In town this month...

Writer and visual artist Hillarie Tasche is looking forward to sharing her work with the community where her creative life started.

The Winnipeg resident is the featured author at the next Write Out Loud in Swift Current, May 15.

“I wanted to come back to Swift Current really to thank the people who got me through high school, who inspired me to go to university, who inspired me to begin writing, and to keep writing,” she said.

Her interest in writing began when she was a student at Swift Current Comprehensive High School, where she received guidance from teachers in the English and Theatre departments.

Her parents Cyndi and Stew, who still reside in Swift Current, have been a strong artistic influence. They edited her collection of short stories, We are Animals: Three Dark Fables, which will be the focus of her presentation at Write Out Loud.

“Swift Current is a really special place, because there is this very intense pocket of artistically gifted people,” she said. “And not only are they artistically gifted, they work very hard at passing that gift down through generations and then following up and wanting to see what our kids do from Swift Current as they go.”

She returns every fall to Swift Current to display her artwork at the Fall into Christmas fine art and handcraft market, which is organized by her parents.

“Every year I'm approached by people just saying how excited they are that I'm home and how much they're excited that I'm doing creative work,” she said. “So we take care of our people, even if they're really far away. I'm really excited to come home for that reason, just to share what I have with the people who helped me along the way.”

Her presentation at Write Out Loud will serve as a local launch of her short story collection. There was a launch event in Winnipeg in late 2017, but she also wanted to do a launch in her home community.

“This will be one of the first times that this book will be available in the city and definitely the first time when I'm speaking about the book directly and about my experiences that lead to the birth of the stories as well,” she said. “I want to make sure people understand where the stories are coming from, sort of the stories behind the stories, because I think that they're just as interesting as the abstractions and the writing that I've drawn from them.”

The book is a collection of three short stories, which at first glance appears to be about the tragic lives of three animals, but the title already serves as a caution to readers.

We are Animals: Three Dark Fables is actually a reflection on different aspects of the human condition. The stories have been written in the tradition of fables and she drew a lot on her interest in magical realism.

“They are exploring some of the darker sides of human life, but then hopefully bringing the reader through to a more optimistic or more enlightened state after they’ve read the stories,” she said. “What I want the reader to take away from it is that we are resilient as a species and when we’re faced with challenges we can overcome them, that not everyone has had a very easy existence, and that literature provides us an opportunity to understand more about those who’ve gone through struggles that we may not have gone through directly.”

These stories have been influenced by her work as a criminal defense lawyer for youth. She is a member of Manitoba’s first Legal Aid office that is focusing on the practice of youth law, and her clients face challenges such as poverty, gang activity, and negative influences from peers.

“A lot of those subjects are touched on in the stories,” she said. “For instance, the first story is about a young coyote who runs away and joins a pack of wolves and women. It’s sort of a cautionary tale of the perils of finding family in a negative space. So definitely my influence was drawn from the kids who may not feel a sense of belonging in our own society, be they children in family services care or maybe from poor homes or homes where there is abuse.”

Tasche is able to combine the analytical and creative sides of her personality in her writing and in her work as a lawyer.

“The creativity side lends well to the role of a defence lawyer, because we have to make sure that our client’s story is told, and then to take that into the creative world,” she said. “There’s so much of human nature that you learn in the practise of law that you never really thought existed.”

She believes literature is an important means to create more empathy for those who are living on the margins of society and are facing daily struggles that are difficult to comprehend by those who have a more secure existence.

“I think one of the best ways for society to become more empathetic and more understanding and more inclusive is through literature,” she said. “Many people don't care about kids in care, they may not know it, it may not be on their radar, but they can read a store wherein they're reading about a little animal, but it actually gives them the opportunity to empathize with marginalized communities.”

Tasche previously published a collection of poems, and she considers her poetry and short story writing as a stepping stone towards her goal to become a fiction writer.

“I have a big sign in my writing studio that says my purpose on this planet, and I've known it for a long time, is to be a fiction writer, as masterful as I can manage and as prolific as I can manage,” she said. “I feel I'm on this planet to do this. So these are my early days. This is I hope the beginning of more work to come, and I'm really proud of these three stories and since I published this, stories have continued to flow. I've got about five more ready to go now of short stories and then a longer project that's well under way and that I'm really excited about.”

Write Out Loud with author Hillarie Tasche takes place at the Lyric Theatre, May 15. Doors open at 6:30 and admission is $8. The program will start with musical entertainment by the Billy Bock Quartet, featuring local musicians Stew Tasche, Dave Cyca, Ed Doyle, and Gord Nodge.

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