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Us, Now

Coast Lines book club features voices of racialized Newfoundlanders

By Heidi Wicks

Roving from Indonesia to the Middle East, through Taiwan, Mexico, China, Africa, Jamaica, Barbados, India, Pakistan and points in between, Breakwater Books’ short story collection Us, Now is a new kind of Newfoundland and Labrador fiction.

The book’s contributors began as The Quilted Collective during a six-week writing workshop, led by author and Memorial assistant professor Lisa Moore, who also edited the collection.

Vanity

Santiago Guzmán (BFA(Theatre)’19) is one of the book’s contributors. Originally from Metepec, Mexico, he is a writer, performer, director and dramaturge.

As artistic director of TODOS Productions and as artistic associate for Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre, his work as a writer aims to put local, under-represented narratives and characters on the frontlines, while inviting audiences to appreciate the vibrancy of Newfoundland and Labrador from a diverse perspective. He is also the general manager at Neighbourhood Dance Works.

His story, titled Vanity, tells the tale of a drag queen from Mexico who now lives in St. John’s. It is “full of a noir glamour and stylishness, lit with limelight, candlelight and an alleyway streetlamp into which cigarette smoke rises,” writes Prof. Moore in the book’s introduction.

Mr. Guzmán feels that love, or lack thereof, is one of the book’s through lines.

“The characters in the anthology give love, receive love, seek love, are deprived of love. And these opposites create a beautiful tension within their beings that makes their heart beat,” he said.

softly, with niyyat

Dr. Sobia Shaheen Shaikh is also an Us, Now contributor.

Dr. Shaikh is in close up, with a half-smile. She is wearing glasses and a black shirt.
Dr. Sobia Shaheen Shaikh
Photo: Submitted

She is a faculty member in the School of Social Work, co-chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of N.L. and co-lead of the Addressing Islamophobia in N.L. project.

Her story, softly, with niyyat, encompasses the history of a long and abusive marriage.

“This is a story about the devotion of a woman, a mother, to herself and to her family,” she said.

“She makes difficult choices to strengthen her family, and this definition of family changes through time. Throughout each phase of her life, she is a woman very committed to keeping her family connected and close to her.

New perspectives on N.L. culture

Both Mr. Guzmán and Dr. Shaikh have rich perspectives about identifying Newfoundland and Labrador as their home.

Mr. Guzmán says he sometimes feels alienated in his adopted home, but says that St. John’s is also allowing him to achieve his dreams.

“As an immigrant, I think a lot about death,” he confides.

“I know that is rather dark, but other than my chosen family and memories in this place, I don’t have blood relations that tie me here like others around me. When I imagine what would happen if I die, I can’t help wonder if people will remember me or what I did in my lifetime. These thoughts gave me a burning desire to achieve my dreams. And now that some of my dreams are coming true, I find myself making the decision to stay. This is home now.”

Dr. Shaikh says creating multiple loves and multiple connections is part of life.

“Multiplicity gives you so much perspective and insight, and increases longing and commitment to what you see as home,” she said.

“Journeying back and forth from old to new, known to unknown, even in your mind, deepens your love for multiple homes and people.”

A purple and yellow graphic advertising an event on Dec. 14 at 7:30pm displayed.

Promises rich discussion

An online event featuring Mr. Guzmán and Dr. Shaikh discussing Us, Now and themes within the collection takes place on Tuesday, Dec. 14, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (NT). Angela Antle (BA’91) will host and will be joined by Dr. Delores Mullins, Memorial’s inaugural vice-provost of equity, diversity and inclusion and anti-racism, and Rachel Gilbert (BFA(Visual Arts)’20), visual artist and a lead organizer of the BIPOC Creators Collective of N.L.. Online viewers will have the opportunity to ask questions.

Registration for this free event is available online.


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