Every September since 1997, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival presents THIN AIR, a celebration of books and ideas. Their curated line-up is a perfect fit for curious readers who are ready to discover strong voices and great storytelling in practically every genre. This year, they're presenting a hybrid festival featuring 60 writers, live events, and a dynamic website.
To watch video content Rowan McCandless has prepared for them, visit the festival website.
While there are many memoirs on the market, the majority adhere to a linear form and narrative. Recently, more genre-bending memoirs have proven successful, and my first book, Persephone’s Children: A Life In Fragments pushes those boundaries even further.
Persephone’s Children, is a hybrid memoir that chronicles my leaving a domestic abuse situation as a black and biracial woman and how writing sustained me during that difficult process. Through a series of essays that are often nonlinear and experimental in form, readers explore themes such as intergenerational trauma, racism, domestic abuse, mental illness, motherhood, daughterhood, love, loss, the writing process, and the importance of having a writing community.
Here are some of my memoir picks that inspired me as I wrote Persephone’s Children.
Dear Current Occupant, by Chelene Knight.
Dear Current Occupant won the 2018 Vancouver Book Award. Set during the 80s and 90s in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Knight structures her memoir as a series of letters written to the current residents of homes that Knight lived in during her childhood with her mother and brother. Knight’s work provides a snapshot of a youth impacted by food and housing insecurities and the relationship between a daughter and a mother who openly struggled with drug addictions. Incorporating poetry and prose, lyricism and photography, Knight has written an evocative, courageous, and beautiful piece of memoir.
How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, by Amber Dawn.
Winner of the 2013 Vancouver Book Award, How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, is Amber Dawn’s second book. Weaving poetry and prose Amber Dawn describes her journey as a queer femme trying to survive and support her way through university. Divided into three sections, “Outside,” documents the period Amber Dawn was engaged in survival street work. “Inside,” details the period she worked in massage parlours as a means to pay for university while “Inward,” highlights life afterwards as a successful author and advocate for sex workers and members of the LGBT2sQ community. Unflinching and honest, Amber Dawn navigates her way between worlds of cis privilege and marginalized communities, discovering the restorative and healing properties of literature and writing. In many ways, this memoir is a manifesto, a call to speak your truth.
I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter, by David Chariandy.
Reminiscent of James Baldwin’s essay, On Being White and Other Lies and Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Chariandy structures his book as a series of letters written to his daughter on the occasion of her 13th birthday. Chariandy’s concern for his daughter is enhanced by the fact that his wife is white and that their biracial daughter must navigate between two very different extended families—one of privilege, the other of immigrant experience. He worries how this might impact his daughter. Being an outsider is a strong theme in the book as is the exploration of the African diaspora and the recognition of the important role literature can play to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.
Heart Berries: A Memoir, by Terese Mairie Mailhot.
Terese Mailhot is from Seabird Island Band. Finalist for the 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the 2018 Governor General's Literary Awards Heart Berries: A Memoir documents layers of intergenerational trauma through the use of inventive forms. Through a series of essays, Mailhot’s writing is often lyrical, at times akin to stream of consciousness. This is a memoir about motherhood, daughterhood, indigeneity, love, loss, absence, abandonment, wants, needs, mental illness, suffering, betrayal, and survival. This memoir is a slim volume that captures a great deal of heart and heartache.
Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada, by Lawrence Hill
Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada provides an intriguing look at what it means to be Black and biracial in a country that pretends not to see colour. Hill’s personal experiences are woven with the stories of thirty-six other Canadians of mixed race that Hill interviewed for this book. Published in 2001, this book remains timely and topical.
After years of secrecy and silence, Rowan McCandless leaves an abusive relationship and rediscovers her voice and identity through writing.
She was never to lie to him. She was never to leave him; and she was never supposed to tell.
Persephone’s Children chronicles Rowan McCandless’s odyssey as a Black, biracial woman escaping the stranglehold of a long-term abusive relationship. Through a series of thematically linked and structurally inventive essays, McCandless explores the fraught and fragmented relationship between memory and trauma. Multiple mythologies emerge to bind legacy and loss, motherhood and daughterhood, racism and intergenerational trauma, mental illness and resiliency.
It is only in the aftermath that she can begin to see the patterns in her history, hear the echoes of oppression passed down from unknown, unnamed ancestors, and discover her worth and right to exist in the world.
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