Literary connections to community

From left to right: Ravi Basi, Manager of Multicultural Services at Surrey Libraries; Meghan Savage, Poet Laureate Project Coordinator and Acting Branch Manager for Guildford and Port Kells Libraries; Renee Sarojini Saklikar, Surrey Poet Laureate; and Surinder Bhogal, Chief Librarian of Surrey Libraries.| Photo by Michelle Andrus.

The Surrey City Centre Library hosted a book launch featuring the city’s first ever Poet Laureate, Renée Sarojini Saklikar on May 12. The legacy story project Surrey Stories Connect: Teens and Seniors Write Surrey, subtitled Fear Less, Love More; Moins de peur, plus d’amour; ਡਰੋ ਘੱਟ, ਿਪਆਰ ਵੱਧ ਕਰੋ was one of Saklikar’s major undertakings as the city’s inaugural Poet Laureate.

“I hope this book can act as a model for other folks to use language to reach out and be curious about other people,” says Saklikar.

Inaugural beginnings

The extensive community book project began in 2015 after Saklikar was nominated, and, much to her surprise, Saklikar received the call. Being a Canadian Authors Association Award winner, SFU writing instructor, poet and past articling clerk for a law firm, she felt the position was a perfect fit. Immediately, Saklikar got to work implementing an array of activities based on the outlined mandate of laureateship – advocating for literacy and literary arts, plus contributing to the awareness of poetry, language and the arts in the everyday consciousness of Surrey residents. With the help of Meghan Savage, co-editor, Poet Laureate Project Coordinator and acting Branch Manager for Surrey Public Libraries, the book project was well on its way to becoming a reality.

“We wanted the book to recreate response writings reminiscent of poetic and literary pieces of the past,” comments Saklikar.

A literary landscape

Surrey Stories Connect: Teens and Seniors Write Surrey has a dialogical style of writing, which shares commentary and story through the eyes and hearts of the participating seniors and teens.

“Everyone was excited and happy to be part of the project. It felt very uplifting,” says Cary O’Malley, a senior participant and current MFA student.

The three sections of the book navigate the reader through the different communities that held the writing workshops. The first section presented the senior and teen storytelling exchanges held at the Cloverdale Library. The second section brings the reader into the Strawberry Hill community where Saklikar, with the help of a translator, interviews senior residents as they recall their immigrant experiences. The last section concludes with senior volunteers participating in a three-part writing workshop at the Historic Stewart Farm. Two parts were based on their past experiences while one used an artifact from the Museum to stimulate the story narratives.

“The farmhouse provided a good setting to get the memories flowing,” says O’Malley.

Similarly, Cheryl Andres, a retired school administrator, established that this project brought her back to memories of Switzerland and her in-laws’ apple orchards. An immigrant herself, she has lived in Surrey for over 32 years and she says that over this time period much has changed, including the landscape and the people.

A connection to the future

“The population [in Surrey] is much more multicultural than when we were young,” says Andres. “I was a brown woman and I married a white man and back then that was different, but now this has changed.”

An objective that Saklikar as Poet Laureate wants to foster in collaboration with local organizations, is building a literary outreach founded on multi-lingual and inter-cultural diversity. She says Surrey is known as the edge city, which resonates with her as containing immense possibilities.

“Even though Surrey has its shadow side, there is also the energetic side,” says Saklikar.

She decided to title Surrey as the ‘yes’ city. Based on her experiences, Saklikar says that Surrey culture is one that embraces change.

“When I come to people with ideas, instead of coming up with reasons why they won’t work, the city is always saying ‘yes, let’s do it’,” she says.

Saklikar says that everyone she approaches says ‘how can we make this happen?’ With great pride, she talks about Surrey’s exploding cultural and arts diversity. She hopes that Surrey Stories Connect will become a foundation for other future endeavours to be continued upon, and her advice to readers is as the book’s subtitle states: Fear Less, Love More; Moins de peur, plus d’amour; ਡਰੋ ਘੱਟ, ਿਪਆਰ ਵੱਧ ਕਰੋ

For more information, please visit www.surreylibraries.ca/poetlaureate.

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