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Dr. Celeste Snowber’s exploration of her Armenian heritage uncovers universal themes of longing & belonging

April 24, 2021
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A descendent of Armenian genocide survivors on her mother’s side, Education professor Dr. Celeste Nazeli Snowber explores the relationship between the longings for identity, and the sometimes-tenuous sense of belonging to something larger in her new poetry book The Marrow of Longing.

Her third book of poetry, The Marrow of Longing is a collection of poems that explores the inherited trauma of the Armenian genocide which marked Dr. Snowber’s childhood.

The Armenian genocide was the systemic mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Asia Minor and adjoining regions by the Ottoman Empire during the first World War, from 1915–1917. The Armenian genocide has been considered as a template for subsequent genocides and is one of the first genocides of the 20th century.

It is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the genocide and tens of thousands more were displaced. The displaced survivors were unable to return to their former homes, as their land and property now belonged to the new Turkish government, or the Soviet state of Armenia. In 2004, the Canadian government recognized Armenian genocide, and in 2019, it was officially recognized by the United States Congress

“My inspiration [to write this book] was to explore both the beauty and difficulty of my Armenian heritage,” said Snowber. “Longing is integral to my life. The marrow of these poems explores place, identity, longing and belonging. From cooking to colour, to the art of worry, to themes of being raised by an immigrant mother are the staples of these poems.”

For Dr. Snowber, poetry as a creative outlet became a means to find her voice and explore herself and her family’s history, as she pursued her desire to integrate her Armenian identity in her life – both the beauty and horror, allowing the opportunity for healing. “Poetry became a way of excavating childhood memories of scents and smells and the terroir of my Armenian culture, as well as the fragments left behind,” said Snowber. “I found these fragments in love letters on parchment from my mother Grace to my father Frank written during World War II. Slowly I started stitching together ancestral memories, which opened up the creative process and traced the yearnings of the heart.”

The process of researching and writing was a deeply personal and explorational time for Dr. Snowber. “I concentrated part of researching and writing over the course of a year during my study leave where I could fully immerse myself in studying Armenian culture and history along with the writing and honing of my poetry,” Snowber recalls.  

This collection of poems written by Dr. Snowber is an intimate window to how biography and history can shape and reshape one's identity. “It is my hope that others’ will see the fragments of their own stories as a place to open up the treasures of cultural identity and see art as a way of healing intergenerational trauma. As I say in one poem, ‘Here I offer fragments, and a fragment can hold a world.’”

An Alphabet of Longing

There are not enough letters
in the alphabet to define longing

the Armenian soul is
varied and complex
as the cuisine of food

aromas of sounds
the taste of words
inexpressible haunts

in the steps of migration.

Learn more about Dr. Snowber’s new book, available April 30. To learn more about the Armenian Genocide, please visit the Armenian Genocide Organization.