Sunshine Coast writers who formed a tight-knit creative community just months before the pandemic barred in-person gatherings have published a collection of works that are steeped in vulnerability.
Eight of the nine members of the Memoir & More Writing Group read selections from their eponymous anthology to a packed room at the Gibsons and District Public Library on Nov. 18. Carol Stewart, whose epigrammatic essay Writing leads the collection (“What secrets are tucked beneath the carefully arranged stories?”) passed away on Aug. 21.
The group first met face-to-face in 2019 at a workshop held by the Federation of BC Writers. Canadian essayist Betsy Warland led participants in exercises to define and record life experiences. “A few of us were inspired to continue our memoir writing,” explained Dennise Dombroski.
The anthology is the first appearance of Dombroski’s works in print. Others, like poets Anne Miles and Atma Frans or non-fiction author Del Lobo have previously published in a number of literary publications.
The book was designed by group member Sherryl Latimer, including the original collage used for its cover artwork. Latimer, who wore a Métis sash for the book launch, read from her poem I Am From: “I am from so many wise and wonderful ancestors who unknowingly made their way for me. For us. For our family. From struggle to achievements. From failure to reward.”
After moving to its online-only format, the group has continued to meet twice a month via web conferencing.
“It’s not a big time commitment,” said Maggi Guzzi. “Everybody comes up with very unique prompts [to inspire writing].”
Guzzi contributed two works to the anthology. Her poem Not a Story defines the creative impulse: “this is an urge to experience / what’s on the other side / where the river flows and / bends around obstacles.”
By mutual agreement, the group is non-judgemental. “The only feedback we give is if there’s something that really touched us,” explained Atmas Frans. “It’s more of a deep listening that we provide for each other. It was our decision to keep the creative energy and the critical part separate.”
The anthology includes the first published story by Denise Olson, who practiced midwifery for 25 years in B.C. and Quebec’s far north. She read Fire in Salluit, her visceral first-person account of a house fire in an Inuit community.
Anne Simonet, a retired film industry production manager, read an excerpt from her richly detailed travelogue of a cathartic road trip after the death of a family pet. The conjoined themes of loss and love surface throughout the book. Anne Miles began reading Regrets, A Memoir with a stark acknowledgment: “I regret that I didn’t thank George, when he was dying, for our life together.”
Domboski held back tears while reading Shaun’s War, whose martial metaphors describe chemotherapy treatments endured by her six-year-old son (“This battlefield was my son’s body”). Shaun, now grown into adulthood, was among online spectators for the book launch. “Thanks Mom,” he tapped into the chat window. “I love you.”
Copies of Memoir & More are available for purchase from members of the Gibsons-based writing group.