Friday, 22 June 2012

Grit-Lit Live!

 Vancouver: An evening of performance!

Through a joint project between The Carnegie Centre + The Writers Studio @ SFU, three mentors have been working with six emerging writers to develop their manuscripts into pristine form. The three mentors are Fiona Lam, Charles Demers, and myself. The six writers, who participate in the active writers hub or hive at Main & Hastings and will be the featured performers at the upcoming
  Grit-Lit event at the Rhizome Cafe, are:

Ghia Aweida
Fran Diamond
Henry Doyle
Laifong Leung
Brenda Prince
Antonette Rae

Poets, fictionistas, and nonfiction writers, each with a unique project that they are bringing to light~ shaping their words to shine, with a little support and assistance from those who have come along the same road themselves at an earlier time.

It has been my pleasure to work with Laifong Leung and Ghia Aweida. Laifong is originally from Hong Kong, and Ghia is originally from Lebanon. Both arrived in Canada as children or young people, both are fluently bi- or trilingual, and both have lived and worked here for most of their lives. Each one married here. Each one has attended a variety of groups, classes and workshops at the Carnegie Centre, developing increasing confidence in their abilities to express themselves, not only effectively, but vividly, in written English.

Laifong is working on a massive nonfiction project, an encyclopedic literary reference book on Chinese writers since Mao. I knew going in that she had already signed a book contract: as I soon learned, she has taken early retirement from her teaching career as a professor, and this is her sixth nonfiction book (details below). In our very first meeting, she extracted a promise from me, that I would not dump her or disengage from the manuscript the minute the three month project development period was past! A long term project requires a long term commitment!  After our second meeting, we attended Alan Hill's  poetry book launch together, and stayed to enjoy the poetry gathering afterward. At the open mike, Laifong shared her poem, "Cold Tea," a very moving work, and her very first poem written in English.

Laifong writes,
I publshed a book on the Song dynasty lyricist Liu Yong (985?-1053?) which is in Chinese. The title is: A Study of Liu Yong and His Lyrics (Hong Kong: Joing Publishing Company, 1985); my other book on contemporary Chinese  literature in English is : Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe Co., 1994), my book on teaching Chinese language through film and literature is: February: A Study Guide to the Film (Vancouver: W & Y Cultural Products, revised edition, 2004),  I have co-edited and contributed to the forthcoming book:  History of Literary Interactions between China and Canada (in Chinese). I also published a collection of essays in Chinese (2006) which were taken from my column essays for a well-known Chinese newspaper (Singtao Daily). 

We have met more or less weekly, for lunch, discussing both the nonfiction manuscript as it develops, and "what gets in the way" of the work, with a growing side theme of discussion focussing on poetry publishing, writing poetry, poetry editing, poetry translation, and the differences between trade or literary and academic publishing.

Ghia & Joanne
Ghia's project is poetry-focussed: our plan is to edit and develop a chapbook-length selection of poetry, work that is strong enough that publishers will be fighting for the opportunity to present her work to the world. I was attracted to Ghia's manuscript because her voice is very passionate, strong, and clear, and because I could see the framework of an Arabic style of poetry~ both in terms of presentation and in terms of content~ clearly in her work, often in flagrant contradiction to western "cool" aesthetics~ sentimental, admonishing, judgemental, loving, overflowing with human kindness.

Ghia Aweida is a founding member of Intrepid Pens, a reading-writing group that began at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC) and now operates out of W2 Media Cafe (Vancouver BC). She was born November 15, 1965, in Beirut, Lebanon. She is of Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese descent. She attended elementary school in Lebanon, spent a school term in Greece (1976) and returned to Beirut for two more years, then relocated with her family to Cyprus in 1978, where she completed high school.  In July 1986, she immigrated to Canada with her family, settling in Vancouver where she continues to make her home.

Ghia began taking her writing seriously in the 1990s, and has published poetry online (Intrepid Pens,, in Megaphone, and in her self-published chapbooks, most recently, Poetry of Hope.
We have also met almost weekly, sharing lunch at the Carnegie and then retreating to our little meeting-room hideaway. I bring my laptop, and she brings her memory stick, and we work on the poems together. We discuss the challenges that come up for every emerging writer~ the happiness of having a new chapbook to share, the joy of a new flock of poems or an acceptance letter, the disheartening experience of tempering feedback in the form of a rejection letter. All of these are a part of the journey of becoming a professional writer, they are the predictable milestones and crossroads, and it has been my pleasure to be her mentor and fellow traveller, as she negotiates her path between the inner drive and conviction to create, and the mix of encouraging and chastening encounters with others.


Both writers' work attracted me in part because each represented an opportunity to learn more about a realm of literature that I was interested in learning more about. My discussions with Laifong, about the decades of literature and change in China since Mao, and about the contemporary and historical cross-fertilizations between Canadian and Chinese literatures, and with Ghia about the heroes and stars of Arabic poetry and song, have been informative and interesting tutelage for me, as well as the needed groundwork for each to articulate who precisely she is, and how precisely her work fits in to the wide world of letters.

Join us!

not to be confused with

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