38.2 RoomMate: Bonnie Nish

Interview by 
Chelene Knight

Meet Bonnie Nish, founder and Executive Director of Pandora’s Collective Outreach Society, and editorial board member at Room.

ROOM: Tell us about your book, Love and Bones. What was your motivation for writing this book?

Bonnie: Love and Bones started as a series of poems I had written for my creative writing class when I was doing my Masters in Arts Education. It was a series of poems about my family and the holocaust and addressed the fact that some things are just carried from one generation to another. What we carry and hold in bone and marrow, various kinds of love and relationships were thematic throughout my poetry and I realized it was time to pull things together for a book. I had been writing for so long but doing so much else that I never made time for this aspect of things. In 2012 I had a major concussion that left me unable to do much of anything for months. When I finally could walk and start to think again I found I couldn’t write creatively but I could edit. Harreson Sito of Karma Press (my publisher) had heard me read a few years before and asked me to send him a manuscript. I was busy at the time working, raising my family on my own, running Pandora’s and just didn’t have the time. Now I had all the time in the world. So here I was and decided to approach him to see if he was still interested. He was. That started the whole thing off.

ROOM: Tell us a bit about what Pandora’s Collective is all about?

Bonnie: Pandora’s Collective was started in 2002 and is a charitable organization. Our mandate is "Promoting the Arts that Inspire the World to Take Notice of Itself". We strive to provide a safe and inspiring environment for writers and readers of all ages. Having said that we run 5 on-going programs each month including Twisted Poet Literary Salon, Book Talks, Word Whips Vancouver, The North Shore and White Rock. We also run a Word Whips out of the Art Gallery in the Jewish Community Center where we bring in feature poets to write to the artwork and then open it up for the audience to write and then read. Word Whips is a public writing group open to anyone where we give writing prompts and then people can share if they like. Book Talks is a book club open to the public. Pandora’s does a lot of out reach work, which we have done since our beginning. This has included bi-weekly workshops at Covenant House, packing 33,000 books from the Vancouver Public Library to ship to Zimbabwe to help start a library, and weekly workshops with teens at Eric Hamber Secondary. Presently we have monthly workshops at Pacifica Drug Rehabilitation Center, The Children’s Hospital Eating Disorder in-patient and outpatient clinics. We have a yearly poetry contest, a mentorship program and scholarship program. Our festival has been on hiatus but will be back in some form this year. We have started another reading series we will be running quarterly called Poetic Pairings out of Britannia Library where we put two poets together to collaborate and read their work however that comes about for them. It has been very successful so far and a lot of fun.

ROOM: What are you currently reading, or have recently read, that you would recommend, and why?

Bonnie: I have a few books on the go. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Someone recommended this to me and anyone who loves, words and history should read this. There are so many levels to this book. The work traces the path of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript and how it survived for centuries despite the upheaval and destruction going on at different time and the people from all backgrounds who risked all to save it.

Read anything by Li-young Lee. He is one of my favourite poets. You can google him and hear him read his poem “Have You Prayed?” It is worth the time to sit with him.

I am also reading The Diary of Virginia Wolfe. I am reading this because I have an interest in her and her life, and because they are shorter entries and I find having sustained a concussion sometimes I need something shorter to read still due to concentration and memory problems.

ROOM: If you could share one piece of advice when it comes to writing and publishing, what would it be?

Bonnie: At one point when my kids were younger I set a day a week aside that was my writing day. The rest of the week was tied up with family and other obligations. One week I would write, one week I would edit and one week I would spend seeking out places to send my work and submit. I always made sure that I had at least four submissions out at a time. If something came back whether accepted or rejected I then send something out right away somewhere else. Whether you do this every day or week it is important to give time to each of these aspects. They all require such different functions of your brain. Don’t give up. Keep going, keep trying. If you don’t try you won’t ever know if you can do it.

“It's Canadian, feminist, and one of my favourite things ever.”

—bucketofrhymes, "29 Amazing Literary Magazines You Need To Be Reading", Buzzfeed Books

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