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Olive Branches.

I've been encountering Olive Senior in all kinds of places these last few years. If not in winning Trinidad's 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for her story collection The Pain Tree, I've come across her commenting on some issue, literary or otherwise, via WhatsApp from her Toronto home. If not in a release from The Writers' Union of Canada that the famed Jamaican author will be giving the Margaret Lawrence Lecture at the OnWords conference in Halifax this June, then I've come to her again in these very pages of Kola, right now, as featured guest. All of these places, spaces, have been far from our first meeting, an interview I did with her in 2000 for the Nation newspaper, when she had stopped by the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, to lecture.

More than staying current, Olive (if I may call her Olive; we only met that one time in Barbados, and it was a pleasant enough exchange if my profile of her can be trusted) conveys the impression of a writer still reaching out to readers and other writers, still joining in all the fun especially when invited. She's still engaged by her craft, and with what of value or relevance she can communicate to the world through art. And she's all of 77.

Invitation or no, writers sometimes--maybe often--ask themselves what more they can do: for their communities, their careers, their art. There are many answers to that question. A writer's contributions to each of these areas may be very personal, very individual, very mundane. This question of contribution is perhaps a particular challenge for those who straddle countries--in my case Canada, where I was born, and Barbados, where I mainly live--yet wish to continue a dialogue even from great distances with where they came from. Because much of their material is still (ever) drawn from there. That's just how first stories feed us.

One way to reach out and reach further as a writer is through membership in a group. Contrary to John F. Kennedy's famous declaration on stepping up and being counted, the act (process?) is, inevitably, a combination of what you can do for yourself and what others can do for you.

After my first book, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, appeared in 1995, my publisher, the late Sonja A. Skarstedt of Empyreal Press, hooked me up with the Quebec Writers' Federation ( It was then called the Federation of English Language Writers--F E W Q; I still have copies of my earliest email correspondence with Lori Schubert, their long-serving executive director. (Membership in The Writers' Union of Canada [] would follow the release of my second prose work, Sand for Snow, in 2003. That application form was provided by its publisher, Keith Henderson of DC Books.)

Apart from giving me a stronger sense of belonging to the writers in my home province based on how and what we write, being a member of QWF has provided me the opportunity to expand, in subtle and direct ways, the notion of who and what a Quebec writer is or might be. By having a visible presence in the website's directory. By keeping in touch with the hard-working people in the office, even when I can't participate in what's on offer. By making suggestions and nominations and observations, and doing so as creatively as I can.

For Black writers in Quebec, it's also about fostering a healthy sense of diversity. In our province, but in other parts of the world, too, people seem to need reminding why we are all different to one another. The very possibilities of our combined differences are beyond anything we might achieve in isolation.

We are here; being here has led us to contribute in significant and singular ways to the literary landscape of this province, and the cities and municipalities we occupy across it. Folks should know about this, across our communities and beyond, in all the spaces we may yet occupy or reach.

Robert Edison Sandiford

Barbados, March 18, 2019
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Author:Sandiford, Robert Edison
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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