Author profiles: Family history

Eufemia Fantetti was already an accomplished playwright when she transitioned to fiction and non-fiction writing. Fantetti grew up in Toronto and, as a teenager, attended a school for the arts. From there, she worked with a number of theatre companies in Victoria and Vancouver on the Fringe circuit as well as across Canada. While continuing to work full time, Fantetti decided to enrol in The Writer’s Studio at SFU.

“It was the best thing I ever did,” she unabashedly states, explaining that some people have the drive to write on their own but she needed the structure, feedback, and community of a writing program.

“I got all of those at The Writer’s Studio. You come in wanting to write and they give you the time and space and community,” she said. Fantetti graduated from the program in 2007, with a focus on non-fiction under mentor Wayde Compton. She also co-hosted the Writer’s Studio Reading Series for one year while she was a student.

Fantetti describes writing as her biggest joy and passion as well as biggest frustration, which explains how she was able to publish a book of short fiction while she was working on her memoir thesis project.

Last year Fantetti completed her MFA in creative writing at the University of Guelph. Her thesis project examined her own history as the daughter of a mentally ill immigrant. Fantetti’s parents are Italian and they made a lot of sacrifices for their family.

With a memoir thesis so close to home, Fantetti found one project was wearing her down, so she resumed writing non-fiction and fiction.

“It’s a hard story to write,” admits Fantetti, “there is a lot of chaos and heartache.” Fantetti’s mother suffers from mental health issues, which, even by the early 80s, the medical community hadn’t accurately identified. In her writing, Fantetti struggled to find a balance between heart and humour that “reaffirms the human sense of resilience and survival.”

With a memoir thesis so close to home, Fantetti found one project was wearing her down, so she resumed writing non-fiction and fiction. When she heard Mother Tongue Publishing was looking for short fiction for a quick turn-around, she threw her hat in the ring.

A Recipe for Disaster and Other Unlikely Tales of Love, Fantatti’s debut collection of short stories, was published in November 2013.

Now, Fantetti is working on non-fiction essays and new fiction stories about Italian Canadians. She has also recently completed a certificate to teach English as a second language. Having grown up straddling two cultures, she is  exploring the question of identity through writing and teaching immigrants who — like her parents — had no opportunity to learn English literacy.

She says that for her, this passion has “opened up a whole new way of thinking” about culture, identity, and language. But it’s clear that the wonder of words is natural to her: Eufemia is an ancient Italian name from a Greek word that means ‘well spoken’. “It’s a lot to live up to,” Fantetti laughs.

 

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Jordan Scott was introduced to poetry by his mother, a student at SFU in the 60s. From a very young age the house was “full with poetry books,” reminisces Scott. By the time he was in university — also at SFU — he had amassed a stack of writing and asked English professor Stephen Collis if he would read it: “Steve was very kind, and it was the start of a friendship. He was really a mentor and a guide.”

In 2005, New Star Books published Scott’s debut book of poetry, Silt, which was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. In Silt, Scott traces his family history back from Canada and his birthplace of Port Moody, to Poland and his grandparents’ struggles during WWII. After attending readings and local book events, he discovered “you always have an audience.”

By the following year, Scott was already working on his next collection about the poetics of stuttering, entitled blert, as part of his masters at the University of Calgary. Silt had touched on the topic of stuttering in relation to his family history, but Scott couldn’t find any other poetry collections that fully addressed the subject.

Growing up with a stutter affected Scott’s life and, although it has diminished with age, as a child he was teased and attended speech therapy. But after reading his work aloud in class at the Kootenay School of Writing, Scott discovered he was most comfortable surrounded by other poets.

Scott polished the last parts of blert while writer in residence at the International Writers’ and Translators’ Centre in Rhodes, Greece. blert was published by Coach House Books in 2006 to wide success — including production of a short film by ArtistBloc for Bravo and an online interactive documentary commissioned by the National Film Board of Canada entitled Flub and Utter.

“It began with a simple idea,” explains Scott, “leave a book outside and see how nature interacts with it.”

Since returning to the West Coast, Scott has taken up a position at Fraser International College teaching literature and composition. During this time he continued his friendship with Stephen Collis, and they recently collaborated on a new book.

“It began with a simple idea,” explains Scott, “leave a book outside and see how nature interacts with it.” He notes that we typically associate books with warmth, indoors, curling up and reading — he was curious to see how vulnerable it was. Collis and Scott took copies of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and left them in various corners of the province.

“BC is unique in that it has five distinct regions, each with a different ecosystem,” he said. After bushwhacking and hiding multiple copies off the beaten path in the summer of 2009, they waited a full year for Mother Nature to do her worst. When they went to retrieve the books, they discovered how different climates modified the printed pages.

“In the copies from Tofino, we couldn’t read anything. But the Nicola Valley is a desert region, and the pages were dry, curled, torn, and chewed by mice, but readable.”

Coach House Books published the resulting book, Decomp, in September 2013.

The book includes photographs of the bushwhacked books, as well as journal entries of the process and poetic contributions from Collis and Scott. “It was a really intense collaboration, and was strange when we saw the final pieces. Any stylistic traits that we have — that we can distinguish in our individual writing — were mulched up.”

Scott is currently working on a long poem that explores the linguistic character and rhetoric of interrogation, both in popular culture as well as archival and police records from Guantanamo Bay. His interest in the subject stems from his experience with his own stutter and a scene from A Fish Called Wanda, where the interrogated character’s stutter was assumed to be indicative of guilt.

Scott recently read with Daphne Marlatt at Lunch Poems at SFU and will be participating in the SFU Centre for Dialogue event as part of the City of Vancouver’s Year of Reconciliation honouring Chief Robert Joseph. Scott will be reading with five other poets as part of the 2014 Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue on Feb. 27 at the Vancouver Public Library.

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