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Women’s history in the flesh September 22, 2009

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At Mythogyny book launches

“So I went to jail with my friends and we came out and went to live in the black community. We spoke before black churches to raise money for our defense and had a trial in Houston. We never did get to Mississippi, obviously. We were found guilty of unlawful assembly. We appealed and we won that decision, which meant that from then on the owner of that restaurant would be arrested if he discriminated against anyone else. 

In effect, what we did in that year, over 400 of us, was to desegregate those facilities all through the south, it was quite an achievement,” thus recalls Bev Mill of the “freedom rides” in the US during the late 60s when movements for civil rights had begun to peak. She was talking about a simple act of refusing to leave a restaurant that did not want to serve a black person. Bev went to the US as an exchange student, “a resident alien”, is how she puts it.

Bev will read part of her story from Mythogyny: the lives and times of women elders in BC at its soft launch at the 411 Seniors Centre on Dunsmuir, downtown Vancouver on Tues. Sept 22 at 2 pm.

A memorable vignette from Gertrude’s excerpt on immigration will also be read. Gertrude recalls her first flight coming to Canada. “I’d never been to an airport in my life and had  never seen a plane on the ground before …Getting on a plane with seven children was quite an adventure… my youngest was only eleven months old fast asleep on my knee.” Picture how when dinner was served and put on the tray, her son woke up and sent the dinner flying in the air so, she continues, “…I had to nibble on my two youngest one’s food.”

But more misses awaited her arrival in Toronto—her son had waited at 5 am to meet them; Gertrude and the children got there at 5 pm. They waited until 9 pm, as she continues her story, “…so I plucked up the courage to call the police, “Would you please send somebody down to this address and tell them I’m here?” Gertrude leaves much to the reader how the children must have fretted through all that time.

The third reader at the 411 launch, Lia Soosar, will retell portions of how she ended up “…a displaced person.” Her story begins in Estonia when the Russians finally got there to fight the Germans. “I was going to Riga, just because I had left something there, but I never got to Riga. I never got anywhere. I ended up on a boat on the sea. That is where I became a displaced person. I wanted to escape.”

Lia ended up in Heilsheim, Germany, which was a displaced persons’ camp, with another woman she met. They were made to sleep in the attic room and this woman cried forever in bed for her lost children. Soon they were taken to England to work in a sanatorium in west Yorkshire.

“We cried for two weeks because some people there were tubercular, and we didn’t know that…England was completely different; they changed my name and they always made great fun about you when you pronounced the words bad…All I wanted was to go back to my country.” She was there for nine years. One day in 1958, a Scottish girl said, “Let’s go to Canada.”

 Alice West, Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT) chair will host and emcee the program. Oonagh Berry, WE*ACT member and 411 director, will accept the books in the symbolic turnover.

Mythogyny: What authors say about it September 9, 2009

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“Powerful stories, often quite artlessly unaware of their own power and emotional weight”  is how Alice Munro, Short Story writer,  winner of the third Man Booker International Prize, describes Mythogyny, the lives and times of women elders in BC.

The anthology of personal stories gathered from interviews and collected as true voices by Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT) along with volunteers will be launched on Sept. 24, at SFU Harbour Centre’s Teck Gallery at 6:30 p.m.

Expected to attend are some of the seventy-seven storytellers and story-catchers among them Shiela Baxter, Bev Mill, Millie Canessa, Joan Morelli, Pat Peters, Ruth Shaw, Colleen Caroll, Faye Yamsuan, Bernice Gehring, and Jan McRobb whose stories are either taken as a whole or as excerpts.

Special honors will be given to Wilma Hanson and Betty Greenwell who have died in the course of the book’s production.

 “During the training, we carefully formulated questions to guide us. But during most of the interviews, only one of those questions would be used. The magic of telling a personal story face-to-face relived scenes and emotions perhaps long forgotten and long pushed aside that what came out were compelling narratives we did not imagine,” recalls Alegria Imperial, one of the story tellers, story catchers and a member of the editorial collective.

Oonagh Berry, co-author (with Helen Levine) of Between Friends, did get struck by “…the courage, pain and tenacity expressed in these remarkable women’s stories,” which she describes as “breathtakingly moving and inspiring.”  

These dramatic experiences  for Fiona Tinwei Lam, poet and editor, author, Enter the Chrysanthemum, are nothing but “Gritty and authentic accounts … of hardship, poverty and social change… challenges rooted in time and context, yet remain universal.” 

As Joan Barfoot novelist, author of Exit Lines, puts it, “For anyone who supposes the old days were best, or dreams that old women are quiet creatures with nothing to say, or imagines that women’s equal place in the Canadian world is complete and secure–for all those people, these vivid, wrenching and brave vignettes of real lives are both a brisk corrective and a most timely warning.”     

With voices that “…are clear, honest and direct…no pretense. Just the truth of living”, as Cynthia Flood, short story writer, The English Stories, describes it, Ann Giardini, novelist, Advice for Italian Boys, adds that “their recollections are notably free of self-pity or bitterness.”

Margaret Mitchell former MP, author, No Laughing Matter, believes that the stories “open the door to an unwritten chapter of Canadian history.”

“These are moving and important stories told by our mothers and grandmothers,” writes Leona Gom, poet and novelist,  author, The Exclusion Principle.

“What turned out were not only ‘lessons learned’ but ‘real lives far more impressive than myth could ever be’, thus, the title of the book, Mythogyny,” Alice West, WE*ACT chair explains.

A pre-launch presentation of the book will also be held at the 411 Seniors Centre Cafeteria on Sept. 22 at 2 p.m.

For more information, call 604-684-8171 local 228 (please leave  a message) or email weact@411seniors.bc.ca or mythogyny@gmail.com