Share this post!
Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Horizons Writers Circle is a program supporting writers within the BIPOC community, as well as ESL and underrepresented writers who live in Edmonton and are at the beginning of their literary journey.
Luciana Erregue-Sacchi spoke with GianMarco Visconti, Poushali Mitra, Candice Joy Oliva, Diana Gaviria, and Meghan Eaker, the current cohort of Horizons Writers Circle from the Writers Guild of Alberta. They will end their six months mentorship program with a final reading to take place during the first week of March 2022. Here are their thoughts on their experience and their emerging writing practice.
Could you tell us anything about yourselves?
GianMarco Visconti: I come from a multiethnic family, growing up with a mix of Italian and South Asian traditions, language, and food. My father is Catholic and my mother, sister, and I are Muslim. I think this is why my writing is often preoccupied with identity and memory, particularly how we build and rebuild these aspects of ourselves.
Poushali Mitra: I am passionate about storytelling, especially those connected with early South Asian settlement in Canada. I have a Masters in Comparative Literature & Journalism. Originally from the eastern part of India, I have lived and worked in Edmonton since 2011. I love the river valley, dog parks (due to two beautiful dogs) and everything about Edmonton.
Candice Joy Oliva: I grew up in Naga, right at the heart of the Bicol region in the Philippines. That’s something I am learning to carry with me now as a Pilipinx immigrant settler rewriting herself in Amiskwaciywaskahikan, on Treaty 6 territory. At the heart of my poetry practice is a reclamation of joy. I don’t really write about joy as much as I write from and towards joy. You can find my recent works in Decomp Journal, Loves Me Zine and the Canadian Youth Anthology. A current concern: How to fiercely protect my art practice. Especially now that I’m starting a new fulltime job (my first ever, yay!).
Diana Gaviria: I am a second-generation settler of Colombian heritage who speaks English, Spanglish and a little Portuñol. I am a library assistant with Edmonton Public Library, and enjoy writing short stories about attraction, belonging, identity and intersectionality. Heaven is a good book and a nice London Fog.
Meghan Eaker: I am a mixed nehiyaw and european poet and registered nurse. As much as I have always loved creative pursuits (singing, dancing, etc.), I only started considering myself a poet/artist very recently. I grew up thinking of nikawiy (my mom) as a writer so when I finally started to write more often, I was able to already have the image of an Indigenous woman as a writer.
Most of my writing relates directly to my own lived experiences in all aspects of my life and helps me process my observations. I never thought of myself as a writer sooner because in school I was taught that creative writing had to be fiction and I have always been horrible at making up fictional stories. In fact, some people have told me that I’m the worst storyteller they know!
Learning more about nehiyaw philosophy has made me a poet by accident because our elders encourage us to live in active gratitude.
How are you finding the experience of working with your mentors? How has it helped your creative process, path?
GMV: (GianMarco is working under Uche Umezurike’s mentorship) Being accountable to someone has really helped me examine what my writing practice consists of, and what I want it to be moving forward. Knowing I need to show up for our sessions and have something to share and discuss has been really motivating just in terms of putting pen to paper, which can be the most difficult step. Mentorship is a reciprocal relationship and we have been encouraging each other to grow creatively in different ways. I am trying to focus less on leaving this mentorship with a finished “product” and more on the generation of new work and a daily writing practice.
In the past, my fussiness over presenting work that is “finished” has been a real barrier to my expression. I’m trying to be comfortable with sharing work that is not necessarily perfect.
PM: Jana (Pruden) has been such a great mentor! She is approachable, offers great writing and critical thinking advice, checks-in and inspires me to think differently, and to write without self-censorship. It’s great to have someone to talk to while facing a creative blockage and not feel guilty for not being productive. We have connected through texts and old-fashioned phone calls for deep conversations as we have intentionally avoided Zoom fatigue at times.
CJO: Grounding. Inspiring. Exciting. I don’t really have all the words yet to describe my experience of working with Adriana (Onita). I am still processing, reprocessing. I suppose I am still finding. I am finding there is so much more to my creative process than just writing and poeting (sic). I am finding I love walking through the river valley foliage, drinking meadow tea on patios and gushing about/with life. I am finding the courage to screenshot & share my works in progress at their different stages and watch them grow (or decompose). I am finding the words slowly by listening.
DG: Working with Jumoke Vermissimo has been incredibly productive and rewarding. She’s given me strategies to effectively navigate writer’s block and helped me rediscover the joy of writing, a process that had become bogged down by anxiety for me in recent years. She’s also been wonderfully encouraging and constructive with her feedback, and she’s given me the confidence to start submitting stories to magazines and journals. Most of all, I love the conversations we have about all things writing because otherwise it can be such a lonely craft. Just being able to share your doubts and struggles and curiosities with a fellow writer is a huge gift.
ME: Working with my mentor, Rayanne Haines, has been amazing! It has greatly increased my self-confidence as a writer because she is very supportive. Working with Rayanne has also helped me with the more technical parts of writing. I can see just after few months that my writing has improved in quality with some simple things that she has taught me. It has also helped so much to feel connected to a literary community. kinanaskomon mistahi (I am very grateful).
As emerging writers, what do you see happening in our province’s literary milieu in the near future?
GMV: I’m excited by the growing presence of new publishers and platforms for writers in Alberta. Being able to publish and share my work in places like Glass Buffalo and the Polyglot are among my proudest moments as a writer. These are such important spaces for community and growth – I hope it continues to expand.
PM: I see an increasing focus on literature in translation and Indigenous literature. There are so many more stories to tell…
CJO: I would love to see online spaces continue to grow in this ecosystem to connect all kinds of writers and artists and people with each other. To write, share, teach, inspire, ask, give, receive. I say this because I emerged out of those online spaces. When I finally committed to my poetry during the pandemic, I found my writing communities through virtual workshops by public libraries and community organizations, through a carefully curated Instagram feed of avid resource-sharers, through supportive Facebook groups and Discord servers. As much as I want in-person events, I do hope the future holds more hybrid models.
DG: I would love to see more mentorship programs such as this one expanding. There are so many incredible writing workshops to sign up for and Writers in Residence make such a huge impact on our communities, but I think one-on-one mentorships are THE key to help new writers gain traction with their work.
ME: I hope that more under-represented writers are supported through a diversity of initiatives in the province. I’m also interested in seeing more art collaborations that include many different styles and types of art. I also hope to see more artistic approaches to community wellness initiatives, for example, in food sovereignty and security initiatives, youth wellbeing, etc.