As we reflect on Canadian identity this month, we at Writers Collective of Canada (WCC) are also reflecting on inclusivity. Since our Founder Susan Turk-Mozer first walked into a downtown Toronto drop-in centre for at-risk women and offered a community writing workshop, inclusivity has been a hallmark of the WCC programme. I believe the concepts of respect, inclusion, and validation are the foundation of why we have been able to grow in a rapidly changing and often unfair world.
Given the inclusive practices of a WCC workshop, I don’t think it is a surprise that we experienced expansion throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and continue to do so today. Individuals – typically strangers – arrive at WCC workshops from different neighbourhoods, countries, socio-economic contexts, cultures, and histories. Within the space of a 60-120 minute workshop, they experience invisible divisions and shields melt away. Through story, they bridge divides.
New Canadians who attend our workshops come to mind as examples of how WCC workshops achieve inclusivity.
New Canadians find our workshops at public libraries, through services like the Fred Victor drop-in (Toronto), online, and thanks to a variety of community support programs that partner with us. New Canadians often write and read proudly of challenge and resilience. For many, it is doubly courageous to write and read in a language that is not their mother tongue.
I remember facilitating a group of 30 new Canadians in a program offered to English-as-a-second-language learners. One writer stood up to share their piece, reading aloud in imperfect English: “I am from [my country],” speaking with self confidence, smiling, and clearly enjoying the opportunity to share words.*
Stories do not need to be complex to create connection.
I recall a newcomer Canadian writer in a virtual workshop who shared just two sentences: “I am here. I went outside.” * The WCC Facilitator responded by saying they heard great resiliency and strength in the voice of that writing. The writer’s chest rose and a smile graced their face. A fellow writer raised their hand and shared how the short piece had resonated with them, and then another writer did the same. In that moment, strangers connected, each giving another the gift of validation. The whole group witnessed how listening and responding with kindness creates connection.
Deep listening is as important as writing in a WCC workshop. Within the architecture of each workshop’s Six Essential Practices, our Facilitators and writers provide validation and respect by offering only positive feedback on the writing shared. Positive feedback requires deep listening and is a critical skill that both writers and Facilitators often say they learn and practice in WCC workshops then bring elsewhere into their lives.
2023 is WCC’s 10th year as a charitable organization in Canada. We have grown from one, then a few, then many workshops in the greater Toronto area to now providing onsite workshops in Toronto, Peel, Niagara, Ottawa, Montreal, and soon Vancouver. In addition, our Facilitators now offer near-daily virtual workshops open to the public. Through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, our programme continues to demonstrate its ability to increase connection and alleviate isolation.
WCC’s growth is due in large part to a broad range of partner agencies, community partners, chapter leads, and volunteer Facilitators who extend the foundation of our workshop architecture to their populations and communities. National organizations also enable us to reach more broadly. For example, WCC will soon connect the Canada-wide membership of Up With Women through the shared experience of writing together in community.
As we navigate growth and experience ever-greater need for our programme, we are forming new connections to enhance our perspective and capacity. This includes the creation of an Advisory Council, training new Facilitators to serve specific areas of need, developing new partnerships, and seeking sustainable sources of funding.
If you or someone you know would like to contribute to our vision to empower every voice, celebrate every story, and change the world, please reach out: email@example.com.
*The workshop memories shared here are paraphrased in respect of one of WCC’s Six Essential Practices, which protects the confidentiality of each writer and each piece of writing