‘AfterWord’ women’s literary event review
By Roshni Riar, Staff Writer
On September 30, a room full of people settled into the Native Education College in Mount Pleasant, Vancouver. Chelene Knight—managing editor of Room magazine—took to the microphone to welcome us to AfterWord. She explained that AfterWord was a literary celebration of all women—including queer people and women of colour—and stressed the casual nature of the event, with snacks and drinks for all, and no pressure to stay for the full three-and-a-half-hour reading sponsored by Room.
AfterWord was initially meant to be a part of the Word Vancouver festival line-up, which took place in Vancouver from September 24 to 30. The Facebook event page explains that due to “undisclosed financial issues with the [Word Vancouver] Society,” there was no longer an option for the event to be part of Word Vancouver and so AfterWord, a post-festival celebration, was born.
AfterWord featured 14 local writers. The lineup included Isabella Wang, an emerging 18-year-old Chinese-Canadian poet; Sara Graefe, a playwright, Creative Writing faculty member at the University of British Columbia, and editor of Swelling with Pride: Queer Conception and Adoption Stories; Amber Dawn, Douglas College faculty member and author of Sub Rosa, How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, and the 2018 novel Sodom Exit Road; Andrea Warner, author of the newly released Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography; jaye simpson, an Oji-Cree Anishinaabe Two-Spirit warrior and member of the 2018 Vancouver Slam Poetry team; and Ivan Coyote, the author of 11 books, including 2016’s Tomboy Survival Guide, and Simon Fraser University’s newly named Writer in Residence for 2018/2019.
While 14 readings may seem like a lot, every writer who shared with the room provided a different, fresh perspective on what it means to be not just a woman but a human being navigating society’s biases and obstacles. While not everyone had the same shared experiences, the concept of womanhood, and the othering that stems from it, was the commonality that touched everyone in attendance. The room was brought to laughter, heavy silence, and even tears throughout the night.
Sara Graefe read from her own story in Swelling with Pride, a harrowing yet hilarious tale of the struggle of a lesbian couple who desperately wants a child. People sat around the tall, wood-burning fireplace in the middle of the room and listened intently, feeling her experience as if it was their own. Amber Dawn made us all laugh in the preamble to her reading, alerting the audience: “Trigger warning: UBC.” Following that burst of comedy was a powerful, resonating response to her memoir How Poetry Saved my Life. Dawn truly performed the piece, gripping the microphone with strength and intensity as she captivated the listeners.
Ivan Coyote closed the reading, thanking everyone in the room for attending and thanking all of the writers who shared their words and their stories. They fanned themself, explaining that their menopausal hot flashes were acting up, which made the audience laugh and hum in understanding. Coyote read their own “literary Doritos,” a term they coined to describe the short anecdotal stories they often write. Their stories centered on their own trans experience and took listeners through feelings of anger, sadness, hilarity, and understanding in just a few stories.
The night closed with a thunderous applause for everyone involved in the event, the singing of “Happy Birthday” to Isabella Wang, and the sharing of a special birthday cake that Knight and Meghan Bell (publisher of Room and Knight’s partner in putting together AfterWord) brought to celebrate Wang’s belated 18th birthday. The sense of community was strong as people stood with their slices of cake, chatting and perusing the writers’ books on sale. People slowly filtered out, smiling at each other, and I think we all felt proud to have been a part of such a meaningful night.