I was pleased to find out this week that my book People Who Disappear is shortlisted for the 2013 ReLit Award for best collection of stories published by an independent Canadian press. My congratulations to my fellow nominees. You can read about all the shortlisted books here.
I mostly use this blog only to post about my writing: readings at local series, published stories in literary journals and reviews of my work. I haven’t written very much about the other side of my writing life. For the past several years I ran writing workshops in many spaces in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and downtown core. The people in my workshops were usually dealing with homelessness and other manifestations of systemic poverty. I ran hundreds and hundreds of these workshops. They became part of my life. Something I loved about the workshops was meeting the other writers who ran them. These people always had their own reasons for doing this work. We all had our own reasons. It wasn’t something I asked about very much, because I try to respect privacy and you probably have a pretty personal reason to go into tough spaces and ask people to write poems. One of the other workshop facilitators I knew was Rob, who took his own life last weekend.
There’s a tendency in our society to not go out of our way to hear stories that make us feel uncomfortable. To not go into spaces that are unfamiliar to us and just…listen. And withhold judgment again and again and again, until it’s a new kind of muscle. I witnessed innumerable stories during workshops that I likely would never have heard otherwise. When I heard that Rob was gone, I thought, fuck, the world has lost someone who knew how to listen. Rob was a writer, so we belonged to same tribe of sorts. We exchanged opinions about university programs and presses. He was hesitant and my impulse was always to push him harder. Send your manuscript out!, I told him, again and again. I offered connections, encouragement, things I try to give to people when I can. I don’t want to think about his book.
I wanted to write this post because suicide creates a silence around the person who died. This is so sad to me because I knew Rob to be someone who helped other people with their silence. Making a space for writing and reflection in an environment where people deal on a daily basis with violence and poverty is a way of fighting silence.
My life has been touched by suicide before. It is impossible to speak for another person. Speculation feels disrespectful, the wrong story to speak. But I would like to say that I knew Rob to be a kind person who knew how to be quiet and listen to other people’s stories and hold them delicately. I have found this to be a very rare skill in other people. We never discussed why we wrote or why we ran workshops, but I felt a common understanding with Rob of the importance of expression and the importance of respecting other people. I was excited when I heard he had started running workshops because I felt like he got it. Whenever I ran into him and we talked about how things were going, he had a quiet excitement, a deep sense of hesitation, an eagerness to talk. That’s what I want to remember.
It’s very surreal now to think that I won’t see Rob again. Just around, at readings, stuff with friends, regular stuff. We are/were (sorry I’m having mortality verb tense issues here) both shy people and our conversations would usually happen in sections, picked up and dropped off at various times. Anyone who isn’t an extrovert will understand this. It’s like running laps.
One of the last long conversations I had with him was about the problem of depression and isolation in our society. Someone we both knew had passed away a couple weeks before. We talked about how it’s important to reach out and how there are very strict unspoken rules in our society about communication. Who you can talk to and when and how real you can be. Who you can be with people. Who you can be with people who want to hear you. I think this is the closest we ever got to talking about why we ran workshops with people who are routinely robbed of voice, ignored. If a person doesn’t say what’s in them to say, it dies.
I felt that we both knew this. I saw him again a bunch of times after that, but we didn’t continue that conversation. I wish we had. Conversations have a time and a place. That death had opened something for us, about the importance of reaching.
We saw each other after that in public places — streets, reading — where people don’t know how to talk to each other, where there is no space for quiet voices, but I am learning to listen harder.
The new issue of EVENT has just been released and I have a couple prose poems in the issue, alongside work by writers such as George Bowering, Gregory Betts and S. Kennedy Sobol. The issue’s full line-up is here.
I posted a while ago about the anthology Friend. Follow. Text. edited by Shawn Syms. My story ‘People Who Are Michael’ is in the book and my copy arrived a few days ago. I’m pretty sure this is the first anthology in Canada to focus on short fiction that explores issues of online identity, social networking and stories structured by the language of Twitter, Facebook, etc. You can read a bit about the book here. You can buy a copy directly here.
The lit blog Lemon Hound, edited by Sina Queyras, has just released an excellent fiction and prose folio, which includes writers such as Etgar Keret and Lydia Davis. I’m glad to have contributed a piece, “Stories Like Birds,” and you can read it here.
I’ll be reading this Thursday evening at Emily Carr University with Mercedes Eng. The reading’s at 7 PM in SB406 (South Building). Do come.
Summer happened and I stopped updating this blog. But a few things are coming up:
I’m reading at the On Edge series at Emily Carr University of Art + Design on Thursday, Oct 3rd with Mercedes Eng. The reading is at 7 PM in SB 406 (if you’re not familiar with the Emily Carr campus, SB is the South building).
Some info on my co-reader, Mercedes Eng: Mercedes Eng is a teacher and writer in Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish land. She is the author of Mercenary English (CUE Books). Her work has appeared in West Coast Line, Canada and Beyond, The Capilano Review, Geist, and Open Letter. She is also the author of the chapbooks, February 2010 and knuckle sandwich, which explore the potential of documentary poetics.
