Who would have thought that 10 years ago when Sita Carboni approached me, after the last session for the season of the West End Writers, about starting a writing group around my kitchen table (Kits Writers), that we would still be hanging around doing the same old thing now. Seriously it has been an honour to work with her all these years. To build Pandora’s into something that goes far beyond us and to have maintained a wonderful friendship through all the ups and downs. This is just as much about friendship as it is about words.
Our words feed us. We all know that. But so do these dear relationships some of which come and go with time. I have had the honour of working with and becoming friends with so many people through Pandora’s over the years. I feel that for me in some ways it has been a selfish endeavor to keep it all going, just to be in touch with all these amazing people. I have so many incredible memories from this journey and I would like to share a few with you.
Sita and I working side by side at her apartment when she and Mike lived in the Westend. I would come over after working all day and she would make pasta. We would talk and share and there she was on-line building the website or finding us a new board member. Always looking out for our needs. I will never forget one of the first festivals sitting at her dining room table folding hundreds of programs in three because we didn’t yet know we could pay someone a dollar to do this. Suddenly bursting into tears realizing how long it was taking and how painful a job it was. Then Sita appeared with pasta to soothe the soul, as always, keeping us going.
Twisted Poets began even before Pandora’s. Anand Thakral, another west end writer poet, approached me about starting an open mic with him. I had the experience having run one while I lived in California. He had a friend Elizabeth, who owned the ElCocal on Commercial, who was looking for someone to start an event. Our first night both Anad and I had our families there, mine as audience, his helping in the kitchen and serving. We never looked back. This night was full of life. Elizabeth was partly responsible for that. You never knew what you would get at the El Cocal. Her wonderful homemade cooking was a guarantee. Mary Duffy and I always split Elizabeth’s scrumptious burritos. But there was another side to Elizabeth as well. With her fiery temper she could be in the back having an argument with her boyfriend that you would have to settle before knives went flying. At the same time there could be people singing on stage or yelling or sharing wonderful works. It was magical. Then John Frem came into the picture. He wanted our time, as he was running Bolts of Fiction, a reading series that ran the Monday nights we weren’t there. He was getting pressure from publishers to have an extra night especially near christmas. We agreed to share the stage just at Christmas. We would be off by nine and he could start. This worked so well, that it became our format from then on until John stopped running his reading series.
Eventually we wanted to expand what we were doing with Pandora’s. Sita saw a need to take Kits Writers (our weekly writing group) to the public and so Word Whips began. John had been talking about starting a Story Slam and so we decided to start them together. Just like Twisted Poets and Bolts of Fiction back to back. And so the two events were born.
Eventually Bolts of Fiction stopped, Elizabeth closed her doors and we moved Twisted Poets around for a bit: The Bump and Grind, the Cambie Street bakery and finally the Prophouse which we now call home (and there have never been any fights with knives in the kitchen that we have seen). Word Whips and Story Slam grew and needed their own time and space and so we moved in different directions. Word Whips moved around until we found our home at Britannia Library.
Many friends came across the stage of Twisted Poets. Christy Hill, Leanne Paget, Neil Atkins, Daniela Elza, Trina Ferguson, April, Tenaka, Warren Dean Fulton, Timothy Shay. The list goes on and on.
I can only say thank you for making it what it was and what it still is. Now there are Word Whips run on the North Shore by Fran Bourasa, and in White Rock by Taslim Jaffer. Mary Duffy and Sita run Book Talks a monthly book club free to the public at Britannia Library.
We have brought groups of poets in to read at all sorts of places over the years. Van Dusen Gardens, The Roundhouse, Bowen Island, Word on the Street, The Culture Crawl and lots of other places some more obscure than others.
There have been parties, picnics (the poets picnic) beach parties (Sita’s idea), boat days, readings everywhere one could think of (ok not elevators but Timothy Shay has that one covered).
Over the years we have collaborated with so many wonderful people such as James Mullins and Chris Rooney for Under the Elephant a reading series we ran for years at Tigers on Granville (there actually was a painting of an elephant on the wall which we read under. They still exist go check it out). We ran the open mic portion once a month and James then had features once a month. Again so many friends were made here. James McCann, David Campbell, Steve Duncan the list could go on for hours.
