Downtown Eastside writers group launches seventh book

The Thursdays Writing Collective, a group of writers from the Downtown Eastside, releases its latest book, "Voice to Voice."

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The Voice to Voice project had its hurdles, such as limitations of time with the composers and budget constraints. It meant that not every TWC writer would get his or her piece produced as an Art Song. 

Sixty poems were submitted to six composers. Eleven were chosen. In order to uphold the collective’s foundational belief of inclusion the writers learned about the selection process and its capriciousness and as a solution, worked together on one collaborative piece, "Drop the Beat."

It's just one example of many inventive processes at work at the TWC. Everyone around the table and in the room was given a piece of paper and wrote down, “The devil doesn’t have any music,” a quote from American blues singer Mavis Staples. They wrote a line response to the quote, and began passing the papers to the right. Each time the papers were passed, the writers added a new line. After circulating around the room like a clock until they returned to the beginning, the papers were gathered, edited together for flow and voila! — the collaborative poem.

In April, the TWC writers went to UBC’s Roy Barnett Recital Hall to hear their written pieces turned into music. Unlike some others in the collective, Tse didn’t get involved with the composer’s process. She wanted the performance at UBC to be a surprise.

“After I sat down and I heard the woman sing the words that I wrote," she says. "It’s like all that dark energy was transformed. It was taken from me. It was no longer carried. It was processed. It was complete. Like a ritual…the sensation was powerful. It was a tremendous gift.”

“Soundscape” performed here

The genesis of the Thursdays Writing Collective was as natural as the flow of the classes. Betsy Warland, the founder of SFU’s Writer’s Studio program, was working on a Vancouver Memory Project with Geist magazine. They were short of submissions from the Downtown Eastside. Kraljii Gardiner and ElJean Dodge responded to a call to create a four-week workshop to assist Downtown Eastside residents in writing their memories.  At the end of the four Thursday classes, Kraljii Gardiner and Dodge thanked the group and said their goodbyes.     

“Aren’t you coming back next Thursday?” asked the writers.

That’s how the collective started. Kraljii Gardiner and Dodge returned. The Carnegie Centre continued to offer the classroom on Thursdays and the writers kept coming. Dodge drifted away to other responsibilities and interests, but Kraljii Gardiner is still there week after week with innovative ideas and, as the TWC writers say, "her heart of gold."

Elee Kraljii Gardiner, director of TWC.  Photo by Anne WatsonElee Kraljii Gardiner, director of TWC.  Photo by Anne Watson

This is a joy project," says Kraljii Gardiner. "It is instantly responsive and it’s completely effervescent.  It’s really fun to be with a group of people committed to exploring their creativity for two hours — and we laugh a lot."

Tse throws her head back with a laugh. “If you talked to me three years ago and told me, 'Jan, three years from now you are going to have something published, and it is going to be turned into an Art Song and you will be working with a composer who is from the cream of the crop' I would have thought you were crazy.”

The Voice to Voice book launch is Thursday (June 18), at 7 p.m. at the Lost and Found Café. There will be a short reading, a raffle, books for sale, free snacks, shared laughter and a glimpse into this remarkable phenomenon of community at work.

The book is published by Otter Press, designed by Doris Cheung and was funded in part by a Indiegogo campaign.

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