Last Thursday Jane and I attended a reading in honour of the The Black Writers’ Guild (KOLA)
and the Quebec Board of Black Educators (Q.B.B.E.). KOLA sponsors a black literary magazine of the same name that’s been published in Montreal since 1987. Six readers, George Elliott Clarke, Peter Bailey, Clarence Bayne, Horace I. Goddard, Anthony Joyette, and H. Nigel Thomas, read their work, the works of writers they admire, and spoke about their experiences as immigrants living in Canada. Vallum‘s honorary board member, George Elliott Clarke began the evening and stood out as undeniable highlight, reading from his fun poetic opera, Québécité. The other readers lived up to the auspicious start by reading sections from novels and poems dealing with black experience in Canada, and often adding their own personal anecdotes to supplement the readings.
In questioning how to define identity here in Canada, each reader circled back to the notion of ‘home’ and how such a concept can be understood. This made an impact on me. Granted, on many occasions, I’ve been asked, “where are you from?” followed quickly by, “but where are you really from?” or “where are your parents from?” when my response of “Philadelphia,” shed no light on why I look the way I do. But this is not why the question of how one defines home resonated with me. What makes a place home? I think I would call it the place where I feel like I belong. Not necessarily where I was born or live.
The host of the evening, Horace I. Goddard, said at one point, that he feels that most writers struggle with what they call home, and perhaps they only feel at home in what they are writing. It’s my feeling that it’s not only writers who find a home in the written word, but readers as well. I find a home in any book I read, be it poetry or fiction. And while it’s difficult to explain the feeling of how a good book can make you feel so comfortable and welcome that it’s almost like physically being at home, I think most readers will agree and understand what I’m talking about here. Something happens when we read, something that cuts off the world in which we live and builds a different kind of home around us. A non-physical, but just as real, place that we can retreat to and feel more like ourselves than we might in our own realities.
We may move from place to place and call a variety of locations ‘home’ throughout our lives, but a story can remain for years between the same two covers. And sometimes when we reread, we are able to recapture that first moment of belonging and being at home with literature.
This idea is especially relevant here at Vallum, when we are now getting down the wire with production of the upcoming issue. I think about all the writers that Vallum has given a home and all of our devoted readers, who find a space for themselves twice a year in the pages of Vallum. As writers we create a place for ourselves through our words. As readers we bring our experiences with us when we read, and writers and readers both find a way to connect profoundly with what appears to be only static typeface.