Author Archives: Understorey Magazine

Creative Writing Workshops: May 2017

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Understorey Magazine will host two creative writing workshops as part of our collaboration with the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute.

Workshops are free and open to all who identify as women of African descent.

10 am until noon
Akoma Family Centre
1018 Main St.
Dartmouth, NS
Facilitator: Lindsay Ruck

MAY 27
10 am until noon
Black Loyalist Heritage Centre
119 Old Birchtown Rd.
Shelburne, NS
Facilitator: Louise Delisle


Contact us for further information or for print copies of our posters.

Call for Submissions: African Nova Scotian Women

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We are excited to announce that Issue 12 of Understorey Magazine will be dedicated to writing and art by women of African descent in Nova Scotia.

This project is funded in large part by the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute, an organisation focussed on excellence in Africentric education, with additional funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Issue 12 will be published in both digital and print editions and will be guest-edited by author/editor Lindsay Ruck.

We will also hold two community writing workshops during May 2017. One workshop will be in the Halifax Regional Municipality and another in Shelburne, NS. (Please stay tuned for dates and times.)

Submissions are now open to all who identify as women of African descent and who live in Nova Scotia (as well as African Nova Scotian women living outside NS). Please contact us with any questions and see full guidelines on our submissions page.

Deadline: September 1, 2017.



What to Read Next: The Write Crowd

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The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship and the Writing Life by Lori A. May (Bloomsbury 2015) is not your average writing guide. It does not explore point of view or plot structures. It does not advise on how to pitch to agents or approach publishers. But it just may keep you writing. It may make the difference between saying, “I write” and “I am a writer.”

The Write Crowd advocates finding, creating and nurturing literary community through small “acts of literary kindness.” May begins the book by telling of her move from small-town Ontario to Detroit. She knew few people in the city but ventured out one night to a poetry reading in support of local authors. There she met other writers, publishers and like-minded poets. She made contacts that allowed her to launch a literary journal. She wasn’t “networking” but engaging. She was offering support and, as it happened, she also received it.

Literary citizenship can take many forms and May provides dozens of ideas from a simple “thank-you” note for author to reading for literary magazines. “The concept is to pay kindness and skill forward, to offer something to the community so that others may learn, engage, and grow from combined efforts.”

Literary citizenship is “contributing something to the literary world outside one’s own immediate need.”

The Write Crowd is both practical and inspirational. It is about connecting with others, about recognizing and celebrating the fact that we need each other.

Lori A. May spoke with Understorey Magazine about the book, literary citizenship and her latest projects.

Understorey Magazine: Writing your book was itself an “act of literary kindness” in that it inspires others to engage. What prompted you to write it?

Lori A. May: I had been impressed with so many wonderful acts of literary kindness around me—seeing emerging writers take the stage at reading series, witnessing grad student volunteers becoming employees of independent presses, watching grassroots groups become registered nonprofit organizations—that I began to document some of the ways we can foster and strengthen literary community. I wanted to share ideas big and small for how we play a role in the community and in passing on goodwill to the next generation of readers and writers. After speaking on the topic for a number of years and publishing a few articles, I imagined there was an audience for a book-length discussion.

UMag: You note in the book that literary citizenship has a long history (Walt Whitman was one advocate). Do you think the concept has changed significantly in recent times, especially with all the self-promotion authors are now expected to do?

writecrowdLM: I don’t consider self-promotion a part of literary citizenship. That’s marketing—and it’s certainly necessary for authors to do, perhaps more now than ever. Literary citizenship is when peers and readers share enthusiasm for new books, for authors’ efforts and for events taking place in the community. Acts of literary citizenship are not something a writer can count on as part of a greater marketing plan. But when readers and peers make an extra effort to help authors, it’s a welcome bonus. And when authors devote some of their time to championing others and injecting enthusiasm into the community around them? Well, those same authors are likely to benefit from community support.

UMag: Do you think the literary community and opportunities for engagement are significantly different in Canada versus the US or in big cities versus small towns?

LM: Opportunities are perhaps proportionate to population, but I don’t think there is less opportunity in Canada. There are wonderful book publishers, booksellers, literary festivals and organizations throughout the country and thus plenty of opportunity for literary citizens to get involved. In the book, I highlight a few stand-outs, like Brick Books, Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs and Canadian Women in Literary Arts, but there are countless others, such as provincial writers’ guilds and federations and many local literary festivals. The point I hope to make in The Write Crowd is that wherever you live, whatever resources you have to share with others, there is opportunity. If you live in a rural area, that’s all the more reason to find like-minded readers and writers to assemble a reading series. If you live in a small town with access to a library, there’s opportunity to mentor young writers or host community writing workshops. Plus, with the Internet, there’s little excuse to not get involved. Many literary journals rely on volunteer readers for submissions or marketing assistance, and many times these opportunities can be done at a distance. Whatever I learned about literary citizenship, I first learned as a young Canadian writer and I think opportunities are only increasing in Canada.

