V6A anthology tells different story of Downtown Eastside

Contributors include Madeleine Thien, Michael Turner, Cathleen With

It's a Downtown Eastside like you've never seen it-rendered in book form, with poetry, prose and essays from those who largely live, lived or work there now.

Arsenal Pulp Press will launch V6A: Writing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, an anthology that includes 32 established and emerging writers, at The Waldorf Hotel, April 12.

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Author of three books of fiction, Madeleine Thien, penned an intensely intimate recollection of her childhood years spent attending church, taking Chinese lessons and navigating Chinatown, Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside with her immigrant parents, specifically for the anthology.

Novelist Michael Turner explores the tumult and effervescence of a youthful relationship with another artist in a cheap and unusual abode in "441 Powell."

Author of two books, Cathleen With spins a haunting story about friends getting by in locales that include East Hastings Street and CRAB Park.

And Don Macdonald writes about his experience of abandoning a room in a low-income hotel in favour of camping in Pacific Spirit Regional Park.

V6A, named for the postal prefix for the Downtown Eastside, also includes poetry. Henry Doyle muses on death in the Downtown Eastside and Antonette Rea writes about the struggle to survive as a transsexual street-level sex worker.

John Mikhail Asfour, a Montreal-based author of five volumes of poetry, co-edited V6A with Elee Kraljii Gardiner, a poet and director of the Thursdays Writing Collective in the Downtown Eastside.

"Selfishly, John and I are poets, so there's a definite appreciation for that genre," Kraljii Gardiner said. "And poetry is alive and thriving in the Downtown Eastside. It's amazing how many people are writing poetry. It could have to do with something related to the length, or the fact that maybe poems ask you to do something that short stories don't."

Kraljii Gardiner, who worked in journalism and completed The Writer's Studio certificate program at Simon Fraser University, responded to a request from writer and instructor Betsy Warland to teach a four-week course that would attract writers from the Downtown Eastside who could submit their work to the annual Memory Festival. Students wanted to continue at the end of the four weeks, so the Thursdays Writing Collective, a weekly drop-in session at the Carnegie Community Centre, launched in 2008.

"There was such a hunger for a quiet space in which to write and a dedicated time in which to write," Kraljii Gardiner said.

"This wasn't the type of thing where you raise your hand, does anyone want to share your work in, like, an MFA [Master's of Fine Arts] program and it's like crickets," she added. "This, instead, was like 'Me, I've got something to say, you have to hear this.'"

Moved by a reading of the Thursdays Writing Collective, Asfour asked to visit the class. He discovered committed writers keen to talk about their craft. When Kraljii Gardiner asked Asfour to contribute a blurb to the back of one of the collective's chapbooks, he proposed a book.

Eleven of the 32 authors included in V6A hail from the collective that has seen 150 writers aged 18 to 86.

Kraljii Gardiner circulated a call for contributors as widely as possible to attract the broadest spectrum of writers. Hopefuls could drop off their submissions at the Carnegie, and 75 or so handwritten, typewritten and electronic pieces came in.

"What I'm really touched by is how true the writers all are in expressing what they are moved by," Kraljii Gardiner said. "We weren't like it has to be about the Downtown Eastside or it's got to stick to this uplifting humanities story. We were really open to absolutely anything that anyone wanted to show us- In a way it's kind of a love letter to the Downtown Eastside."

The launch starts at 7 p.m. at 1489 East Hastings St. with readings from four contributors, including With and Doyle, and both editors in attendance. Partial proceeds from the sale of the book will fund Thursdays Writing Collective.

crossi@vancourier.com Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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