Borrowing books and taking out diversity: VPL showcases local voices

Author Julia Lin.| Photo courtesy of Julia Lin.

Author Julia Lin.| Photo courtesy of Julia Lin.

Those of us who frequent libraries know what books offer: a new perspective, or a pleasurable escape to an alternate reality. But the Vancouver Public Library provides something more: a look into our own community. With the upcoming event Diverse Voices in Canadian Literature, VPL will showcase dynamic voices of Canadian authors and their importance in understanding our own culture.

The event features authors of different backgrounds, but their works broadcast a common theme. Two of the authors, Nilofar Shidmehr of Iran and Julia Lin of Taiwan, talk of reaching crossroads of heritage and identity. It is a desire to communicate that inspires them to write, and to connect in a land of different voices.

Shidmehr cites one of her poems, “Few and Far Between”, from her book, Between Lives, as one of her favourites because it expresses the longing for home, but finding roots somewhere else. Her collection of poetry is a desire to connect.

“Letting them get to know me and letting me get to know them, is the inspiration,” Shidmehr says.

Lin is presenting her book, Miah, with the knowledge that her work is helping to introduce Asian-Canadian voices to mainstream audiences. Lin says, “It’s important to help raise awareness if the existence of Asian-Canadian voices so mainstream society can have a deeper understanding of people from various backgrounds in our wonderfully diverse multi-cultural country.”

Which is where the significance of a public platform, such as the public library, comes in. The event’s emcee, Narges Sonya Govahi, emphasizes the community library’s pivotal role in showcasing different local talent.

“By introducing these new writers and poets, and also buying their publications and putting them in their collection, [the libraries] can help to support those new writers and poets in Canadian society,” says Govahi.

Defining diversity

The events dedicated to multiplicity and highlighting our diverse community have been met with geniality and warmth. With the publication of her book featuring stories of Taiwanese men and women, and immigrant culture, Lin was surprised to find interest from both Taiwanese-speaking and English-speaking audiences.

“There are so few Taiwanese voices in Canadian literature and I’m privileged to be one of the first,” says Lin.

The pieces she chooses to perform reiterate the motivation to touch and connect with the rest of the world.

“I like to choose parts which convey the emotional realities of characters, and help the audience understand the historical and political backgrounds of the stories,” Lin says.

Shidmehr agrees that there is a lack of exposure of diverse voices in our community, which is why this VPL event is so invaluable in providing publicity. She states that while it isn’t easy to understand differing cultures, she believes that literature should be complicated.

Readers are challenged, yet rewarded at the same time. Literature enables them to do research, to imagine and to discover one another.

“To make Canada truly diverse, we need to make our ways of communication and expectations of communication diverse.”

A difficult but rewarding road ahead

While there is still tough and challenging path ahead to get true exposure and representation of the diversity that makes up our community, emcee Govahi believes the public library plays a big role in helping expand our dynamic voices. But the ones who have come and listened give her hope.

“The most surprising response is the people’s smile and the willingness to learn about new cultures and new ideas which is pretty rare, but in Vancouver is not like that. It seems every one that can make a sense of him/herself is very welcomed,” says Govahi.


Diverse Voices in Canadian Literature takes place on Oct. 12 at VPL Central Branch.

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