Making room for artists of colour

A storytelling workshop encourages marginalized writers to pursue their art

Writer and performer Kai Cheng Thom led the writing workshop in Watson Hall last Saturday.
Image supplied by: Kai Cheng Tom
Writer and performer Kai Cheng Thom led the writing workshop in Watson Hall last Saturday.

An intimate group of students gathered in Watson Hall last Saturday to encourage marginalized artists to pursue their crafts regardless of any resistance they face.  

Queen’s Pride and Queen’s Creative Writing Club came together to hold the joint writing workshop, which focused on the experiences of people of colour and their relationships with writing and storytelling. 

The workshop — titled “Giving Birth to Yourself: Revolutionary Storytelling for People of Colour” — was led by poet and performer Kai Cheng Thom, known by her alias Lady Sin Trayda. It was strictly open to people of colour with a focus on queer and trans experiences.

In an interview before the workshop, Kai Cheng Thom — feature writer for Everyday Feminism and a renowned performer of poetry — said she has been running the workshop for two to three years. She incorporates theatre exercises with meditative and self-reflective practices to motivate people of colour to think about what being a storyteller entails.

“[This workshop is] basically a lot of embodied explorations of what it means to be a storyteller as a person of colour in a white supremacist, colonized, territorial space,” Cheng Thom said in the interview.

Growing up, Thom felt the pressures of living in a society that alienated her. 

“[In being] born into an atmosphere of scarcity. You are told that you can’t be anything without working 10 times harder than everyone else and, even more so, you can’t be anything frivolous or fun like a writer or an artist,” she said. 

Cheng Thom said her road to activism began when she realized that only certain people had access to mediums for storytelling and achieved recognition for their work. The exclusivity of the craft was unfair, she said.

Sunday’s workshop began with Cheng Thom encouraging participants to reflect on different aspects of their lives and jot down their thoughts and feelings after every exercise. 

She then asked the group to participate in activities ranging from guided meditation to imagining their ancestral line to thinking about how they perceived themselves and their story in accordance to their intersecting identities. 

The experience allowed the participants to consider the difficulties they faced within the world of storytelling, but also acknowledge their capabilities and capacity to overcome those difficulties. 

Attendees were eager to share their thoughts after every activity. Stories of pain, strength and power circulated the room, creating an atmosphere of acceptance and support. 

This was exactly what Queen’s Pride and Queen’s Creative Writing Club had in mind when organizing the workshop. 

In an interview with The Journal, the organizers agreed that they’d hoped to create a space where marginalized individuals could come together and thrive. 

“It was cool that [Kai Cheng Thom] suggested a closed workshop because there are very few places for people of colour, at Queen’s specifically, to be at the center of things,” co-director of Queen’s Pride Evelyna Ekoko-Kay said. 

“It’s not about exclusivity, it’s about making space for the people in society who are usually an afterthought,” said Lorraine Lau, vice president of the Queen’s Creative Writing Club. 

The workshop aimed to acknowledge the difficult positions that people of colour — particularly those who are queer and/or trans — face when trying to tell their stories. 

Hosting and attending workshops of this nature is imperative to eliminating the idea that storytelling is only valid when done by a specific group of people. 

Cheng Thom offered a final piece of advice for marginalized writers and artists near the end of her interview with The Journal. 

“Forget about the things that society tells you [that] you need to have in order to tell your story. No one can guarantee outcome, but you can control whether or not you tell your story to the people around you,” she said. 

“No one is going to make you into a writer except for you and your community. You control the survival of your story.” 

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