We spoke to former League of Canadian Poets president Ayesha Chatterjee about making space for women of colour in influential literary roles.
As former president of the League of Canadian Poets, what were some of your goals going into the role? Did you meet or exceed any of these? I knew I wanted to try to bring poetry more into the mainstream of Canadian life so that it was as naturally experienced and spoken about as, say, fiction or film. And I also wanted very badly to have a way to showcase the full range of Canadian poetic voices rather than what I perceived, back in 2010, to be a fairly narrow cross-section of mostly Anglo-Saxon poetry. For the past two years, poems by League poets have been published and promoted alongside their American counterparts across North America. In addition, the League’s vice-president, Sarah de Leeuw, who is now president, started the League’s first broadsheet contest this year as a fundraising initiative.
Being a woman of colour and holding such an important role in the Canadian literature world, how can we make sure more women of colour maintain such space? Speaking purely from the space that I have filled, I can tell you that it is important to look toward the future, to fill upcoming roles with women from visible minorities, so that they continue to have a voice in positions of power and can affect change. Obviously, it is essential to choose wisely, because that makes all the difference. We are fortunate to have on council this year Rita Bouvier as our Saskatchewan representative, and Nasra Adem as our Alberta rep. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “if we could change ourselves, the attitudes of the world would also change. As a (person) changes (their) own nature, so does the attitude of the world change toward (them) . . . we need not wait to see what others do.”
Could you name an emerging writer that you’d love to see more of? Doyali Islam and her sister, Laboni. Two beautifully lyrical poets with very different styles. The poem that Doyali submitted won the League’s broadsheet contest. I think they are both definitely poets to watch.