On a sunny September afternoon, I met up with my good friend Laura Elizabeth for coffees and conversation in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Laura and I discovered our love of writing together many years ago when we took the same high school creative writing course. Since those days we've both explored all kinds of different interests and career paths, but the two of us always end up coming back to writing, art, and creativity.
Laura's educational and career focus has been in the world of gender equality, youth outreach, and social justice education. With her latest project, Rummaging For Words, she has created a space where these two passions can come together and foster each other.
Rummaging for Words is "a magazine for storytellers in action", or what I describe as a collective community art project. Rummaging for Words encourages writers, photographers, visual artists, and spoken word performers to submit their work for publication in their anthology, but writers and artists here in Toronto can also join their collective to share their work, exchange ideas, and get input from other members of the community. Each published anthology focuses on a specific theme that the collective wants to break down and explore. The magazine will be published online with a few print copies available in libraries, community organizations, and at a live spoken word/art event hosted by the collective to celebrate the launch of each edition.
Rummaging for Words: Volume 1 is set to be released toward the end of November with the first draft of submissions due by September 30th. For the first edition, Laura is calling all participating artists to respond to the word "HOME".
"It all started on a trip home on the GO Train," Laura says. "I was writing a poem and realizing that I was going home [to St. Catharines], but then I would refer to Toronto as home. And as I was writing different poems and storytelling with folks about this process of going home and coming home, that was when I realized that the second you say the word 'home' to anyone, there's an immediate emotional reaction. And then it grew into: 'Let's make an anthology and a space for people to share their thoughts and connections to home.' Then working with a collective of writers it turned into 'Lets do this more than once!"
With a solid academic background, Laura was eager to make Rummaging For Words a more creative space that's open to storytelling in all its forms and encourages artistic expression.
"It's so much about how people interpret the theme. I've had a lot of folks ask me if [their] pieces have to follow this, that, or the other. Or does the formatting have to be this, or how closely does it have to hit [the theme of] "home". And my response has been that the whole point of what we're trying to do with Rummaging is less about those stipulations, less about specific formatting. I've talked with so many writers who went through creative writing courses that were regimented to certain forms, and with content having to fit a certain criteria for the rubric, and really being stuck in that academic realm. We're trying to bring writing back into a passionate and energy based space."
I asked Laura to elaborate a little bit on the project's tagline: "a magazine for storytellers in action". I was curious to hear how she envisions bringing storytelling and the idea of "taking action" together in this project.
"What I think could be really special about tying together storytelling and activism is really starting to focus on lived experiences and people's personal narratives as a way to connect with the world around us and the injustices that are happening. I've really learned so much from watching folks come forward and tell their stories, and tell their lived experience, and almost bombard the media with: "Here's what's happening to us personally." And it's not stuck in definitions, it's not stuck in textbooks, theses are not just numbers or statistics, these are people who are being affected."
What I really took away from our discussion is that storytelling and the sharing of personal narratives can inherently be an activist process. Especially when those stories touch on topics or experiences that might not be given a lot of focus in mainstream media or academia.
So are you feeling as inspired as I am right now?
No matter where you live, you're invited to submit your writing or artwork on the topic of "home" for inclusion in the magazine's inaugural edition. And keep your eyes peeled for the soon-to-be-announced topic for the second volume.
If you're in Toronto, you're invited to attend one (or all!) of the Rummaging Collective meetings. In Laura's words, it's a space where "writers can learn from each other, edit and read each other's work, support each other, and learn about each other through the act of storytelling and creating art." It's also a great place to connect with new friends who will be attending community and social justice events around the city. For details on the next Collective meeting check out the website or social media links in the poster.
And don't forget to stay tuned for the Rummaging For Words: Volume 1 launch party in November. The party will feature readings and performances from local writers, as well as a display of photography and visual art.
For details visit www.rummagingforwords.squarespace.com