Yesterday, April 4, 2011, we literally caravanned, in two vans, from Carnegie up the hill to UBC where we were warmly welcomed to the University Centre by Professor Margot Young and her social justice law students. The students provided a fabulous snack display and we nestled right in to an hour and a half of engaged discussion.
This first joint reading was held in their classroom and open to participants of the Writers Caravan. The students are beginning their exams and the need to continue our exchange in a non-performative arena was mutual.
The afternoon functioned Quaker meeting-style, with speakers sharing their thoughts or writing as they were moved rather than by adhering to an order designated by seating or naming. What followed was an organic exploration of the change in penal codes since the 70s, a commentary on solitary confinement from first-hand experience, recognition of the fluidity rather than rigidity of law, and some beautiful writing.
UBC student Patricia wrote a creative enquiry into human rights conditions in Canada, Karen shared the beginning of a story of cultural appropriation in an East LA market and Margot played with the idea of “landscape” in a political, judicial and geographic sense based on Insite, the safe injection site. Angela shared a brief piece and lent her camera to document the group, which consisted of other members who did not read their writing but did contribute their thoughts.
Collective member John wrote of Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Taylor, Henry read a compact verse on the Libyan fruit vendor who self-immolated as political protest, Anne H. shared two harrowing poems, “Justice” and “Evidence,” Anne Y. took us on a trip to China and Elisabeth reminded us that we are the experts in our lives.
Though the writing provoked and pleased, it was the interstitial moments that continue to resonate. The conversation was relaxed and buoyant with a flow of information and perspective running from the theoretical to the personal. In the van down the hill Diane and Elisabeth and I agreed that forging community through writing is an effective way to reduce distance between “self” and “other.” We were pleased to write with such a thoughtful, engaged group of law students, “good” people who are willing to venture outside of their studies to exchange ideas with us.