Table of Contents

Monday, November 15, 2010

Author of Room talks tale

Article originally published in the London Free Press (in edited form):

London author Emma Donoghue says the childish narration in her acclaimed novel Room is deliberate.

Room is one of this year’s most talked-about Canadian books, nominated for several prestigious international and national prizes. The story is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, who’s held captive with his mother in a single room.

“Just as Jack is locked in a room, they (the reader) are locked in a five-year-old,” Donoghue said after a dramatic reading from her book Monday at the University of Western Ontario.

The event was held on the eve of Tuesday’s announcement of the winners for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, with Donoghue in the running for the English language fiction category.

The award carries a $25,000 prize from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Donoghue said she’s trying not to get her hopes up.

“Being shortlisted for awards does have ups and downs. Psychologically, it is quite hard,” she said. “If you can just manage to persuade yourself you’re not going to win, then the whole thing is highly enjoyable.”

Donoghue’s Room was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, one of the world’s most coveted literary awards, but lost to British author Howard Jacobson last month.

This month, Donoghue bounced back, snagging $25,000 for the Writer’s Trust Award in Toronto.

Through it all, Donoghue said that the support she has received from Londoners has been "a treasure."

"Oh, I've been feeling the love," she said.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

First Byline

Last month I got the chance to cover Take Back the Night, a march for women's rights, for local newspaper the London Free Press.
I shared the story with Kate Dubinski, an incredible reporter and a great guide for my first real press experience. You can read the story we collaborated on here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Blonde African's Diary 1

Writers often repeat the adage, "Write what you know." It's the idea that you are at your best when you are talking about something you care about. When you are more experienced, you can tackle issues that are outside your realm of knowledge. But as journalists we are constantly writing about what we do not know, but must understand quickly and convey simply. Still, there is always the pull to write on topics we are familiar with. For me, that is Africa.

My story is Africa.  Every other statement about my life begins and ends with that.  I’ve travelled a lot for someone my age, and have been blessed with experiences most people only dream of.  But among all those experiences, Africa is the backdrop to each and every poignant moment of my life.  I owe much to the continent that accepted me as one of its own, and to the Africans of every colour that made me a part of their family.

It began when I was seven.  My family moved from Newfoundland, Canada to Dakar, Senegal, West Africa.  You could not find two places on earth more different from each other, save the fact that the ocean and fishing are a way of life for much of both areas.  Despite its strangeness, I took to my new country immediately, and the six years I spent there (five as a child, one as a young adult some time later) are the strongest building blocks of who I am. 

I miss home desperately.  There are times when I am in Africa, sitting in the dust listening to a local pastor, or laughing at school children in a rural orphanage, when I feel the strangest urge.  It is as if I need to grab handfuls of red earth and rub it into my skin.  I know each time I come home that I will have to leave again.  I open my eyes and ears wide to absorb every piece I can into my innermost parts, so that I can carry them around inside me, no matter how far away I may be. 

When I return to Canada, the pressures of my responsibilities with school and internships and life make me forget, sometimes for days, the reality that my African brothers and sisters live in.  But then a news report or something familiar will catch my eye, jog my memory, and the ache starts as fresh as if I had just left home.  A part of me is still there across the ocean, and it bleeds and breaks with every fresh wave of violence, disease or famine that sweeps the continent.  I feel a deep guilt knowing that brothers and sisters who are just like those whom I have come to love are suffering.  Meanwhile, I sit in a temperature-controlled classroom, writing notes as my professor speaks on Africa's fate.

My guilt comes from one of the most important lessons I have learned.  Because of Africa, I know that the colour of our skin is just like the wrapping paper on a precious gift- you have to get past the outer layer to find the treasures of friendship and community inside.  I identify myself not by how I look, but by who I relate to, what I believe in, and what I hope to become.  Racism is a foreign thing to my heart, only because of the influence of the courageous people I met and came to love and respect in my African journey.  Africa is my adopted home, and the people there are my people.  I grew up under their powerful examples.

Africa pulses in my blood like a drum beat.  It’s a rhythm that only those who have been there can understand.  It’s a hard, violent, and beautiful sound.  Just like Africa itself, it is torturous but breathtaking.  It causes pain, but its presence in me helps me look at the world through eyes that are wide open and willing to offer the same grace that I have been shown time and time again.  Africa helps me understand community, family, loyalty, equality, and faith.  It helps me understand myself. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hats Off to Aaron Sorkin

The West Wing was the first TV show that I didn’t understand, which perhaps says much about our entertainment industry as I was about 12 when it first came out.  However, I didn’t start watching the show till it became a late-night routine for my parents while I was in junior high or high school.  I would sometimes sit with them and watch, confused by the fact that I was captivated by a show that seemed to revolve around…well, nothing a high schooler is typically interested in.  It was about politics, but it wasn’t boring.  It was like watching the news, but it wasn’t.  They used thinly veiled references that I didn’t catch and talked about issues that I had hardly heard of.  I ate it up.  That is the power of any script Aaron Sorkin touches.  Sometimes you don’t understand why you love it.  You just do. 

