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Every school on the Coast represented in newly released writing anthology

The Coastal Voices anthology is a collaboration between School District 46 and the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. Close to 800 submissions were collected from the 3,200-student district.

The latest edition of an anthology featuring young writers from the Sunshine Coast was released at Sechelt’s Rockwood Centre on June 9, as School District 46’s district principal of learning and innovation, Kirsten Deasey, announced an historic achievement for the annual Coastal Voices publication. 

It is the first time since the inaugural edition was printed 12 years ago that students from every school on the Sunshine Coast are represented in the collection of stories, poems, and essays. 

The Coastal Voices anthology is a collaboration between School District 46 and the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. Through classroom visits, world-class authors like Lawrence Hill, Ivan Coyote and Mahtab Narsimhan encourage students to develop an appetite for reading and writing. Nearly 100 visiting writers have made presentations since the partnership began in 2007. 

Meanwhile, students respond by submitting written works which are adjudicated by a four-member jury for inclusion in Coastal Voices. This year’s process was overseen by Jane Davidson, artistic and executive director of the Festival of of the Written Arts, and John Lussier, the festival society’s president.  

Lussier also serves as the project’s typist and photocopier. 

This year, close to 800 submissions were collected from the 3,200-student district whose catchment area extends from Earls Cove to Port Mellon. 

School District 46 board chair Amanda Amaral and superintendant Kate Kerr also addressed the crowd of students, teachers, and family members as a rainstorm reverberated through the Rockwood Pavilion, which was filled to standing-room only. 

“It is a real privilege to celebrate the beauty and power of student voices,” said Kerr, “voices that are read at the beginning of every board of trustees meeting. It’s a beautiful tradition that grounds us in the work we do. We hold close the words of our students, because students are at the centre of the work we do.” 

Four students performed extracts from their works during the anthology’s launch. Olivia Woods, a Grade Two student at West Sechelt Elementary, read her poem Friendship which reflected on life during the COVID-19 pandemic: “I make someone smile by smiling at them and they smile back / Even if we have to wear masks.” 

Coral-Lee Joe-Louis, a Grade 12 student from Chatelech Secondary, delivered a poetic paean to acceptance: “Listen to those elders who wish good change for you and others / Teach your children and yourself to love.” 

The cover of the 53-page anthology is illustrated with a photograph of wispy flames taken by Len Lani Blundell, a Grade 11 student at Pender Harbour Secondary. “I was burning in the wood stove, and I stuck the camera in,” she said. “I actually burned my finger pretty badly.” 

Mihkayka McGuigan, also from Pender Harbour, overcame her initial reluctance to write a work for the anthology. Her poem Choices explores the complexity of family relationships. “It feels pretty awesome to be published,” she said. “It makes me want to do more poetry, and get more poetry out there. I hope it inspires readers to publish something too.” 

Coastal Voices includes works by students at every level in School District 46, from kindergarten to Grade 12.  

Speculative imagination is prominent in the book’s contents (in If I Was a Soccer Ball, Dexter Bothwell of Gibsons Elementary conjectures, “If I was a soccer ball / I would be in a hospital a lot”). Themes of reconciliation — cultural, inter-species, and ecological — appear frequently (“A curse is those ruined with the impersonal concern for others,” writes Georgia Allcock of Chatelech Secondary). 

Indigenous languages and ways of knowing are woven throughout numerous pieces. Quinn Quigley, of Halfmoon Bay Elementary, describes an ideal camping trip using Cree words: “Then we headed to sleep and looked at the minwasin (beautiful) sunset.”