VPL writer in residence discusses identity, culture, and representation

Aren X. Tulchinsky was selected to be the new writer in residence at the VPL

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This is a photo of Aren Tulchinsky. He is leaning up against a wall and smiling at the camera. There is also a photo here of the outside of the Vancouver Public Library.
PHOTO: Coen Devlin / The Peak

By: Olivia Sherman, News Writer

Content warning: This article contains mentions of Nazism and violence. 

Aren X. Tulchinsky is a novelist, screenwriter, and the Vancouver Public Library’s (VPL) 2023 writer in residence. As a queer, Jewish, and trans writer, Tulchinsky draws inspiration for his work from many different backgrounds and aims to help marginalized writers break into the industry. The Peak sat down with Tulchinsky to learn more. 

“I’ve always been a creative soul,” Tulchinsky explained. “I was the kid who was writing stories in math class.” After graduating from York University and the Canadian Film Centre, Tulchinsky went on to be a writer and script editor for television and has written several feature-length screenplays. However, his calling has always been toward writing novels, and his several published novels centre around the queer community and Jewish identities. “I’ve always been interested in giving voice to communities that have been underrepresented,” he said. 

As this year’s writer in residence, Tulchinsky has been tasked with a full-time position: half of his residency will be allocated toward developing his newest novel, while the other half will go toward program development within the VPL. “This is a real treat for me to be in this residency,” he noted. “What better thing to do all day for a writer than to come and hang out in a library?” 

Throughout this fall, Tulchinsky will host several writing workshops for emerging writers. On September 21, Tulchinsky hosted a workshop aimed to “cure writer’s block.” Throughout his residency, he will host several related workshops at the VPL Britannia branch on the Downtown Eastside, an area often neglected from events such as this. “I live in East Van, in the Commercial Drive area, so I really wanted one of the programs to be at the Britannia branch, that’s sort of my neighbourhood,” Tulchinsky explained. “I wanted to make it really accessible for people in the neighbourhood.” 

On October 4, Tulchinsky’s official launch for his residency will take place. Generally, writers will read part of their work to their guests or host Q&A panels. However, Tulchinsky wanted something new. “For my launch, we’re bringing in a klezmer band,” which Tulchinsky described as “Jewish jazz.” Once a popular art form among Jewish communities in Europe, klezmer music was banned during the Nazi occupation, and many of the knowledge-keepers of this art form were killed. “That music died off, like a lot of things did,” Tulchinsky said, noting that modern klezmer music is seen as a revival of the culture. 

Many of Tulchinsky’s published works take place in Jewish communities, such as The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky, which is set in a Jewish community in Toronto during the rise of the Second World War. “There’s a lot of Jewish mothers in my books that are loosely based on my mother, and she doesn’t mind, actually.” At a private launch of his first novel, Love Ruins Everything, Tulchinsky joked, “Instead of just me reading all of it, there was a scene with the mother and her kid, so my mother actually read the mother role. She nailed it, of course she did! Because the character was based on her!”

Tulchinsky also writes from a queer perspective, which still has its struggles being recognized in both literature and film today. “Things are getting better, in the last several years, around what I would call underrepresented voices getting more airtime,” he said. However, he noted, “It’s the same old writers that have always been given the opportunities.” 

Because of the difficulty in queer representation, Tulchinsky hosted a teens-only creative writing workshop on September 23. “I came out as a teen myself, and I know there are a lot of challenges, so my idea for this workshop, since I’m a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, I wanted to offer this to young people.” 

Tulchinsky also offered advice for new writers: “The biggest advice is keep writing,” he stated, noting the two most important qualities in a writer are discipline and tenacity. “You need the discipline to sit down every day and write, or as many days as you can.” He noted tenacity is vital for the eventual rejections a writer will face from publishers. Tulchinsky said to keep trying and knocking on doors. “I’m still knocking on doors, but I’m not giving up.” 

To learn more about Tulchinsky’s residency and workshops, visit the VPL website at www.vpl.ca.

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