Friday, September 19, 2008

Memoir Writers Social Raises $1,000 for Alzheimer Society of Toronto

Blacksmiths Bistro was the scene of a lively party on September 17 when close to 40 people gathered for the Memoir Writers Social. The evening, as I told the audience, was to be a celebration of memory and writing -- a chance for some of my workshop students to meet (or meet again) and mingle and discuss memoir, and a fundraiser for an organization that helps those whose memories are failing, the Alzheimer Society of Toronto.

My mother has Alzheimer's, and I know that the families of several of my students have been touched by the devastating disease as well. We're far from alone. According to the Society, in 2008 in Canada, 1 in 13 individuals over age 65 has Alzheimer's or a related disease, and in individuals over age 85 the condition affects 1 in 3. Some 36 percent of Canadians know someone who has Alzheimer's. Through events like the Memoir Writers Social, funds can be raised to help those who suffer from it, and someday to find a cure.

On Wednesday the sun came out for our occasion. Some guests arrived early to enjoy a stroll along Unionville's historic and flower-bedecked Main Street. The two-storey space – "The Grey House" owned by Blacksmiths Bistro and used for special events – was warm and welcoming, as were the staff, and the hors d'oeuvres were delicious.

Attendees hailed from as far away as Dorset and Mount Forest. Some were students from my online workshops who had come to know one another through the course site and had been looking forward to meeting in person. (Good thing there were name tags, said a few!) Others were students from my live workshops. I was especially delighted to see most members of the WALRUS Club, a private memoir writing circle that developed out of one of my North York Library series and that's been meeting for over a year.

Author Kristen den Hartog was our key speaker. She charmed everyone there with her thoughtful reading and discussion about the difficult but ultimately rewarding process of writing a book based on long-ago family memories, and signed copies of The Occupied Garden (The Occupied Garden), co-written with her sister Tracy Kasaboski. McClelland & Stewart and the authors donated all proceeds from sales of the book to the Alzheimer Society. HarperCollins Canada Ltd. and Thomas Allen Publishers also kindly donated books to the event, as did authors Lawrence Hill, Blanche Howard and Allison Howard.

Gail Rudyk of Richmond Hill, one of my workshop participants, read her bittersweet story titled "The Red Coat," about her mother who lived with Alzheimer's for 15 years. (A version of Gail's story has been shortlisted for publication in an Australian anthology.) The other two readers were prize winners in my "Summer Days" Memoir Writing Contest: Mary McIntyre of Stouffville (1st prize: $75 plus a signed copy of A Memoir of Friendship: The Letters Between Carol Shields and Blanche Howard, published by Penguin Group [Canada]) and Tiina Heathcock of Dorset (2nd prize: $50). Mary, too, is a past workshop participant. (See clickable links to their stories at the top of the page.)

A few other writers displayed their work, including Stacey Lynn Newman and Robert Ward, as well as some of my students, Bernie Kuntz, Gail Rudyk and Ruth Zaryski Jackson. The evening also featured an art show and sale -- with contributions by Tilya Helfield (Polaroid transfer prints), Gail Rudyk (acrylics), Stacey Lynn Newman (photography; Stacey Newman), and Cheryl Andrews (acrylics, mosaics; FrogHairs) -- a book sale, and a raffle. Prizes in the draw ranged from movie passes to signed copies of bestsellers (Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes, recent winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, was a coveted one) to jewellery to a gift certificate from Cosmedicare Spa worth $500.

It was a very special evening, and I'd like to thank each and every guest -- students, colleagues, friends, authors and artists (many of you are more than one of these to me!) -- for their enthusiasm and support. A heartfelt thank you also goes out to a few individuals who donated even though they knew they couldn't make it, especially workshopper John Lee of Victoria. Cheryl Andrews, this wouldn't have happened if you hadn't planted the seed in my mind and watered me regularly. Nothing I could write would convey the myriad ways in which you assisted me. Anahita Printer Nepton, your way with the art and book displays was magical. Larry Hill, I kept your note on my bulletin board and re-read it often to bolster my resolve.

The Memoir Writers Social raised a total of $1,000 for the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. The following organizations and individuals contributed gifts or their valuable time to make the evening unforgettable:

Blacksmiths Bistro
Brick Literary Journal
Cineplex Odeon at First Markham Place
FrogHairs Art Studio
HarperCollins Canada Ltd.
Holtz Spa at the Hilton Suites
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Muriel’s Flowers
The Paper Place
Thomas Allen Publishers
Varley Art Gallery
Writers’ Circle of Durham Region

Allison Howard, Penticton
Amy Wu, Markham
Anahita Printer Nepton, Richmond Hill
Bernie Kuntz, Toronto
Blanche Howard, Vancouver
Cathy Witlox, Ajax
Cheryl Andrews, Newmarket
Gail Rudyk, Richmond Hill
John Lee, Victoria
Kendel Lloyd, Alzheimer Society of Toronto
Kristen den Hartog, Toronto
Lawrence Hill, Burlington
Nita Pronovost, Toronto
Shirley and John Kolanchey, Edmonton
Stacey Lynn Newman, Milton
Stephen Newman, Milton (photographer)
Tilya Helfield, Toronto
Tracy Kasaboski, Deep River
Tristan Latta-Goddard, Markham

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