Wednesday, 12 March 2014 14:39

Eastend author to share the power of storytelling at Write Out Loud

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Storytelling has been an essential part of human existence since the dawn of time and Eastend author Seán Virgo believes it is still the case in the 21st century.

“I don’t think they often get the opportunity to hear them but I think people love being told stories,” he said.
He will be sharing stories from his most recent work, Dibidalen, at the Lyric Theatre’s Write Out Loud event in Swift Current March 19.
Virgo said this collection of short stories, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Saskatchewan Book Awards, is quite different from his previous works.
“It’s really about how stories are told and so the book starts with the most central primitive story that I could imagine telling,” he said. “The stories get more sophisticated as the book goes on, but underneath the more contemporary stories the old folk stories are still playing out.
“I think the basic stories are all the same at any time and at any place.”
Modern day storytelling might be different from the old folk tales that were created in pre-literate societies, but Virgo believes the humans who have been telling these stories over the centuries are still the same.
“I don’t happen to believe in progress,” he said. “So I think human beings are what they are and always have been.”
Human societies have evolved and are more complex, but he does not think humans have changed that much.
“I think human nature is what it is,” he said “We’re deeply corrupt creatures. We’re also capable of being angels and I don’t think that has ever changed or ever will change.”
He is very interested in this divided nature of human beings and his own stories explore these traits.
“Every age tends to say that it’s more advanced than the age before it, but you lose some things as well as gaining some things,” he mentioned. “There’s a huge amount of wisdom to be learned from cultures that we might regard as primitive.”
He speaks from his own experience of living in various countries from a young age.
He was born in Malta and grew up in South Africa, Malaya, Ireland and the United Kingdom. He came to Canada in 1966 and became a citizen in 1972.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in parts of the world where the cultures would be called primitive, but they’re wise and they’re kind and perhaps their quality of life and happiness is greater than ours,” he said. “It’s certainly as great as ours and I think people tend to forget that.”
He has lived in different parts of Canada, from Newfoundland to B.C. at Haida Gwaii, the Bruce Peninsula and various Gulf Islands. For the past decade, he has been a resident of southwest Saskatchewan. Virgo said he relates more to the natural world than to city life.
“One thing about living in southwest Saskatchewan is that in some ways the land hasn’t changed very much over the centuries,” he mentioned. “The wild creatures are still there and then there are these very small human communities. We’ve been designed to live in villages and the best cities are groups of villages.”
Living in Eastend provides him with that closer connection with the natural world, but as a writer he frequently travels and there are opportunities to experience urban life.
“I can get the stimulation from the city and from people who know things that I don’t and can teach me things,” he said. “So I’m lucky, I don’t just live in a little town, but I’m glad that’s my main home and I just love that I am around where I live.”
He has published a number of poetry and short story collections, but he prefers not to make a clear distinction between these two forms of writing.
“I think the best definition of poetry is W.H. Auden’s, which is quite simply memorable speech and the point of that really is that — all good writing is speaking,” he said. “It’s a voice and readers who have good ears can actually hear a voice coming through. So, they are in fact, being told literally a story. Now, not all readers have good ears, but you always hope that you write for readers that do.”
He considers short stories to be an effective storytelling format in the modern world where people have shorter attention spans.
“I think the best contemporary short stories do what novels used to do, but they’re distilled,” he said. “The short story is a challenging form because I think the reader contributes his or her own response to it. That’s one of the delights and it’s a very subtle form.”
His current projects include a novel and his first illustrated children’s book that will be published in June.
Virgo will be reading from Dibidalen at the Lyric Theatre’s next Write Out Loud event in Swift Current March 19. The Write Out Loud series combines readings by Canadian authors with entertainment by local musicians as the opening act. The event will start at 7 p.m. with musical entertainment by local musician Denise Wall. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and admission is $5.
For more info, phone 306-773-6292.

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