Mercedes is a powerful reader and local activist and I’m honoured to be reading with her. I was also glad to hear that my book People Who Disappear is part of the syllabus for a creative writing class at Emily Carr this year.
I have a few upcoming publications: two pieces from my ongoing prose poem series Vancouver For Beginners will be in filling station‘s special issue focusing on experimental writing by Canadian women. The issue will be out this month and I’m looking forward to seeing the work included. Two pieces from Vancouver For Beginners are also forthcoming from EVENT.
A short story from People Who Disappear, ‘People Who Are Michael,’ which records a teenage pop idol’s rise and fall through descriptions of YouTube videos, will be in the anthology Friend. Follow. Text. #storiesfromlivingonline edited by Shawn Syms –”an anthology exploring the intersection between social media & literature.” Contributors include Zoe Whittall and Jessica Westhead. It’ll be out in October and you can pre-order it here. Apparently I’m the only west coast contributor so there’s no launch in Vancouver, but there will be launches in Toronto and a couple other cities too, I think.
I think that’s it for now. Thanks for listening.
A quick update on three Vancouver readings I have coming up in June:
Thursday June 13th with Tom Cho
This Thursday I’m reading with Australian fiction writer Tom Cho. The Facebook event listing is here. I’ve heard amazing things about Tom Cho’s book Look Who’s Morphing and am excited he’s doing a reading here.
Doors at 7, readings at 7:30. Hosted by Larissa Lai. At Project Space, 222 East Georgia (just off Main St). Free!
About Tom Cho:
Tom Cho is an artist from Melbourne, Australia. He writes fiction, freelances as a writer and performs his words onstage. He’s also produced arts projects, both as an independent producer and for Footscray Community Arts Centre, Melbourne Fringe and other organizations. He’s writing his second book (working title: The Meaning of Life and Other Fictions). His first book is the collection of fictions Look Who’s Morphing (Giramondo, 2009). It was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (South East Asia and Pacific), 2009 Age Fiction Book of the Year and Melbourne Prize Trust’s 2009 Best Writing Award. Website: tomcho.com
Wednesday June 26th — Rhizome support reading with Charles Demers and Jill Mandrake
Beloved community space and restaurant Rhizome is closing this summer and I’m reading at an event in the space with Charles Demers, a well-known Vancouver comedian and fiction writer, and Jill Mandrake.
7 PM. Rhizome is located on East Broadway, just off Kingsway. Entry is by donation.
Saturday June 29th — East Side Pride
I’m reading poetry at East Side Pride, East Vancouver’s LGBTQI* Pride festival, with a lineup of queer poets, including Leah Horlick.
A few new things.
I’ve been coordinating a project called the Art Cart for Gallery Gachet in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The Art Cart is a hand-pulled or bike-towed mobile sales shop or art gallery or workshop space (it folds out into a table!). This Sunday we’re presenting an outdoor poetry reading at the Downtown Eastside street market. Three poets will read their work exploring issues of systemic poverty and gentrification: Karen Ward, Cherise Clarke and Peter Bracking. This is the LAUNCH of Peter Bracking’s chapbook of poems, ‘Rent In Four: keep your ass out of the acid rain,’ produced for this event. This is part of the Rent Assembly Conference, presented by KSW and The Mainlander. All the info is on the Gallery Gachet website here.
Look for our blue awning near the corner of Carrall and Cordova. 2 PM!
I’m going to the Lambda Awards ceremony in New York for my nomination for Debut Fiction and then reading at the Resonance series in Montreal on June 4th.
Resonance Reading Series
Resonance Cafe, 5175A Avenue du Parc
Hosted & organized by Karla Du Plessis
The Facebook event listing is here.
I’m also reading in Vancouver with Australian queer writer and artist Tom Cho.
Bombyx Batryticatus Productions Presents: A Reading by Tom Cho and Alex Leslie
Project Space, 222 East Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC
Thursday, June 13
Reading starts: 7:30pm
The Facebook event is here.
Hosted & organized by Larissa Lai.
Copies of my book & chapbook will be for sale.
About my co-reader, Tom Cho: Tom Cho is an artist from Melbourne, Australia. He writes fiction, freelances as a writer and performs his words onstage. He’s also produced arts projects, both as an independent producer and for Footscray Community Arts Centre, Melbourne Fringe and other organizations. He’s writing his second book (working title: The Meaning of Life and Other Fictions). His first book is the collection of fictions Look Who’s Morphing (Giramondo, 2009). It was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (South East Asia and Pacific), 2009 Age Fiction Book of the Year and Melbourne Prize Trust’s 2009 Best Writing Award. Website: tomcho.com
Last thing: as a contributor to The Capilano Review‘s narrative issue I was asked to write a couple blog posts. Here’s the first one, on my library habits.