by Katherine Haggart, Life Writing Class Volunteer
Writing takes courage. You have to risk something about yourself to put your inner thoughts on paper.
And that’s what happens on Tuesday mornings over coffee and snacks, when a small group of writers meet at CRC to share their personal stories. They come from different backgrounds and possess various levels of writing ability but, each one has a unique reason for coming to class. Their stories weave a fascinating tapestry of life in Regent Park.
About a year ago, Kate Taylor, a University of Toronto teacher-in-training began the Life Writing Class. I took over leadership of the group in the late fall of 2013. Volunteer transcriber, Sylvia Round, agreed to assist us by turning some of the participants’ oral recordings of their life stories into written form.
With support, all of the writers in the program produce insightful work that celebrates and shares the lives they have lived. They display amazing honesty and openness as they put down into words the events and relationships that have shaped them into the people they are today.
Rosie tells us a story about her mother’s bravery and condemns a justice system that fails to punish those who would harm her family. She praises her older brother, her personal hero, who always took her side when faced with the taunts of bullies. Rosie’s sensitivity and gentle nature shine through in the stories she tells and love she feels for her family.
George talks of the importance of education and his passion for books as a child growing up in a poor family in Italy after the Second World War. He arrives to class most days with a newspaper tucked under his arm and an opinion to share about the headlines of the day.
Gordon has us spellbound as he recalls, in great detail, the day the Beatles came to Canada and he entered and won a radio contest to see them play their first ever concert in Toronto.
Finally, Rocky shares his love of the natural world and transports us to places of beauty even in war zones. As a refugee, he has seen much that is frightening and terrible, yet he maintains an almost childlike sense of wonder of the world. Rocky’s story, “The Crossing”, was entered in the Toronto Star’s Short Story contest 2014. He received a personal note from one of the judges calling him a “lovely writer” and encouraging him to keep on with his work. I wish I could have captured that moment as Rocky beamed at the praise of a professional writer.
This diverse group brings something fresh and original each week to the task of life story writing. I have watched them form friendships as they realize they have more in common than they first thought, despite differences in language, education and experience.
The Life Writing Class is a supportive and nurturing place to share their pasts, their challenges, their goals and their dreams. It has been about much more than just writing stories. It has been about finding out who you are.