Monday, November 09, 2009

Live on the Drive: Interview with Addena Sumter-Freitag

It’s tough enough to be a teenager, let alone a girl, let alone a teenaged girl in the only Black family in post-war Winnipeg and Nova Scotia!
No doubt one would have enough stories to fill a book.
Indeed, local writer Addena Sumter-Freitag had enough poems and stories to fill two!
Back in the Days – her second collection - recently published through Commercial Drive-based Wattle & Daub Press, brings to life the girls, boys, men and women of the Black communities in Winnipeg and Nova Scotia of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s adding to the tapestry of memories Sumter-Freitag brought to us with her first book, Stay Black And Die.
A 7th generation African Canadian, Sumter-Freitag was born in St. Boniface, grew up in Winnipeg's North End, and has lived all across Canada, before settling here.
She was a black child in a white prairie city and a young woman in the ungentle hands of racism and love. As personal as she makes every encounter, the collection helps flesh out the Black experience in Canada for many of us who can barely fathom it. And yet, as I read these stories, I can't help but see myself somewhere in these stories. Probably because Sumter-Frietag's writing reminds me a little of my own prairie childhood and I like that. Deep down – I don't need to be black or female to find something familiar to hang on to.
Addena says she challenges ‘form’ in order to bring her stories, characters, and worlds alive, inviting you love them, hate them, identify with them, or wonder at them.
“I love to make my audience laugh, and encourage them to cry, whatever the musical and composition of the language compels them to feel,” she claims.
RC Weslowski, Poet of Honour at the 2008 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, has this to say about her work:
(She) bounces between voices and characters with ease like a honey bee going from flower to flower pollinating our minds with the multiple perspectives of her subjects. Each person feels authentic as she takes on the weight and history of her family and provides them with release through these stories and poems. It’s a trip into the past well worth taking.
Wise, wild, woeful and knowing, the writer’s words lift off the page and sweep you with them into worlds hidden, forgotten, repressed and denied. She is a sage tale-spinner who will challenge and confront you, caress and console you. Oh yes, and she’ll make you laugh, too!
Her last book, Stay Black & Die, published by Commodore Books, has been included in the English curriculum reading lists at UBC, Emily Carr, Vanier College: Montreal, and Women’s studies, UBC.
When she's out making a living, she dreams of the blue oceans, white sands, and reggae music of Jamaica, “a land where she discovered a kaleidoscope of coloured faces who could be kin.”
Besides her big and extended family, the stage is Addena’s true love and you can tell by the brightness in her voice and smile that she's a strong character actor.
She co-directed Black Theatre West’s production of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” at City Stage here in Vancouver. She has also toured her award-winning play “Stay Black & Die” across Canada as well as at Australia’s Adelaide Fringe Festival, where she performed at each engagement to ‘sold out’ houses.
As a storyteller and performance poet, she is a familiar face and voice in Vancouver’s poetry and storytelling community, performing at the Vancouver Storytelling Festival, Vancouver Spoken Word Festival, The World Poetry Reading Series, Vancouver’s Women’s Film Festival.
“I live in East Vancouver,” she says, “because I love the swirls of color in the paint of its people, and the music of languages that play in the air. The neighborhood's vibrancy and diversity remind me of Winnipeg's North End, so it feels like home.” She shares a household with her husband Irvin and daughter April. "No dogs, no cats, no fish, and only plants that understand water is a rare treat."
We caught up with Addena in her East Van kitchen for this neat little interview and impromptu reading. For more info about the book and this talented writer, check out her website:

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