On October 17, 2015, the Mississauga Writers Group (MWG) visited the Toronto’s Writers & Editors Network (WEN) for a chance to meet, mingle over breakfast and to welcome guest speaker, John Kertes.
Being invited to join the WEN meeting was an exciting opportunity to meet other writers but also to attend as a group, not as individual writers. Though our group is only three year old, we felt that our growth is worth being taken seriously, which is how the WEN – 16 years old – made us feel.
The meeting started at 9:30am with the first 15 minutes spent meeting those at each other’s table and introducing ourselves over coffee and tea. It was wonderful to feel so welcomed by warm handshakes and sincere smiles, each curious to hear more about our background and literary works. The combination of the two groups, around 40 people, created diversity in age, background, ethnicity, and literary talent from novelists, to poets, editors and more.
Following the buffet-style gourmet breakfast, the host took the microphone and after a few welcoming words, initiated that that we – the MWG – introduce ourselves to everyone. Following this, was an update from each table, consisting of publication launches – among other things – including our own anthology, Word Fest – Celebrating our Journeys, presented by our editor, Elizabeth Banfalvi.
Being included in the program with the chance to share our updates with the rest, made us feel validated as a group, as well as proud to present our anthology to another group of writers.
WEN’s short introduction of the speaker included his works and achievements.
“Joseph Kertes founded Humber College’s creative writing and comedy programs. He is currently Humber’s Dean of Creative and Performing Arts and is a recipient of numerous awards for teaching and innovation. His first novel, Winter Tulips, won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. Boardwalk, his second novel, and two children’s books, The Gift and The Red Corduroy Shirt, met with critical acclaim. His novel, Gratitude, won a Canadian National Jewish Book Award and the U.S. National Jewish Book Award for Fiction.
Kertes has also been a finalist for a National Magazine Award and the CBC Literary Award. His latest novel is called The Afterlife of Stars.”
Speaking about his more recent novel Gratitude, John elaborated on the content and essence of the book, immersed us in the Second World War when, in 1944, he detailed the escape of a Hungarian-Jewish family and the people they met along the way. In that period, over half a million Hungarians were murdered and once again, John made us feel the palpable darkness of that time. Being a gifted speaker and story-teller, one can only reflect on John’s literary skill found in Gratitude.
John then spoke from personal experience, having escaped from Hungary with his family to Canada after the revolution of 1956. John made us feel a jolt in our chests after describing the crossing of a field in the darkness and hearing explosions, to later find out the field had been implanted with mines.
John also touched on some of the aspects that make a successful novel. Among them, were to “take your characters seriously,” and give them a credible, humble personality. Imbedding details that bring vividness and images, John included, is also a key component in writing. A way of delivering that is to “show,” instead of “telling” the reader.
John also added that it is occasionally favourable “not to solve a problem,” thus keeping the reader interested. A member of the audience also alluded to Emily Dickinson’s “Tell All the Truth But Tell it Slant,” as another way to keep the reader “hanging on.”
As time was nearing noon, the floor was opened for Questions & Answers, during which, John humbly answered the members, even adding in his characteristic sense of humour.
The breakfast ended with the chance to further socialize, network, and even exchange a few words with John, himself. Our visit with the WEN was a great chance to meet and befriend other writers, to make new contacts, along with taking away John’s words of wisdom. We were invited as a group, but we also felt appreciated as individual writers, several of us being asked for our business cards, which we gladly passed on.
Preparing for this invitation was a great activity for the group that united us in talent and in passion. Not only did we feel welcomed by warm WEN members – and enlightened by a great speaker – but we parted ways inviting the members to join us in the near future.
Members of MWG in attendance included: Elizabeth Banfalvi, Ian Stout, Veronica Lerner, Hans V. von Maltzahn, Daniela Chis, Marijana Gmitrovic, Hamzah Moin, Joseph Monachino and Milena Munteanu.
Article by Daniela Oana