Sonnet LAbbe sits on stage with a guitar. She is speaking into a mic.

Sonnet L’Abbe on stage at the Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series / Image via the VIU recording of the event

The latest entry in the Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series took place on Friday, February 11.

Creative Writing and Journalism professors Craig Taylor and Dr. Sonnet L’Abbé presented on “Listening to The World / Storying A Place” in Malaspina Theatre.

It was the second of three events in VIU’s Spring 2022 Colloquium Series, and took place during Global Citizens Week. The series encourages discussion on topics and ideas within the Art and Humanities faculty and their communities.

Taylor, who has written plays, non-fiction novels, and stories for The New York Times and The Guardian, took the stage first.

A main section of Taylor’s talk was on Svetlana Alexievich, 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient. He explained how she completely expanded what writing could do or mean for other writers, including himself.

Taylor read excerpts from Alexievich’s War’s Unwomanly Face, which consists of monologues from women on their unique, previously unspoken perspectives on World War I.

He also spoke on the interviewing process behind his latest book, New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time. The book features interviews with everyday New Yorkers, including Black Lives Matter protesters and nurses in the early days of the pandemic.

Taylor said he sent his written adaptation of their conversations to every interviewee to get their approval. Every time, they would ask for something to be excluded or reworded. He stressed the importance of telling people’s stories in a way that feels accurate to the subject.

Taylor finished by reading an excerpt from his New Yorkers about a local’s experience of singing in nursing homes and attending Frank Sinatra’s last concert at Madison Square Garden.

Next, L’Abbé opened by reading a poem from their most recent poetry collection, Sonnet’s Shakespeare. They took a different stance, sitting with their guitar across their lap, book open in from of them.

The poem was written in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. Drawing reference to the 2017 Women’s March, the poem spoke on L’Abbé and Nanaimo’s response.

L’Abbé has recently begun performing original songs and covers at the Nanaimo Bar on Front Street.

“I want to take my work to the people,” they said.

L’Abbé went on to talk about the prevalence of Stan Rogers’ song, Northwest Passage. With lines that imply Canada was uninhabited prior to European contact, L’Abbé compared it to singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in a post-#MeToo world. They then sang their own song inspired by these thoughts and circumstances.

During the Q&A portion of the colloquium, the topic of outdated music resurfaced. L’Abbé encouraged people to sit with these songs and consider what it means to choose to sing them.

When asked about the differences between writing poetry and songs, L’Abbé provided an interesting metaphor, explaining poetry as a solo with a single instrument, while song-writing invokes an entire band.

An audience member asked Taylor what is was like moving to New York and he related the city to a “stage” on which to discover yourself. He’d met a queer man from Arkansas who’d never been able to be who he was until he moved to New York.

Taylor noted the multitude of songs about physically going somewhere to achieve a goal.

When asked about their interaction and awareness of Indigenous peoples and relations, L’Abbé spoke on how they were born in Ontario, and only heard their first land acknowledgement around 2007.

“Coming to BC really had me thinking more about whose stories I don’t know,” L’Abbé said.

They made an effort to hear those voices, and brought that perspective back with them to Ontario.

“Why didn’t we ever take a field trip to Six Nations when I was little?” they wondered.

Taylor and L’Abbé prompted a truly international conversation that is timely not only during Global Citizens Week, but any time for people learning and living on traditional Snuneymuxw, Snaw-Naw-As, Quw’utsun and Tla’amin territory at VIU’s campuses.

The third and final instalment of the Colloquium Series, “Beyond Voices: Audio Media and the Sound of Scholarship,” hosted by Media Studies professor Robin Davies, takes place on March 11, 2022.

Editor

Isabella Ranallo is a third-year Creative Writing student at VIU. She's loved storytelling ever since she stole a sheet of her mother's office paper at age four to write the first page of a story about ten kids stranded on a desert island. Her short story, "The Journal," was published in VIRL and Rebel Mountain Press' In Our Own Teen Voice 2019. These days, she spends her free time scribbling away in Moleskine notebooks or searching for cat-inspired stationery.

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