Starting Conversations with Substance
WHAT HAVE WE BEEN UP TO RECENTLY?
Well hello there!
A couple years ago I started this book blog, while in university. A lot has changed since I posted my last article - Teachers College, graduating university, accepting a job in England (!) and moving across the pond. I have been living and teaching in the UK now for almost two years, and I love promoting a love of reading to my students, encouraging literacy and diverse literature. I try to lead by example, and always share what I am currently reading with my students. This school year I started a 'Ms. K's Lending Library', and before the world went into lock down, approximately 50 books had been borrowed by my students. I always encourage them to write a book review after they have finished reading a novel, and more recently I have realised just how long it has been since I wrote a book review for Material Conversation.
I have been more active on our Instagram in recent months, sharing and recommending both diverse YA and general fiction that I have on my bookshelf or have read recently. If you are looking for some book recommendations, I would point you in that direction for now.
On our Reviews Page, I have added several new Reading Lists of important texts to read during this time. I encourage you to ask yourself: "Is My Bookshelf Diverse?"
June is LGBTQ+ History & Pride Month!
Check out our list of:
LGBT Young Adult Fiction
LGBT General Fiction
Given our current Global Climate, and current Global Events, we want to remind you that
BLACK LIVES MATTER.
Check out our lists of:
Young Adult Fiction that Explore Racism and Police Brutality
Young Adult Fiction with Black Leads
General Fiction with Black Leads
Necessary Non-Fiction Reads for Anti-Racism work
June is also National Indigenous History Month in Canada
Check out our list of:
Indigenous Literature - Fiction & Non-Fiction
WOODLAND CULTURAL PLAY WALK
On a cozy June evening, 5 Indigenous artists came together to the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford Ontario to read their plays for various rotating audiences. These plays varied in theme and content, but all shared an Indigenous ground.
Supported by the Playwright’s Guild of Canada, and hosted by the Woodland Cultural Centre, the Woodland Play Walk was a refreshing and well thought out experience.
The event started with each guest choosing a guide. Each guide would take participants to 3 of the five readings that were occurring at the event. Audiences were also allowed to come and go as they pleased, as long as they were respectful of the performances happening around the grounds. Unfortunately I was only able to see two of the readings on my designated route, due to unforeseen circumstances, but all the same, the two playwrights that I saw boasted an excellent caliber. The playwrights reading that evening were Joshua Bainbridge, Keith Barker, Alanis King, Frances Koncan, and Clayton Windatt.
Of those, I had the pleasure of seeing the first two, Bainbridge and Barker.
Joshua Bainbridge I Live With Him Every Day: The Tragedy of David and Dave
From Proscenium Club Theatre Company, Bainbridge delivered an absurd, dark, and erudite depiction of depression and functioning anxiety.
In his play, two characters, David and Dave, are two halves of the same person, only they are meant to be played by two separate actors. Each character takes turns talking to the audience, and then reinserting themselves into the play world. One character, David, is the one character trying to keep things under control; he is the face of the operations of day to day life. Dave, on the other hand, is the honest, foul-mouthed and rather hilarious counter-part. Dave represents the thoughts we repress, but every once and a while, let slip when the veneer wears thin.
Bainbridge’s play took the audience through the day-to-day life of Dave and David, with appearances by David’s sister, Sarah, and their roommate Ginny. Both Sarah and Ginny express concern when they discuss David/Dave’s worrying habit of staying inside for days at a time. They then devise a blind-date (Alex) in order to shake Dave/David from his hermitic ways.
Bainbridge wields humour well, giving the piece breath. As David/Dave speak with Alex, they share a bond through stories of bad retail experiences. With equal candour, they theorize about how a customer could have gotten away with defecating in the aisle of David/Dave’s warehouse store. They bat theories between them, thinking that maybe it was a child, or perhaps the customer brought it in with a plastic bag. The scatological humour is delivered in an undeniably human way, and the audience couldn’t help but laugh at the sincerity of the investigation.
And yet, Bainbridge’s play cannot escape the darker subject matter. When Alex asks about a piece of missing ceiling, David and Sarah say that the apartment is merely old and probably going to cave in on them anytime. However Dave is not satisfied, and insists on telling the audience that the hole is because the duo (Dave/David) tried to hang themselves, and the ceiling gave way. There is a moment of gallows humour when David says, “like I said, I just couldn’t do anything right,” however these moments continue to remind the audience that David/Dave is not well. It is moments like this that emphasize why Bainbridge’s play is important. He is reminding us that what people present to the world is not the whole picture, and mental illness is a much deeper inner dialogue.
The play also has some potently beautiful moments. Returning to Alex, as her and David/Dave are bonding, she describes her own workplace, and how when it is slow she likes to go and sit in the blanket display. Alex describes it as a “Weeping Willow of Blankets” and captures the humble beauty of small moments.
I Live With Him Everyday, is a fascinating play with sincerity, wit, and a conversation to be had around mental health.
Keith Barker This is How We Got Here
Following four characters in a small Canadian town, Barker’s play captures small-town living with humour and grit.
Barker showcased his play with a carefully curated selection of episodes from the play. Each meant to showcase just enough of the character arches and problems without giving away too much.
In a particular moment, Barker showcases a discussion between Jim and Paul. Paul has recently lost his son, and Jim arrives to check in on him. A hilarious awkward energy starts the scene and lets the audience breathe, as Jim tries to subtly ask for a beer, however Paul seemingly unaware, cuts him off at every pass, offering him juice, water, and pop, telling him to make himself at home, and Jim concedes.
The humour quickly dissipates as the pair’s conversation takes a darker turn. Barker seems to confront notions of homophobia, as the two toss around the term ‘fruit’. Jim, inadvertently accusing Paul of being one, and Paul simultaneously denying the label and questioning why it is so bad to be one.
And then the important line drops; “Because the bible says it’s a sin”.
This provokes Paul to question whether it is a sin for Paul’s son to commit suicide, and was it right for the local parishioner to deny Paul’s son a space in the cemetery where the rest of his family is buried.
The question is not resolved, in the reading that we received, and it asks an important question - Is Barker trying to subvert homophobia as well as thoughts around suicide with this dialogue? Or is this just an attempt at awareness? Is this meant to have audiences question their own beliefs about the topics? Are suicide and homosexuality seen as comparable in this play?
It is tough to say without hearing the entirety of the play and whether or not this topic is revisited and/or resolved. However what is hard to deny is the crackling dialogue that carries these topics. Barker writes with a natural, conversational tone, not only nailing dialogue, but also placing audiences exactly where he wants them, simply through the tone of the characters.
After the readings, participants and authors were invited to a small fire near the longhouse on the Cultural Centre’s grounds. Audience and authors became a talkative mix, candidly discussing the work shared, as well as getting to know each other.
The entire event was an opportunity for Indigenous authors to have their work heard, and in the first weekend of National Aboriginal History Month, it was an excellent way to begin.