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Three Books that Inspired Me in Planning This Year’s Growing Room Fest

The feminist Vancouver literary and arts event launches Wednesday.

Jessica Johns 10 Mar

Jessica Johns is a nehiyaw aunty and a member of Sucker Creek First Nation in Treaty 8 territory of Northern Alberta. She is the managing editor of Room magazine and a co-organizer of the Indigenous Brilliance reading series.

Over the past year, I’ve had the wonderful privilege of planning the Growing Room Literary & Arts festival in Vancouver. In my first year as festival director I was excited to continue in the work of my predecessors, Chelene Knight and Arielle Spence, and to grow our community and our ability to amplify crucial voices that are often left behind in other spaces.

With that spirit in mind, I want to highlight three books shaping the conversations between myself and my kin, ones that have helped me grow my approach to community work — and to curating a feminist literary and arts festival. When I think about this year’s festival theme, “worldbuilding,” I think of these titles, each of which works to make our perspectives more expansive.

As with the festival and most other significant things in my life, this list was collaborative work. I am forever influenced, inspired and challenged by my friends and kin, and this list reflects that practice. I hope these books — and the events in this year’s Growing Room Festival — will invite you into new spaces and points of view, and inspire and challenge you in turn.

A Mind Spread Out On The Ground by Alicia Elliott

This collection of essays ranges from parenthood, mental illness, poverty to the legacy of colonialism. Each piece exists in power on its own, but together they speak to one another. This book is a necessary read for non-Natives and for folks living in relative privilege. For Indigenous readers, it’s a relief to read an account of colonial history and systems of oppression from an Indigenous perspective, one that doesn’t attempt to minimize the ongoing violence of the Canadian state. From this work I also learned how to take care of your reader, your participant. Elliott invites the reader to be a part of the process. She leads you in, shows you some real shit, but she doesn’t leave you stranded there. She still has you by the hand to lead you back out again.

Alicia Elliott is a part of this year’s Growing Room Festival in our first-ever online webinar: “Get Some Lit Mag Love: How to Publish Your Fiction, Poetry, and CNF in Journals”

I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes From The End of The World by Kai Cheng Thom

Chelene Knight is the founder of Breathing Space Creative, the previous Growing Room festival director and programming committee member for this year’s festival. She says I Hope We Choose Love: “speaks to how we can still ‘fight’ the necessary battles we face every day, but we can do so without violence to our communities. Something I also deeply believe.”

I couldn’t agree more with Chelene and Kai Cheng Thom. This collection of personal essays and poems was quick to change me, and it was perhaps the most important piece of work I read over the past year while organizing a festival dedicated to anti-oppression and creating safer spaces for BIPOC and queer communities. This book has some hard truths and questions about social justice movements and organizing within queer communities, such as the reality that despite wanting the perfect, safe space, we will inevitably have conflict. So instead of putting energy into creating this unachievable utopia, we need to consider instead what actual care looks like knowing that the community is flawed?

“We carry the memories of trauma we have survived in our families of origin, in a transphobic and homophobic society, and we re-enact them on each other’s flesh,” Thom writes. How do we transform that to courageousness and compassion? What does accountability actually look like, for both those who are hurt and those who do the hurting? Their answer is love-based justice: “We must encourage love — love that is radical, love that digs deep. Love that asks the hard questions, that is ready to listen to the whole story and keep loving anyway.”

Kai Cheng Thom is the keynote speaker at this year’s Growing Room Literary & Arts Festival and will be in two other events: “Self-Love and Community Care: Ethics of Community Building” and “Transcending the Narrative: Trans Women & Surthrivance.”

Chelene Knight will also be in two events: “On Money and Writing: An Intersectional Conversation About Creative Survival” and “Launch of the “Hair” Room Issue 43.1.”

Before I Was a Critic, I Was a Human Being by Amy Fung

Serena Lukas Bhandar, Room collective member and programming committee member, recommends this book for the powerful way “it addresses colonialism and Canada’s racism problem through the lens of an art critic, and puts forth points about allyship that are important for all settlers to read and digest. Canadian (settler) culture is shaped particularly through the arts, and settlers — even and especially settlers of colour like myself — have a long way to go in terms of the ways we still tokenize, exoticize and denigrate Indigenous arts, cultures and lives. The book reminds me of the conversations I’ve had with my Indigenous friends about the problematic ways that artists like Emily Carr, for example, are still elevated over Indigenous artists in terms of gallery space and focus. It’s also an incredibly engaging read.”

Serena Lukas Bhandar will be in three events at this year’s Growing Room festival: “A Scale Not Merely Human: A Speculative Poetry Panel” and “Black Magic Women: BIPOC Encounters with The Fantastic” and “Transcending the Narrative: Trans Women and Surthrivance.”

Events with the above-named artists:

Launch of the “Hair” Room Issue 43.1

When: Thursday, March 12. 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Where: Beaumont Studios

Téa Mutonji, Cheryl Thompson, Hannah McGregor, Délani Valin, Chantal Gibson, and Mallory Tater. Hosted by Chelene Knight and Tamara Jong.

On Money and Writing: An Intersectional Conversation About Creative Survival

When: Thursday, March 12. 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Where: Beaumont Studios

Erika Thorkelson, Chelene Knight, Jackie Wong, and jaye simpson. Moderated by Andrea Warner.

Black Magic Women: BIPOC Encounters with The Fantastic

When: Friday, March 13. 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Where: Massy Books

Nafiza Azad, Jillian Christmas, Kim Senklip Harvey, and Téa Mutonji. Moderated by Serena Lukas Bhandar.

Get Some Lit Mag Love: How to Publish your Fiction, Poetry, and CNF in Journals

When: Saturday, March 14. 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Where: Webinar, Online Only

Alicia Elliott, Manahil Bandukwala, Jasmine Gui, Doretta Lau, and Shashi Bhat. Moderated by Rachel Thompson.

A Scale Not Merely Human: A Speculative Poetry Panel

When: Saturday, March 14. 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Where: Massy Books

Nisa Malli, Rebecca Salazar, and Serena Lukas Bhandar. Moderated by Domenica Martinello.

Keynote from Kai Cheng Thom

When: Sunday, March 15. 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Where: Reliance Theatre, Emily Carr University

Self-Love and Community Care: Ethics of Community Building

When: Saturday, March 14. 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Where: Native Education College

Francine Cunningham, Amanda Leduc, Annahid Dashtgard, and Kai Cheng Thom. Moderated by Amal Rana.

Transcending the Narrative: Trans Women & Surthrivance

When: Sunday, March 15. 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Where: Reliance Theatre, Emily Carr University

jaye simpson, Kai Cheng Thom, Hazel Jane Plante, and Serena Lukas Bhandar.


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