As does the list of events:
– Zap Kids a word whips for Kids we ran with John Frem in a coffee shop on Cambie.
– All the wonderful nights we have run out of the Zack and Gertrude Stein gallery at the JCC with the gallery, the jewish library and the jewish book festival. Thanks Reisa and Nicole. They are so much fun and bring word whips to another level.
– Poets and Painters who brought together so many artists with writers in a huge show in Delta.
– Books for Zimbabwe with Connie Linder of Insight Creative Communications and Doug Anty of Rotary international. With a team of volunteers we packed up 35,000 books in one afternoon from the VPL. This then lead into the Loonie back pack drive where we put backpacks into classrooms and asked kids to bring in loonies to send to Africa.
And speaking of kids, I could never forget Writers in the Making the weekly workshop I have been running at Eric Hamber along side Joan Muir for the last 4 years. These kids inspire me.
And of course the number of kids we have given scholarships to for the Vancouver Public Library Book Camp year after year.
For me there is one thing that we do that stands out the most. Going into the Drug and Rehab centers has been the thing that has been the most rewarding. Watching as people from all walks of life and backgrounds come together to create and share some of the pain, laughter and love of their incredible journey has been an honour. A few years ago I was walking up the drive. It was Christmas time and I was off in my head making lists of one kind or another. Suddenly I thought I heard my name. When I looked around there was one of the girls from our workshops. She was so excited. She came up and told me she was still writing ever since our workshop and that she had stayed clean because of it. Her friends had been encouraging her to keep going. It was so exciting.
And years of workshops in libraries, schools, community centres. For years Sita and I went into Covenant house and did a bi-weekly workshop with the kids there. Every other week for a time we were at The Gathering Place facilitating workshops there. Workshops for the public with Warren Dean Fulton or Shannon Rayne at the Helm.
There are of course our contests with at times entries from as far away as Egypt and Italy.
And then there is the festival now going into its 9th year. Nine years ago I had an idea I would like to start a festival to bring together the community. I wanted to showcase all the on-going events around town and their hosts who worked so tirelessly and often never got recognition. We approached the city that first year and they turned us down. I told them we would do it with or without them and we did. With a modest budget we opened the first Summer Dreams Reading Festival as it was then called, on the Georgia Street side of the art gallery. With one stage we were a go for the entire day. The following year with the city financially behind us we moved to Robson Square just down the stairs from the art gallery. The last two summers we were there were the hottest days of the summer. With all concrete and no shade our audience came and went with the sun. We decided to move to Stanley Park where we could grow to two stages, and be cool by the water. Of course that first year it rained all day. I have never been so wet as I was during tear down. From here we grew to three stages and two days. We now have the gala night at the CBC, workshops, panel discussions, readings and music all day long. We are funded by the City, The BC Arts Council and The Writers Union of Canada as well as The Burnaby Writers Association, The Federation of BC Writers, The Canadian Authors Association and a number of private individuals and organizations that continue to fund us year after year.
But at this time all I want to say in closing is a big thank you. I just want to thank our board – those past and present. You keep us going and we appreciate all that you do. Mike Peacock our president from the start. Along with our present board, Mary Duffy, David McGuire, Ruth Kozak, Rob Taylor, Diana Huang, Gwen Murray. And those in the past Edmond Chow, Rhonda Milne, Tara Harris, Don Simpson, Joanne Kim and Carson Tipper.
And my children for putting up with tents, meetings, late dinners, the list goes on and on. Ali, Seb and Reb you wonderful.
So from me to you let us celebrate and toast. Because really this is about all of us. This great community we all come together to create in our own ways. And I thank you for the privilege of working side by side with you. All of you. From the beginning to now it has been a blast. You are all a part of my family now and that is what this is all about. I salute you. Bonnie
Bonnie Nish, Executive Director of Pandora’s Collective, delivered this talk at a fundraiser in Vancouver earlier this month.