July 17, 2012 • In web :: Features
“Nobody describes a flower in the same way”
Toronto’s Sister Writes gives women writers center stage.
Continued from page 2
Over the last two and half years, Lauren has worked with women from all corners of Toronto to get them involved in writing, editing, publishing and publically launching the program’s literary magazine, Roots to Branches. So far, over 40 women have contributed to the magazine and published a collective total of more than 50,000 words that traverse the experience of being a woman in Toronto, covering topics including racism, teen pregnancy, immigration, homelessness, factory work, poverty, first love, abuse and disability. Some stories have even been published in translation, ensuring that all writers get a chance to showcase their work, regardless of language differences. Each writer works on at least three drafts of her story, getting feedback from peers and applying skills she has learned in the program.
Helen, one of the participants, recently wrote a story called “The Snowstorm.” Born in Taiwan, where she worked as a bookkeeper, Helen initially struggled to learn English in Toronto. Her story, which chronicles her struggles and aspirations as an immigrant, is a strong example of the importance the program places on encouraging writers to learn literacy skills, while still retaining the authenticity of their own voices. “Your lifestyle is not my lifestyle. I don’t want to work at a restaurant forever all my life,” Helen writes, “I want to go to school. Tell me what I should do. My plan is life getting better. Although, I already in my middle age, I still have young heart. Age for me is not the problem. That is better than never starting, and never late forever.”
Nahid Mehr, who is originally from Iran, joined Sister Writes since 2010. She says the group “is a good opportunity to think about the past, the present and the future of my personal life and other women’s lives.” She also likes to interact with women of “different lifestyles, thoughts, traditions and religions from mine; that helps to make the writing class more interesting.”
This month, Sister Writes is getting ready to publish its fourth magazine with short stories like one written by Shirley Li, who emigrated from China in 1999 and found in Sister Writes the opportunity to write about her experiences as a newcomer.
In “My Mother,” Shirley writes about the day she went back to her hometown after living in Canada for five years: “I was shocked that my town had changed so much. Then I saw an old lady who seemed familiar to me, with gray hair and a bent back. I was stunned when I looked at her again. Oh! That was my mom! She said to me ‘You really came back.’ Her eyes filled with tears…”