On March 10, 2020, Sandra Ens introduced our guest speaker Sharanpal Ruprai, this year’s Canadian Writer-in-Residence at the University of Calgary. Dr. Ruprai is Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Winnipeg. Her poems have been published in numerous anthologies including Exposed and Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Canadian Women Poets. She is also the author of two other volumes of poetry: Seva, a coming of age collection which speaks movingly about experiences from Ruprai’s Sikh girlhood; and her most recent collection, the humorous and evocative Pressure Cooker Love Bomb, which was named a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry. As Dr. Ruprai engaged us with readings from her body of work, we were encouraged as she was “to cut the noise out of the poetry” and to be mindful of the need for openness about the multiples of culture and religion.
CLICK HERE for more on Pressure Cooker Love Bomb and its poet.
It has been far too long, yes it’s been quite a while, Since we greeted each other with a hug and a smile. And we listened intently to the paper being read, Agreeing to the comments with the nod of our head.
It’s been ages since the minutes were shared, And we nibbled on treats that a member prepared. The silence we feel brings a sigh to our hearts, This nasty Corona still keeps us apart!
But the good news is that we all still keep well, Just imagine the stories we’re saving to tell. Though our luncheon a virus has hauled off in stealth, Let us raise up our glasses with a toast to our health.
In my request for members to enliven our website while we could no longer meet, Janet S. took up the challenge and sent me some photos from Timbuktu, which until recently had a famous library. You must read on, lest we take libraries for granted. Timbuktu represents (or used to?) the most remote location on Planet Earth, wherever you live. Of course, our Janet S. has been there, with pictures to prove it. Two photos show the Timbuktu Library door. (Janet H.)
I visited Timbuktu in 2009, on my way to the Tuareg Festival in the Desert. Touring the dusty town, I was fascinated to hear of the history of this fabled city. It was once a rich trading centre, a crossroads in the trade of salt, gold and slaves, and the site of the first university in the Muslim world, established in 1140. It became famous for the study of sciences such as astronomy and medicine, as well as for literature and religion. I was shown the library, which held the handwritten manuscripts dating back to the establishment of the university. Many of the manuscripts remained in private hands. It was explained to me that many of the families who had passed them down through the generations were uncomfortable having all the precious manuscripts kept in one place. They felt that it was their duty to protect these ancient records of the past.
Their instincts were very good, as I was there at a very uncertain time. The private army of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi had just disbanded, and taking their weapons with them, they were making incursions into Mali. The people of Timbuktu were worried as to what the future would hold for them as they were Sufi Muslims and the fanatic Sharia jihadist Muslims from Qaddafi’s army were on the move south. The governments of all 8 of us in the tour group, Canadian, Australian, British and American sent warnings to us in Timbuktu that we should get out. We were all certain that we would be safe until after the festival. Luckily that was the case, and then we left rapidly. The Festival in the Desert went off well, carrying on the melodic traditions of the Tuaregs that stretched back at least to the times of the founding of Timbuktu. Many tribesmen had travelled hundreds of miles across the Sahara by camel to attend. I found out later that it was at this time that two Canadian diplomats had been kidnapped in Niger, and it turned out later that they were being kept in Mali, about 250 kilometres from where we were. About 2 months after, a tour group was attacked near Timbuktu and a British man and a German lady were killed. However, it was not until three years later that the jihadists burned the library of Timbuktu and destroyed the forty-two tombs of the prophets that were a feature of Timbuktu. Luckily, those manuscripts in private hands were smuggled out of the area.
If you ARE getting through some of those books on your shelves, consider showcasing your favourites here! Your recommendation can be added to the website, and archived in Category “I’m Reading.” (Check out the menu to the right.) These can be short and sweet, as if you’ve been asked to comment for a book sleeve. Just send your draft to the webmaster, Janet Halls.
Not so long ago, I discovered immigrant literature through a novel which completely changed the way I perceived current news about illegal Mexican immigrants. Not only had I gained more insight into their plight, I saw our own North American culture from their point of view — and it was unflattering.
With this season’s theme of cultural awareness in literature, I sought to present to the Club five fictional books which address ongoing immigrant issues in North America, written in different styles and dealing with different cultures. I had a wealth of choice, and when I had run out of time to read more, I selected these:
Environmental: The Tortilla Curtain (above-mentioned) about illegal Mexican immigrants (Author T.C. Boyle, 1995)
Suspense: The House of Sand and Fog about Iranian-Americans (Author André Dubus III, 1999)
Legal drama: The Boat People about Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Canada (Sharon Bala, 2018)
The two books below are in many categories, or perhaps defy categorizing. You will laugh and you will cry while reading their narrators’ highly quirky, often funny, recounting of tragedies.
