DTES writers on the mountain
Madeleine Thien (Vancouver resident), firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter: @madeleinethien
Elee Kraljii Gardiner (Vancouver resident), 604.202.0072, email@example.com, twitter: @eleekg
Clint Burnham (Vancouver resident), firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter: @Prof_Clinty
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035, email@example.com
When a busload of Downtown Eastside (DTES) residents file into a room in Simon Fraser University’s library at its Burnaby campus on April 15 and begin reading their writings, one thing will become readily apparent.
The creativity, rawness and depth in their poetry, essays, prose and letters remind us that expression flourishes regardless of barriers.
“The DTES is a community of poets, writers and artists,” says Clint Burnham, an SFU associate professor of English who has spent more than 15 years teaching in, and writing with, the DTES community.
“Their contributions to our common culture are valuable and often overlooked in more sensationalistic coverage of the neighbourhood’s economic and social challenges.”
Thanks to a creative twist of community engagement, a Carnegie Community Centre bus is bringing them up the mountain to hear Madeleine Thien, the SFU English department’s writer-in-residence, read new work in the form of letters. Internationally renowned for her fiction writing, Thien has won many awards, including the Canadian Authors award.
“This event brings together SFU communities and the City of Vancouver, and makes a space that is often used by well-known writers available to emerging writers. The social justice aspect of opening up the university to the economically disenfranchised is important,” says Clint Burnham.
Hosted by the English department in the library’s special collections section (Room 7100), the 12:30-1:30 p.m. event will also spotlight DTES residents. They will read their own letters.
Coming from a variety of ethnic, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, they are members of Thursdays Writing Collective (TWC), a free ongoing writing group for emerging and published DTES writers. Founded and directed by Elee Kraljii Gardiner, an SFU alumna and writer, the group has been meeting on Thursdays since 2008 at the Carnegie Community Centre and has published six chapbook anthologies.
The collective is comprised of 150 activists, academics, slam poets, novelists and storytellers who explore issues of self-determination through creative writing.
With the help of Kraljii Gardiner, TWC approached the English department and the library about asking Thien to headline a reading event that would start a new round of TWC’s Postal Code Reading Series.
“We are excited to bring our writing to a wide audience,” says Kraljii Gardiner.
“Having some place to perform or read our work is—as to any artist—crucial. We really enjoy the exchange with the audience. Anyone who has experienced systematic marginalization knows how good it is to claim a space and have an attentive audience.”
The first Postal Code Reading series enabled the masses to meet some DTES writers via the anthology V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, co-edited by Kraljii Gardiner. The book unmasks the DTES’ multi-faceted personality.
The series’ resurrection will help popularize TWC’s latest project, Lettering.
Aside from Thien, who will read her letter publicly for the first time, collaborators include Burham, Alex Leslie, Kevin Spenst and Amber Dawn.
“What is unusual, to me, is the level of deep engagement we will have in this event. I’ve never experienced this level of intense response/regeneration of texts with a community of writers,” says Thien who grew up in the DTES’ Strathcona area.
SFU’s Special Collections library houses one of the largest collections of poetry in B.C. and hopes to expand it further with this collaborative event.
Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.
Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.