UMag: Time is a precious resource for most writers—and especially for women, who still take on a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare. Squeezing in thirty minutes of writing before work may be all that is manageable. Yet, as you point out, engagement is vital. What is one small act of literary kindness that a time-stretched emerging writer might perform?

LM: Cheer on a fellow writer. Make a quarterly appointment in your calendar to give encouragement—via mail or email or phone or in person—to another writer and champion whatever he or she is doing, remind one another why you’re writing and celebrate even the smallest of accomplishments. That may not seem like a major act of engagement but writers can so often feel isolated and frustrated with the process that these little boosts of encouragement can do wonders. You never know when someone is having a bad run and feeling down on her work. A pick-me-up phone call or note that says, “Your work matters, keep it up!” can be just the boost someone needs.

UMag: What are you working on now?

LM: I’m tinkering with some new poems, but I’m mostly focused on a new narrative nonfiction project. It’s slow going, in a way that it should be, but I like sinking my teeth into a larger project like that. I also reward myself with the instant gratification of freelance writing, so I’m seeing results for efforts along the way. I’ve had a busy year with travel and presenting at a number of conferences and festivals and being that immersed in the community always makes me feel good. I love the thrill of hearing others’ successes and sharing that magic. Most often when I come home from presenting, I have an extra bit of spunk in my step that motivates me to keep doing what I’m doing. That’s why I think community is so important. We’re all in this together.

UMag: What books or magazines are on your to-read list?

LM: I just received the latest Best Canadian Essays from Tightrope Books, so I’m enjoying the myriad voices in that collection. It’s wonderful. I’m also enjoying my subscriptions to Room Magazine, The Missouri Review and The Colorado Review. Literary journals are an amazing way to discover new voices and support independent publishing too.

Lori A. May is a Canadian author, poet and teacher. Her second collection of poetry, Square Feet, was published by Accents Publishing in 2014. She has also written the The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Bloomsbury, 2011), two crime novels and short pieces published in leading literary journals. Lori grew up in Ontario and while she currently lives in the US, she keeps many Canadian literary connections, including a teaching post in the creative nonfiction writing program at the University of King’s College-Halifax and a position on the board of the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs.

Book Review: No One to Tell by Janet Merlo

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71KvlTE8B-LToday, the RCMP announced that it will offer up to $100 million in compensation to RCMP officers who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse on the job. The RCMP Commissioner also offered an apology: “We failed you. We hurt you. For that, I am truly sorry.”

Acknowledgement, compensation and public apology have been a long time coming.

Janet Merlo documented her twenty-year career with the RCMP in her book No One to Tell in 2013. The title is apt. In her detachment, Merlo was known as “a fucking woman with a big mouth.” Yet ironically, she had no one to tell about the constant discrimination and overt sexual harassment she endured. No one who was willing to listen and make changes.

Merlo, originally from Newfoundland, received her first RCMP posting in 1991, on the opposite side of the country in Nanaimo, BC. She knew that women before her in the detachment had complained of harassment and they had been shut down. Soon Merlo experienced it herself: a supervisor offering to retrieve change from her uniform pockets; a supervisor with a blow-up doll in his office; a list of “Training Courses Now Available for Women” left in her mail slot, courses which included “PMS—Your Problem Not His.” Merlo describes these and many other instances of bullying and abuse throughout her career.

At first she said nothing: “In a paramilitary organization, order is maintained by mute force—you just don’t speak out against those who outrank you.” When she did speak out the bullying worsened. She feared for her career and her health but she continued. She told coworkers and supervisors, sent letters to the RCMP Commissioner and to the BC Minister of Public Safety. She lodged a formal complaint that resulted in an investigation. Nothing was admitted or acknowledged. She was told to put it all behind her; that her issues were simply personality conflicts. Merlo was diagnosed with PTSD and that, too, was challenged by the RCMP’s Health Service.

Merlo says she has never thought of herself as a feminist yet her book empowers women in many ways. Through numerous anecdotes, No One to Tell provides a vivid look at the daily life of an RCMP constable and portrays the draining, often hidden, challenge of balancing several roles—in Merlo’s case officer, mother, wife and caregiver. Despite these many roles and her dedication to the job, she was often told she just wasn’t ambitious enough. Most importantly, the book also helps to explain why so many women are reluctant to come forward and report abuse.

Catherine Galliford, who trained with Merlo, first broke the silence about abuse in the RCMP during a CBC interview in 2011. That interview brought many women forward, including Merlo. They formed a Facebook group and, in 2012, Merlo filed a class-action lawsuit.

Today’s announcement and apology is partial settlement and a first step toward healing.

Read more stories about Women and Justice.