Often Sorkin’s work leaves me pressing pause on the DVD player to go and look up an icon, an event, or an artistic work one of the characters has made reference to.  This third-culture-kid needed a Western cultural guide, and I can think of no one better for the job than one whose characters drop lines from classic literature like some of the ladies at my school drop “In Touch” headlines.  My friends may tease me for my attachment (ok, addiction) to The West Wing, but the show makes me believe in political honour, and demand it in my own government.  It is perhaps part of what influenced me to vote for Glen Pearson, an MP that is making waves in Parliament for his refusal to play dirty politics and drop cheap accusations on his fellow politicians. 

The West Wing also makes me want to be a part of something bigger.  When I was first introduced to the characters of Amy Gardner and Ainsley Hayes, I wanted to stand up and cheer.  They are two women who stand for their convictions, sometimes in the most unconventional ways.  One night my friend (a feisty young feminista and, might I say, talented script writer herself) were discussing how these fictional women have become powerful ideals for us of what we could someday achieve as women of conviction ourselves.  It may sound pathetic to find your inspiration in fiction, so rest assured that I have “real” role models as well, among them journalists Stephanie Nolen, Lara Logan and Naomi Klein. The point is that these women, real or fictional, have given us something to aspire to. And that's a powerful thing.

By creating entertainment that doesn’t just make us laugh and cry, but makes us think and wish for a better future, Aaron Sorkin goes beyond the typical boundaries written in glitzy Hollywood ink.  As realists say, art imitates reality.  Sorkin, for anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes, ignites our imagination with a world that has so much potential.    What shocks us as the credits roll, is that this world he has imitated, the world where things can and do change for the better, is ours.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Consequences

So we’re starting a new term in our Masters program. On the agenda, a class called Online Journalism, which, as it turns out is pretty interesting. The way our world is changing is daunting, but exciting. That we are able to post things right from the street and upload them in seconds so that people across the world can see them is changing the way information works.

But despite my interest in how the internet and technology is affecting our craft, this first class today freaked me out. Not because I don’t like iPads and Kindles and smartphones. I actually think some of them are pretty cool. But as I was writing my notes down, a question kept popping into my head. It became so persistent that I finally scribbled it in the margins:

What are the consequences?

In my undergrad we learned about how our choices affect those in other countries. In the 90s the outcry was against so called “sweatshops,” where factories in Asia pumped out the items needed to fulfill the West’s desires. For our generation, I believe one of the many issues that we have to grapple with is how the minerals and metals needed to make our smartphones, cameras, computers and more are fueling a war right across the ocean.

Coltan is one of the elements used in cellphones. In an article from 2008, Mike Pflanz of the Telegraph reports, “More than 80 per cent of the world's coltan is in Africa, and 80 percent of that lies in territory controlled by Congo's various ragtag rebel groups, armed militia and its corrupt and underfunded national army.”*

Congo has been in conflict since the 1990s, some of it a spill-over from the notorious war in Rwanda. The violence between the Hutus and the Tutsis continued when many Hutu men fled to Congo following the genocide. A few days ago I posted an article to Twitter about how there have been 500 rapes in the Congo in the past 2 months, according to the United Nations. In 2008 it was reported that more than five and a half million people have died since the war officially began in 1998.

Numbers like this should scare tech-savvy students and consumers like us when we consider that the role of conflict minerals in the deaths and rapes in Congo have recently been acknowledged in a confidential United Nations report that was leaked to the media. Organizations like The Enough Project have begun to make noise about the effect of conflict minerals. But computer and IT companies continue to trade with suppliers in war-torn Congo.

So my question is, are we willing to live with that? Are we willing to live with the fact that our desire to be on top of technological trends is directly linked to the death and rape of people in countries like Congo? As journalists, can we use these tools to reach our readers without a serious look at the ramifications? Don’t we have an obligation to the truth, however it might inconvenience us?

Because if we do, there are still options. News media sources are choosing those options each time they publish an article on the Congo. People are putting pressure on companies to make sure that the materials they use are ethically sourced. And as young journalists and consumers, we can do the same.

Progress for us and for the world shouldn’t have to mean suffering for someone else. Because how can that be called progress at all?

Note: This piece was originally posted on the Western Online Journalism blog, where it received almost 2000 page views.

*I would encourage you to read the entire article here: It is the most comprehensive piece I have found on the subject.

Other articles on Congo, minerals, and corporations:

“Human exploitation fuels mining trade in DRC: Apple, Dell look away”:

“Congo’s Death Rate Unchanged Since War Ended”:

“The U.N. Report on War Crimes in Congo”:

“Over 500 rapes in Congo since July: UN”:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The great migration

Hello all! Some of you may be new to this blog, some of you may have followed me over from Vox. My old blog ( was shut down when Vox closed its doors, so I will be slowly reposting my old blog posts from there on this new site, as well as creating and posting new articles.
A little about me:
I am Canadian, born in Newfoundland. When I was 7 my family moved to Senegal, West Africa. We came back to Canada in 1999 and spent another year in Newfoundland before moving to Toronto, where I went to school for the next 5 years. When I graduated from high school, my family and I went back to Senegal where I spent a year volunteering. I then did my Bachelor in Honours Social Justice and Peace Studies with a minor in Francophone Studies at King's University College. I am currently doing a one year Master of Arts in Journalism degree at The University of Western Ontario.
I am bilingual, and though French grammar and I have a love-hate relationship, I love French literature and Francophone culture. I have a passion for social justice, international relations, the environment, world fashion, music and the great outdoors. Many of my posts will be on those topics!
Welcome to my blog.