An evening of emotion at ‘Pearls 35’ book launch

Photo by Cheryl Minns
Photo by Cheryl Minns

Douglas College debuts latest annual anthology

By Cheryl Minns, Contributor

The Douglas College Creative Writing department released its latest anthology of student works, Pearls 35, on April 1 with an evening of student readings in the Studio Theatre at the New Westminster campus.

Nine students read poems, fiction stories, personal narrative pieces, and a script to a packed audience of fellow students, instructors, friends, and family. The evening’s readings featured themes of strong emotions and defining one’s identity.

The event began with an excerpt from a fiction story called “Runaway Lane,” read by author Reid Allen. The story follows a young man who struggles with his tragic past while trying to save the life of a dying truck driver who had an accident on the runaway lane.

“I don’t write happy stories,” Allen explained before he began his reading.

Other fiction stories read at the event included Reija Roberts’ “Dumb Luck,” a story about a woman trying to find her identity through thrift shop purchases, and Donna Ballyk’s “Hemmingway Guffawed,” a humorous story about two young men discussing a creative writing assignment.

Kira Russell, the 2014 recipient of the Maurice Hodgson Award scholarship, read her speculative fiction story, “Riversides.” The story deals with Moira and the loss she suffers after she witnesses her brother being captured by a Kelpie-like creature in the town’s river.

The poetry readings focused on self-identity. Michelle Sankey’s “The Button Blanket” explores how a handmade blanket can give a person power and a connection to their culture. Tanzil Mulji’s first poem, “Malika/Queen,” describes the birth of a girl named Malika, while her second poem, “An Ode to Girls with Hard to Pronounce Names,” describes how Malika feels about her difficult name. Stephen Renaud’s “Out in the Cold” explores the mindset of asexual individuals, and was chosen as Douglas College’s Poem of the Month in December 2015.

The personal narrative readings, Willy Mayom Maker’s “Kawaja” and Sankey’s “The Sweat Lodge,” focused on community and family connections. “Kawaja” explores how Maker’s five-year-old self viewed the world as a member of an isolated Dinka village in South Sudan when two white people came to visit.

“Living in an isolated village, I didn’t know other races existed. I thought we, the Dinka, were the only people on Earth,” Maker read.

“The Sweat Lodge” examines Sankey’s relationship with her father and their connection to the Cree community after her dad receives the right to be a sweat lodge caretaker.

“Wherever he went I was with him, whether he wanted my help or not,” she read, describing how she helped her dad gather wood for the lodge.

The final reading of the evening was an excerpt from Adam Tatelman’s script, “A Marriage of Convenience.” The story follows a samurai who is hired to investigate why a wealthy landowner’s daughter was kidnapped a few days before her wedding and then unexpectedly released a day before the ceremony. The performance was more than a simple reading and included many gestures and movements, such as the samurais bowing to their superiors and a fight scene between old rivals.

After the readings, Calvin Wharton, the creative writing department chair, presented two students with the Maurice Hodgson Award scholarships. Coral Zarrillo received the silver award and read her Pearls 35 poem, “Socks Are Not Monogamous.” Gillian Clark received the gold award and read her poem “Write a Poem.”

Creative writing instructor Glenda Leznoff concluded the event with a heartfelt speech about Wharton stepping down as the department chair after eight years. He will continue to work in the department as an instructor.

“You’ve got to focus on the highlights,” Wharton said, reflecting on his time in the position.

Pearls 35 will be available for purchase in the Douglas College bookstore.