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Last Modified: June 20, 2022
Luciana Erregue-Sacchi interviews Adriana Onita
Things Snowball in Community: Luciana Erregue-Sacchi interviews Adriana Oniță

Luciana Erregue-Sacchi sat down with Canadian-Romanian academic, publisher, poet, and language rights activist, Adriana Oniță, to discuss all things multilingual.

Luciana Erregue-Sacchi: First of all, congratulations on your brand-new PhD…Dr. Adriana Oniță! Where are you talking to us from? Why this place?

Adriana Oniță: Thank you so much, Luciana! It feels surreal to have finally defended and wrapped up this long research journey. I’m honoured to talk to you today from the westernmost point of Sicily, Marsala! Honestly, I’m not entirely sicura as to how I ended up here, but looking back, I did paint a premonition when I was a sixteen, where I was living nella mia quinta lingua (in my fifth language) on an island that looked just like this!

How do your creative and your academic life intersect? Are they separate, or are they enmeshed?

My research and my art are very connected, possibly inseparable, like an ouroboros. In my PhD research, I was curious to explore how people can develop or maintain their heritage languages through community arts-based practices—through poetry, music, photography, and so on. As you know, this research topic is very close to my heart. When I moved to Edmonton from Jilava, Romania in elementary school, my mother tongue was seen by many people, such as my teachers, as a deficit. Romanian was painted as an obstacle for me to overcome in my journey of learning English, rather than an asset, or something positive to be celebrated and built upon. This, desigur, had repercussions on my identity, and my feelings of home, belonging, and community (and these deficit attitudes came back to haunt me decades later in the publishing world!). My mother and I stopped speaking limba română to each other. I felt like I was losing the language so quickly as a teen. Even today, my first language is my weakest, out of all the languages I speak. Totuşi, over the last decade, I have been trying to reclaim my Romanian through creating art, connecting with others, researching why/how language loss happens, and trying to raise awareness about it whenever I can. I ground myself in arts-based research, so I infused poetry and art throughout my thesis—both my own and my adolescent participants’ artworks on this topic. Aș spune că research and art are like my mobius strip. My art propelled me to become a researcher and my research witnessed me become a poet.

What is that Romanian concept of work/play combined that you mention elsewhere? Tell us more about that idea, and how that informs your work.

Yes, “hărnicie”! I love this word. It grounds me. It’s the idea of working with zealous and joyful rigour. Hărnicie is not about being productive, hustling, burning out, and glorifying that you never rest, like we often do in Alberta and Canada. It’s about proudly creating things with your hands and being diligent about your craft or practice. There is an expression in Romanian, “hărnicia întrece arta,” meaning hărnicie surpasses even art, which fascinates me. I interpret it as the importance of daily commitment. The morning ritual of creating and working unobserved, without having to prove or perform. Hărnicie could be relevant to any important work like well-being, allyship, anti-racist work, publishing, teaching—or being a good friend, family member, neighbour, citizen. Writing a poem about hărnicie helped me realize that there are words that hold worldviews in my mother tongue that I cannot forget. They inform who I am and why I feel called to do my work. I am glad that I had both the courage, and hărnicie, to combine all of my passions (poetry, art, education, languages) into everything I do.

Beyond the Food Court: An Anthology of Literary Cuisines coverHow did the pandemic help/hinder your career? (CBC shortlist, Griffin work, meeting international fellow artists)

I was living in Palermo when the pandemic began and I distinctly remember the dor and despair I felt in that first two-month quarantine, which I documented in my essay for Laberinto’s first anthology, Beyond the Food Court. I remember that you and I had just ironed out the details for the first art retreat we were going to host with The Polyglot, ti ricordi? I was so devastated that all of these deep connections would be lost, and that my creative and professional life would have to be “paused” for a few years. Now that I reflect back on the last two years, I think maybe the opposite happened. Admittedly, at the beginning of the pandemic, I couldn’t sit down to write a poem for several months, but I realized that I would need to get back to my daily art practice para sobrevivir. Hărnicia întrece arta! So I re-started making art every day, even for twenty minutes. A small collage, a photograph, a video, a two-line poem. To keep motivated, I began working with a writing coach, Tara Skurtu. I was craving community, so I accepted Vern Thiessen’s invitation to give a virtual workshop for the Edmonton Public Library called “You don’t have to write in English,” which resulted in the creation of the Multilingual Art Lab—through The Polyglot and Laberinto Press—which led to some amazing mentorships and friendships across the globe. Things snowball in community. Da cosa nasce cosa. I even landed a dream job with the Griffin Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize last year with my bilingual Romanian-English poems. I still can’t believe this all happened.

