit of the works of Chekhov, Fitzgerald or Miller. Yet, Gilmour reveals a reluctance to place himself outside of that which he can immediately relate to. Quite strange considering that the enrollment at the University of Toronto is the host not only to heterosexual males but a richly diverse student body, not limited to but including LGBTQ, Asian, African, South American and Canadian students of both genders. Furthermore, these categories of personhood have been known to actually overlap and intersect! It would be plausible then, for him, to consider the varied backgrounds of the individuals he is teaching to—instead of catering to his own personal favourites—who are nothing like the singular lens of a video camera.
For the literary community, Gilmour’s readiness to expose his smug discrimination to women, Chinese writers, Canadian writers, and pretty much anyone else who doesn’t fall into the category of heterosexual (also, white) males can, at least, serve as a wake-up call. Courses and instructors that gives credence to the voices of writers from all backgrounds exposes us to a vast collection of opinions and experiences that enrich students’ ability to analyze and interact with a host of worthwhile perspectives. No consumption of menstrual pads required.
The views Gilmour willingly shared have unleashed a torrent of criticism upon his character and ability as an instructor. It is up, now, to the University of Toronto to react accordingly and assert this globally revered institution’s interest in writers who come from backgrounds beyond David Gilmour’s personal storage; because, believe it or not, it’s not just the literature of heterosexual males that’s really “got something going for it.”
I love my mom and dad. I love my best ladies. I love my best fellas. But I don’t love them as editors. I mean, I like them alright and I appreciate their presence in my life, but I don’t know if I’d recommend them on Yelp. Everyone has a different kind of personal support system, whether it’s a fan base to rival J. Beib’s or a group of nitpicky individuals who are never satisfied with what they’ve just read. Regardless of what camp your editors lean towards; there is one universal truth about your friends and family: it is impossible for them to read your work without bias.
Humans look for patterns. That is science. That means that regardless of whether they say so, or whether they’re even aware that they’re doing it, they will look for you in your work. Also, they will look for themselves. I have a dear friend who I asked to edit a story once, and he ended up taking the entire thing personally because one of the characters had the same name as him. Case in point: find editors who don’t know you.
Not only do workshops with complete strangers allow you to get real unbiased feedback, but it changes the way you write too. Not that I’ve ever refrained from writing a piece because I’m afraid of what my mom will think, but getting truly constructive feedback is so rewarding. Being able to give your work to a group of people from different backgrounds and assorted walks of life will make a difference in how you see yourself as a writer. Existing inside a bubble is not conducive to change. An audience who doesn’t know your life also doesn’t care enough to psychoanalyze your work is strangely freeing.