A new online artistic literary journal run by University of Guelph students is intended to help amplify marginalized voices and creatively narrate current global events.
Dr. Catherine Bush, professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies (SETS) and coordinator of U of G’s master of fine art (MFA) program in creative writing, helped launch HELD magazine in October 2020 as a collaboration between creative writing and studio art MFA students.
“These two programs have never collaborated because the creative writing program is based in Toronto and studio art in Guelph,” said Bush. “At all levels, HELD highlights collaboration, and after COVID-19 shut everyone away from each other, we wanted to create a space for voices to be heard.”
The journal contains poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and visual art pieces focused on giving a creative voice to underrepresented communities, including persons of colour, people living with disabilities and people who identify as 2SLGBTQ+.
The magazine’s mandate is to ensure that 70 per cent of contributors identify as members of these communities; the editorial team members come from equally diverse backgrounds.
One student editor, Jedediah Mugarura, began his master’s degree mid-pandemic from his home in Uganda. He said that becoming involved in the project has eased his transition to living in Ontario.
“My involvement with HELD helped connect me with other students in my program as I studied online in Uganda,” said Mugarura. “Now that I’m in Canada, I’ve been able to meet some of the HELD members, which has given me a sense of community.”
The team also includes creative writing MFA students Jonathan Bessette, Sahar Golshan, Nadia L. Hohn, Anna Lee-Popham, Christine Ottoni, Deepa Rajagopalan, Meghan Ross, Evren Sezgin and Felix Wong, and Alicia Barbieri, an MFA student in U of G’s School of Fine Art and Music (SOFAM).
The magazine’s first issue, “Systems in Revolt/Systems in Renewal,” features creative works that primarily deal with COVID-19 and racial injustices.
“COVID-19 is a medical problem, but the pandemic is a sign of larger social issues,” said Bush. “Our first issue is responding not only to the virus that’s spread unequally among communities but also other social injustices that need to be part of how we respond to the pandemic.”
“At the time, lots was happening in the social landscape,” said Mugarura. “We were hoping to see the world through resilience, strength and survival. And in the first issue we see the power in people, in artistry and in expression at its best.”
What started as a project to bring U of G’s MFA programs together collaboratively during the pandemic has become a permanent online journal. The team is preparing the second issue to be released this summer.
“HELD is a word, not an acronym,” said Mugarura. “HELD shows our support for each other and brings together our voices as one. The journal will continue to prioritize the voices of people from historically marginalized communities in an effort to support and protect the social-cultural resource of our society.”
This project was supported by the University of Guelph’s Creating in a Time of Coronavirus Fund, the College of Arts, SOFAM and SETS, and the MFA in creative writing and studio art programs.
Dr. Catherine Bush