The Immigrant Writers Association (IWA) had the honour to welcome Bänoo Zan as a guest speaker at the first Annual General Meeting (AGM) held at Toronto City Hall on September 22, 2018.
A modest and bright human being, Bänoo delighted us with her deep and touching poetry, while her immigrant story and achievements inspired all our members and guests! You’ll get the chance to read her bio in a bit.
With Bänoo’s permission, we’d like to draw your attention to the Immigrant Writers’ Manifesto she wrote and shared with the world for the first time at our AGM. Thank you so much, Bänoo!
I. All writers are alone.
II. All writers will be judged on the strength of their work centuries after they die.
III. If you want to write in English or another language that is not your first language,
- you need to read in it a lot;
- you need to constantly speak it;
- you need to exist in it as a writer with a unique style.
IV. Connect with other writers professionally:
- Do not sleep with anyone in the hopes of getting opportunities.
- Do not sleep with anyone in the writing community, even if you genuinely like them. Let them accept you as a writer, not as a potential sexual partner.
- Do not sleep with writers, poets, publishers, editors, mentors, organizers and hosts of events, readings, and festivals, workshop facilitators, etc. Do not sleep with your readers, students, mentees, or those who are seeking your professional help or advice in the writing world.
- Because: one crazy narcissist is enough in every couple. You are enough! Look for decent people unlike yourself!
- You may at first think sleeping around opens doors. It does. For a short while. After that, you find yourself avoiding networking and professional opportunities just because you don’t want to run into your exes! In the end, you miss more opportunities than you gain.
- The most important opportunity you will miss is the opportunity to respect yourself as a writer.
- Be professional: Dress as a writer, interact with people as a writer and as a public figure.
- If you plan to be a writer, attract people’s attention to your words, not to your body or physical attributes.
- Treat fellow and potential writers as colleagues, artists, and intellectuals who happen to have a brain. Stop thinking about sex when you see these people. Start thinking about intellect and creativity when you see them.
- Work hard on your writing.
- Go to workshops, take courses, and invest in your craft.
- Spend time revising your work. Get feedback. Accept honest feedback.
- Share your work, and listen carefully to others when they share theirs.
V. Educate yourself culturally!
- Get to know the culture of your adopted land. In Toronto, it means cultures from all over the world. Go to other communities’ readings and open mics. Go to other communities’ music events. Go to other communities’ gatherings. Join the world!
- Getting over one’s own biases, fears, assumptions, conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, able-bodied assumptions, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia is hard work. Do the hard work!
- Connect with more than one circle, community or group. Do not limit yourself to anyone or any few.
- Get involved in community work. Volunteer for writers’ groups, workshops, etc. And once you volunteer, be committed to the responsibilities you have accepted. Treat them like a job!
- The more you support communities of people from other backgrounds, nationalities, religions, skin colours, sexual orientations, disabilities, etc., the more support you will receive.
- You need a community that appreciates you as a serious noteworthy writer as well as a member of the community of writers. Do not be quick to judge. Observe and suspend your judgments until you have all the facts.
- Note: You cannot have all the facts! This only happens in fiction!
- All communities in large metropolitan areas such as Toronto feel isolated, misunderstood and left out. It is not only you. If you feel you have it the hardest, it is because you haven’t stepped out of your cocoon and have not discovered how hard it is for everyone.
- Not every reaction is because of racism. If someone criticizes your work, maybe they are criticizing your work!
- Having said that, racism is alive and well. Be prepared. I am not going to prescribe the best method to deal with it. Or maybe I should?
- You are a writer. Your writing should address urgent issues. Let your struggles find their way into your writing. Let your writing be informed by your journey.
- If you develop into a successful writer, you will prove racist assumptions wrong. This is your fight! Fight it like a writer!
VI. And if you think racism is the biggest issue in multicultural societies or countries, you are wrong! There is a bigger malaise almost all of us suffer from, regardless of our ethnicity or colour: XENOPHOBIA.
Here is a test:
- Take out your cell phone.
- Look at your friends’ list on social media.
- Or make a mental list of your friends.
- If most of your friends are from the same background: ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc., you are not as open to outsiders as you think you are!
You need to change!
VII. Be a writer. Be a leader. Be a peace-maker. Take action against yourself and the world. You both need to change. A lot.
First Presented at:
Immigrant Writers’ Association First AGM
Sep. 22, 2018, Toronto City Hall
Bänoo Zan is a poet, librettist, translator, teacher, editor and poetry curator, with more than 160 published poems and poetry-related pieces as well as three books. Song of Phoenix: Life and Works of Sylvia Plath, was reprinted in Iran in 2010. Songs of Exile, her first poetry collection, was released in 2016 in Canada by Guernica Editions. It was shortlisted for Gerald Lampert Memorial Award by the League of Canadian Poets in 2017. Letters to My Father, her second poetry book, was published in 2017 by Piquant Press in Canada. She is the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), Toronto’s most diverse poetry reading and open mic series (inception: 2012). It is a brave space that bridges the gap between communities of poets from different ethnicities, nationalities, religions (or lack thereof), ages, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, poetic styles, voices, and visions.
Facebook and LinkedIn: Bänoo Zan
Twitter: @BanooZan & @ShabeSherTO
Photo: Jeannine Pitas