Hopes and Dreams

Sheldon Oberman Mentorship Reception | By Sharon Hamilton

Hopes and dreams fuel the creative energy of most writers. On Friday evening, February 9, 2024, the Artspace boardroom showcased the hopes and dreams of this year’s Sheldon Oberman Mentors and Mentees.

The Manitoba Writers’ Guild’s (MWG) new Facilitator of the Sheldon Oberman Mentorship Program (SOMP), Harriet Zaidman, author, former teacher-librarian, and reviewer for the Winnipeg Free Press welcomed the participants and their guests. For an audience of 22 (17 in the room and 5 online), Harriet provided a brief overview of the SOMP, particularly during the past four years, during which we moved from one mentorship pair to two, and now this year to three, including, for the first time, a mentorship pair from the MWG’s Youth Writing Program.

Photos by: Anthony Mark Photography

Well-known Winnipeg poet Angeline Schellenberg, host of Speaking Crow, spoke of the relationship between her own writing and her activities as a mentor. She talked of having spent several hours preparing for a meaningful and productive session each time she met with a mentee in previous years. This past year was different. While she was mentoring Anne Claros, she was also working with her own editor for her latest collection. Finding her editor’s advice effective and helpful, she based her bi-monthly sessions with Anne on that advice. The excitement of blending learning and mentoring together made those sessions much more productive. While Anne Claros, on a family trip to the Philippines, was unable to attend, Angeline spoke of Anne’s “brave, wonderful voice” and open approach to working collaboratively to improve her writing.

Donna Besel brings many distinctions to her mentorship role, among them the fact that her story submitted to the Prairie Fire creative nonfiction contest in 2020 was the first entry written by a Manitoban to win first place in this prestigious annual competition. Well-known for her writing retreats and educational presentations, Donna focuses her mentoring on building connections within the writing community. Last year, she mentored Katherine Westwood, who was unable to attend this year’s reception. Donna spoke of the millennial generation’s broader knowledge of socio-political issues, both contemporary and historical, and how Katherine’s writing was situated within these contexts, while at the same time being intensely and personally powerful. She talked of sharing Katherine’s writing with Lauren Carter, who was moved to tears by Katherine’s writing. This mentor-mentee relationship was further extended when Katherine attended the annual spring retreat run by Donna and Lauren.

This year, Donna is mentoring Nick Ginter. One of Nick’s hopes and dreams is to become unafraid to look at people and speak and write with an honest voice about what he sees. He told of one exercise in their mentorship where they looked each other straight in the eye for several minutes, then wrote about what they saw. He went on to talk of another exercise, wherein they looked at each other and drew each other’s faces without looking at the paper they were drawing on. Nick was delighted when Donna asked for a copy of the drawing.

Jonathan Ball, well-known teacher of English, Film, and Writing at the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg, served many years ago on the Board of Directors of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild with Sheldon Oberman, and describes him as an “exuberant, outgoing kind of guy.” Jonathan’s presentation addressed the thorny issue of creative differences, and how best to relate to each particular mentee. “Some people need lots of encouragement; others less so….It’s hard to know what each writer needs. But once you do know what they want and what they need, you discover that what they need to work on is not always aligned with what they want to work on. For example, sometimes, to streamline the plot, a sub-plot and/or a character needs to be deleted. That can be difficult.”

Jonathan’s mentee this year, Yvonne Kyle, smiled as she came to the podium. “And that’s the first thing Jonathan had me do,” she said. “Delete a character!” We subsequently learned that it was a good thing he didn’t ask her to delete a boat. “I love boats, any kind of boat. Anything that floats or can be propelled across the water is a boat.” With boats a prominent feature in every one of her stories, Yvonne’s hopes and dreams for this mentorship involve creating a collection of her stories by learning how to take her writing to the next level for publication.

And finally on the program was an historic first: the inclusion of a mentorship pair drawn from our fledgling Youth Program, now in its second year. Joining us from Montreal, was Gladwell Pamba, lead facilitator for the Manitoba Writers’ Guild Youth Program’s Language Translation program. Gladwell extolled the writing of the Guild’s first youth mentee, Anahita Chakraborty. While they have so far met only twice as mentor-mentee, both are familiar with each other’s attitudes toward writing from their participation in the youth program focusing on language, culture, and identity. Anahita, who is already active as a volunteer in some of the Guild programs and committees, spoke of her hope and dream that the novel she is working on will become an actuality. She has authored several short stories and is finding the extended and complex features of writing a novel challenging. The main focus of her mentorship with Gladwell is how to incorporate cultural setting into her writing.

Presentations concluded, lively conversation ensued, complemented by refreshments from Lilac Bakery.

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