By Meghan Power
For Gayathri Shukla, a Calgary-based writer, founder of Campfire Kinship, and EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) strategist, the initial goal was to get between 10 and 12 stories for the anthology. “Once the call was put out, we received over 60 submissions and 37 of those made the final selection.” Each selected author was also invited to partake in a series of writing workshops led by Gayathri, in a method called Guided Autobiography that uses creative exercises and prompts to help jog memories and inspire creativity, helping people get their life stories and memories out of their heads and onto paper.
Gayathri describes the process of going through a Guided Autobiography workshop as a collaborative and affirming process of solidarity, especially for the women involved with this project due to their common experiences of love, loss, and belonging as a collective and as individuals. “I do a lot of storytelling in a corporate setting. I help organizations use story-based training and media that empower their teams to become more inclusive and celebrate their diversity. When I’m working in a corporate environment, the stories shared stay within groups. It’s verbal. This anthology is giving diverse stories a physical presence and a permanence through paper and publishing. It’s also opening the doors to Alberta’s arts sector for women who may not have seen themselves as part of Calgary’s storytelling community, or even as artists themselves. It’s opening Alberta’s arts sector to a wider range of arts and culture making for a more rich and culturally diverse community of artists.”
Gayathri believes the funding for this project was essential. “This funding allowed me to hire a project manager, an editor, and other creative team members. Without it, this amazing collection of stories would not be available to readers. The women telling their stories in this anthology are from all over the world. Through the process of telling and writing their stories, they ultimately became a source of support and inspiration for each other. The topic of immigration was even more relevant given the war unfolding in Ukraine at the time many were writing their own stories. Many participants in this group have experienced wars and displacement. It was an honour to witness our cohort transcend all borders and uplift each other, representing 30 countries of origin, including Ukraine and Russia.”
Gayathri is grateful for the funding and the opportunity to make this project a reality and contribute to the vitality of arts in Calgary. “I see this project as being on-going. There are so many more stories to share. As the world becomes more polarized and divided, and people are forced to leave their homelands and migrate due to climate change and on-going violence, like war, I see storytelling as a way of connecting over our common experiences as humans and helping us to build more inclusive communities.”