Coming of age (the best I can do…unlike any other book I have read:)The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao about Dominican Republicans in New Jersey (Junot Díaz, 2007)
War/spy novel/mystery/comedy/tragedy… : The Sympathizer about Vietnamese refugees to the United States (Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015)
Why search out immigrant literature? Fiction will humanize immigrants in a way news reports cannot. Novels make us more aware of the enormous challenges immigrants face and can deepen our understanding, empathy and compassion for those who hope to find a better life here.
Moorea revealed how foreign our own Canadian culture can be by sharing her study of Susanna Moodie, a 19th Century British settler, whose book about the realities of Roughing it in the Bush; or, Life in Canada (1852) was not the encouraging guide to promote emigration its publishers had envisaged!
Susanna Moodie is important historically, providing a window into what was then Upper Canada (Ontario.) For a genteel British family — who had expected to rise to the top of colonial society, the reality was not what they expected. Mrs. Moodie, who was already a published author in Britain, became a pioneer of Canadian literature, and has influenced writers such as Carol Shields, L.M. Montgomery, Timothy Findley and Margaret Atwood.
This courageous immigrant shared her experiences through the art of writing, while she adapted, not always easily or willingly, to a culture more foreign than she had expected — and which would be largely foreign to Canadians today. Link to Moorea’s insightful summary by CLICKING HERE.
[Webmaster’s addition: Enjoy stumbling upon what is almost certainlyTHE MOODIE HOMESTEAD, THROUGH THIS LINK.It is an artist’s watercolour images, someone who would have gone to enormous effort to reach the Moodie homestead shortly after the family had moved from the bush.]
It’s no wonder that the “father of geology” James Hutton was Scottish, as is the Loch Ness monster and Scottish bagpipes: What a country and culture! Cecilia opened her presentation with Wings’ Mull of Kintyre. The “earworm” hasn’t left me since (in a good way!) The opening music for the TV series, “The Skye Boat Song,” is equally haunting, with traditional lyrics telling of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape to the Isle of Skye.
Cecilia felt as entirely immersed in the world Gabaldon paints in the Outlander novels, as her son had been many years ago escaping into J.K. Rowling’s world of Harry Potter.
In 1988, a scientist, university professor and contributor to professional publications, decided to try her hand at writing a novel, for practice only. Diana Gabaldon by chance caught a Dr. Who episode with a compelling 18th century, kilted Scottish character. That was the catalyst for what has become The Outlander series. By using time travel, the author was able to provide modern perspectives. As a counterpoint to the fantasy, Ms. Gabaldon weaves in reality using her meticulous research of history, medical practices and medicinal plants.
In reviewing my notes from Shawna’s presentation on October 29, 2019 of prolific Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, what jumps out at me now, in this one month of physical distancing, is the book Balkon. Over a five-month period (2012-13) Mr. Pamuk took over 8,000 photos of Istanbul from his balcony (Wikipedia) resulting in this photo journal, as well as an art exhibition in 2019. Let’s hope we don’t have four months to go, but what an inspiration!
Shawna began her presentation with a quote, which I caught in my handwritten notes. In other words, this may not be word-for-word.
I ran away but I returned and will continue to tell its story. This is the best place I know. (Orhan Pamuk)
This author, who had early aspirations to be a painter, then architect, eventually painted word pictures — so well that his Turkish books are translated worldwide, and have received many prestigious awards, including the 2006 Nobel Prize.
CLICK HERE to find out why Shawna enjoys Orhan Pamuk so much and why you might too.
(A note on the image: The Turkish plate is one I received from my worldly Uncle George, who was born in Victorian times. Viewed from the back, you would see that the plate was badly broken and considerably mended, showing how much the art was treasured by my Uncle. Still is! Janet Halls)
On October 22, 2019, Program Chair Sandra Ens challenged us to something novel — a panel discussion of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s presentation, “The Danger of a Single Story” (2009)
In this “Ted Talks” video, the author describes growing up in Nigeria reading books from Britain or the United States. However, Nigerian literature was missing entirely. Attending college in the U.S., Ms. Adichie was taken aback that North Americans know next-to-nothing about Nigeria specifically, and she felt patronized or pitied as an “African.” She realized that our opinions are (still!) based on “a single story.” To make matters worse, we extrapolate that story across all the countries, cultures and diverse peoples living in the entire African continent. Ms. Adichi’s own books, along with strong support she and her publisher give to other Nigerians to write and publish their own stories, will help readers broaden perspectives and dispel negative stereotypes.
After the video, members referenced examples from their own experiences, especially of different cultures and faith traditions, in general agreement with Ms. Adichie’s thesis. Recognizing that it is easy to fall into the trap of stereotypes, we were reminded of the importance of being open to other stories and of learning to appreciate that the story being told, including our own, is often incomplete but still worthy of consideration.
You may listen to Ms. Adichi herself, if you weren’t at our meeting.
(Thanks Helen, for your always outstanding Minutes, which I have used for this post! I’m sorry I missed out on this special meeting. Janet H.)