Finding joy in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, with Thursdays Writing Collective
"It's life-affirming to express yourself."
This video is part of The Collective, a CBC Arts digital project that invites artists to tell their own stories. Learn more about the project, and watch more Collective videos.
Collective: Thursdays Writing Collective
Film: Writing in Community with Thursdays Writing Collective
Synopsis: This short documentary highlights Vancouver's Downtown Eastside as a center of creativity and flair by turning the lens on members of Thursdays Writing Collective.
Every Thursday, writers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside gather at Carnegie Community Centre to share their stories as part of Thursdays Writing Collective, a free and inclusive drop-in program that's been running since 2008. In this short documentary, members of the collective talk about how life in the neighbourhood feeds into their work, and what it means to come together each week and share a piece of themselves.
Here are some thoughts on the project from founder and facilitator Elee Kraljii Gardiner:
What is the Thursdays Writing Collective? How did it get its start?
Thursdays Writing Collective is a group of writers in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver that meets once a week to write longhand. It's a drop-in class, and we have an open door policy. We also enjoy taking our work outside the neighbourhood — in book form and to literary festivals and readings. We have more than 150 members, some of whom have been with us from the very first class in 2008 and others who just joined us last week.
How would you describe your collective's philosophy?
When people come in to do the writing prompts, we always reiterate that there's no way to do them wrong; it's exceptionally free. We firmly believe that everybody has a right to be heard, and we work together to make sure that we do that in an equitable, safe and exciting manner. We've grown tremendously, but the kernel that it sprang from has remained intact — and that kernel is one of the exploration of creativity through joy. We all work towards joy levels. And that has enabled this little tiny project to become a self-sustaining, completely contagious experience.
What do you mean when you talk about "working towards joy levels?"
It's hard to be a writer — in any circumstance. And it's also hard to live in Vancouver right now. It's the most expensive city in North America, and there's harsh inequity. Particularly in the Downtown Eastside, people brush up against a lot of restrictions — whether economic, racialized or bias-based. And writing, as we all know, is an escape. When we dream and play on the page, it opens up something inside all of us. We might be writing about really dark things, but the notion that we are captains of our own ship — and that we can take the page wherever it needs to go that day — is a type of freedom that many of us don't experience in our daily lives.
In the video, Antonette refers to the area as a "creative, thriving artistic environment." Do you feel that aspect of the Downtown Eastside deserves more attention?
While the Downtown Eastside is maligned for its socioeconomic troubles, people do recognize that there are a lot of arts initiatives going on; arguably more than any other neighbourhood in Vancouver. And that kind of creative energy is one that is mutually reinforcing. It's incredibly energizing to be with writers who are so committed to their craft that they are coming to class regardless of being housed, or having enough food. We all have this creative fire inside of us. Through the gentle repetition of creating together, week after week, we've forged these really trustful relationships that cut across all kinds of sociopolitical, geographic, linguistic lines. Those relationships carry off the page now. They carry outside the room.
How does creative writing help to overcome adversity?
It's critical. Creative writing can be whatever it is that you want it to be, or need it to be. It's life-affirming to express yourself. It's also a way to attract change. And it's really joyful! Anything we can do to increase those little sparks of elation — whether it's finding just the right adjective, or expressing something new or cracking how to write a sonnet. Those are feelings that translate to how you move through the world. We love having those moments on Thursdays. It's very sustaining.
More about the Thursdays Writing Collective
The Thursdays Writing Collective is comprised of activists, slam poets and storytellers. The Collective offers free writing workshops and editing to people of all literacy levels in Vancouver's downtown Eastside. The group was founded in 2008 and has published seven anthologies.
Videographer, Director, Editor
Mateo J. Zepeda
Mateo J. Zepeda
"Climbing Higher Up" by Joel Hunger
Heart of the City Festival- Tom Quirk
Elee Kraljii Gardiner
Molly Sky Ancel
R. Harry Langen
Donald Neil Simmers
Carnegie Community Centre
The Paper Hound Bookshop