Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Rethinking a Room of One’s Own

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Rethinking a Room of One’s Own

A room of one’s own, Virginia Woolf once famously wrote, is a necessary part of being able to write successfully for women, who could often not find such a thing, being loyal to a certain level of constant domesticity for others, a constant state of being-for-others. As I write this post, as not only a woman but a woman of colour, in this room of my own, a kaleidoscope of privileges take shape in my mind—I have a place/space to stay, forms of support, inhabit a “safe” part of town, do not endure many disturbances apart from regular duties of tending to the quotidian things; I can even play music (softly or loud) if it suits or fuels the writing; or I can take leisure in silence. It is a privilege to name any of these things.

From as long as I can remember, I may not have always had “a” room of my own, but always “room” of my own, though not until now have the necessary forces brought me to a place where where I can write can be a right.

It is not even the size of the room that ultimately counts—but that it can count as a sanctuary; and by a sort of leap, I do want to tie this into the question of the writerly identity—the fraught and complex subject I will endeavor to explore in different ways throughout my residency here. To not be boxed in spatially, to walk free, as it were, is to also not be boxed in the existential sense—to walk freely, to write with a certain freedom of speech and consciousness. I think there are some connections that can be made here between “a room of one’s own” and the question of identity. And so I walk with the relative freedom to write with a relative freedom about who I am—and not just as a spokesperson for what oppressed/silenced peoples around the world can’t say, but for what they want to say and are actively saying (as I am actively listening), on terms surrounding the multiple folds of identity today.

When the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, George Elliott Clarke, named me as a young black voice to watch now, I was truly thrown into space. Furthermore, it’s a wonderful thing to see a plethora of young black talented writers emerge in a time where most of us are saying, “it’s about time.” But it’s also about space, and not every young talented writer knows where to get that space, let alone young talented writers of colour trying to navigate an historically Euro-Western legacy of English arts and letters.

My recent book, Terra Incognita, looks at the structures of interracial/mixed-race identity, as a way of contending with what the future of unity in Canada might look like whenever we talk about race, in literary contexts and others. So, it goes from asking about a room of one’s own to how, say, blackness in Canada is related to a diverse and diasporic plethora of roots, movements, locations, spaces and places. I think it is ultimately a goal of any writer to “claim” a space in the literary world(s) they inhabit, though I am not sure my “claim” to a space would be viable or even desirable, given its colonial bent…. But I digress, and this is possibly for another post.

Back to Virginia. Woolf is one of my favourite writers and I respect so much of what’s she’s done, especially in terms of championing the importance of women’s voices in literature. And since it’s Women’s History Month, I look to her analogy to help me navigate what I would like to see in the future, as well as give praise to the past. As I continue writing I want to give kudos to some of the many women who have shaped my writerly space and frame, and inspired me to be able to write here now: from d’bi.young, Andrea Thompson, Lilly Barnes, Clara Blackwood, and from some more far away places, Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez, Zadie Smith, Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen. The list continues; such volumes would take up many rooms!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Adebe DeRango-Adem

Adebe DeRango-Adem is a writer and doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in various North American sources, including Descant, CV2, Canadian Woman Studies and the Toronto Star. She won the Toronto Poetry Competition in 2005 to become Toronto’s first Junior Poet Laureate. Her debut poetry collection, Ex Nihilo, was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She is also the co-editor, alongside Andrea Thompson, of Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out. She was recommended by current Poet Laureate of Canada George Elliott Clarke as a young black "writer to watch".

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Go to Adebe DeRango-Adem’s Author Page