The Polyglot Magazine Graphic: 8 issues, 160 poets and artists, 45 languages.You are also a publisher of The Polyglot magazine. How many issues, writers, and languages has it published? How do you keep it afloat financially?

Yes! The Polyglot was born in 2016 and we launched our first issue in 2017. So far, in our first eight issues we have published 160 poets and artists working in 45 languages. In 2021, we even had the honour of being awarded Alberta’s Best New Magazine by the Alberta Magazine Publishers’ Association! Financially, for the first five issues, I kept The Polyglot afloat with my savings, donations, and magazine sales from our launches and events at the Edmonton Poetry Festival. Most recently, we have landed some funding through the Edmonton Arts Council (for our double Indigenous issue, curated by Naomi McIlwraith and Dorothy Thunder), the Alberta Magazine Publishers’ Association (a tireless advocate for magazines at the provincial and federal level), and the Special Measures for Journalism fund through the Department of Canadian Heritage. It’s been tough, but I feel that doors are opening, partly because of the pandemic.

What do you think of global literature in translation? Do you think there is a market for that in our province/country? I think of writers like Ferrante, Bolaño, or Murakami. What would you like to say to the readership of Read Alberta about that?

Absolutely, It’s inevitable. I know that there are readers in Alberta and Canada who crave both literature in translation and literature published in languages other than the two colonial/colonizing tongues. Every year, we see more support for Indigenous language revitalization and recent legislation that backs it, such as Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act (2019). Linguistic diversity is also growing in Canada each year due to immigration. In 2016, 7.5 million people, representing 21.9% of the population or 1 in 5 people, were foreign-born immigrants. They came from over 200 places of birth and speak over 200 languages (Statistics Canada, 2017)—and Edmonton leads Canada in immigrant-language growth. The publishing world will catch up to the demands of these linguistically diverse readers and also play a big role in maintaining their languages throughout generations.

Any author you are reading you can recommend to us?

I love Candice Joy Oliva’s work. She’s an emerging Pilipinx poet based in Edmonton. I’ve been lucky to get to know Candice Joy through the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Horizons Writers’ Circle program and the Multilingual Art Lab. You can read her work in online zines, such as decomp journal’s “Translate Me Not: New Filipin/x Writing and Art.” I also recommend Romanian poets like Liliana Maria Ursu, Ana Blandiana, Alina Ştefănescu, Clara Burghelea, Cristina A. Bejan, Claudia Serea, Diana Manole, and Mihaela Moscaliuc.

Can the Canadian/Alberta publishing industry ever become diverse enough? How would a diverse publishing industry look/feel like, to you?

We were speaking about this at our last Multilingual Art Lab in January! Vancouver-based Tāriq Malik, a member of our lab who works across poetry, fiction, and the visual arts, shared (and I am restating with his permission), that it’s been excruciatingly hard for him to break into the publishing industry in Canada. Now seventy years old, he mentioned that it’s only recently that he has felt valued and hopeful to see more diverse voices in the literary scene. După părerea mea, a diverse publishing industry would feel celebratory, welcoming, non-hierarchical, actively anti-oppressive, and anti-gatekeeping. From a publisher perspective, funding structures will have to change. Until The Polyglot received support from the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association [AMPA] and Canadian Heritage because of the pandemic, we were stuck in a loop where we could not pay artists because we could not get funding, but we could not get funding because we were not paying artists.

Luciana Erregue-Sacchi is an Argentinian Canadian writer, art historian, translator, and publisher (Laberinto Press). She is this year’s Horizons Writers Circle coordinator. Luciana is a Banff Centre Literary Arts alumni, and maintains her blog SpectatorCurator where she muses about life and art.

Adriana Oniță is a Canadian-Romanian poet, artist, educator, and researcher. She is the editorial director of the Griffin Poetry Prize and the founding editor of The Polyglot, a multilingual magazine of poetry and art. She writes poezii în limba română, English, español, français, and italiano, and was recently shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize with her bilingual (Romanian/English) poems. Adriana holds a PhD in language education from the University of Alberta and divides her time between Edmonton and Italy.

Beyond Beyond the Food Court: An anthology of Literary Cuisines

Published: Oct 05, 2020 by Laberinto Press
ISBN: 9781777085902