Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writing "Well"

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Writing "Well"

Illness spoils any story that desires a certain romanticism of adventure or self-discovery, the solitary act of Manifest Destiny. Many of history's beloved novels have entertained (and sometimes genuinely explored) what it means to have lost a sense of wellness, or be on a path towards self-destruction--in the sense of an existential, Sartrean nausea. But it becomes much more difficult to discuss the topic of physical destruction or decay. To be unwell and desire a sense of physical/psychological stability and balance above all makes the desire to champion a countercultural lifestyle seem petty. Authors might seek to change the shape of literature, but how can the literature shape the way people live, or can live?

To some extent, one cannot "write" or give metaphor to the lived experience of chronic illness. And yet the writer's body can still become a vessel for something much greater than itself, where the writing becomes a kind of medicament. The physical component of writing, the need to have a body move and brain think and hand compose, is often ignored in favour of a romantic image of the "suffering" writer who is chained to their desk as though against their will. Truth is, the average writer who wants to write has to bear mobility and be able to interact in the world--exist in the world, take up space--regardless of the solitary nature of the writing practice itself.

The divine spark of literary inspiration sort of has a very physical root. Which leads me to emphasize the importance of wellness (for all, of course, not just writers). If we want our writings to be immortalized in some way (I doubt most of us don't) then we need to ensure we'll be okay as long as we're here on this place called earth, whatever happens. This is quite clearly a simplification of the relation between writing, illness and the desire for immortality, but I'm hoping to get my gist across. Even in a state of relative wellness, you write in order to redeem yourself from the chaos around you, try to find meaning somewhere, somehow, or invent the meaning if you can't find it before you. The same with wellness, to some minute extent; faith, the desire to feel good, the will to envision the body healing, the belief that one is already getting well… is how the body can get written well.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Adebe DeRango-Adem

Adebe DeRango-Adem is a writer and doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in various North American sources, including Descant, CV2, Canadian Woman Studies and the Toronto Star. She won the Toronto Poetry Competition in 2005 to become Toronto’s first Junior Poet Laureate. Her debut poetry collection, Ex Nihilo, was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She is also the co-editor, alongside Andrea Thompson, of Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out. She was recommended by current Poet Laureate of Canada George Elliott Clarke as a young black "writer to watch".

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