The Shoe Project – Finding Home

“First you write your story, then you read your story, then you tell your story,” says Katherine Govier, novelist and founder of The Shoe Project. The Shoe Project is a writing and performance workshop for immigrant women that is in its seventh year and has held performances in eight cities across Canada, from Vancouver to Halifax. On March 31 and April 2, 2019, the George Ignatieff Theatre in Toronto will host 12 women who immigrated to Canada, some as refugees, sharing their stories of suffering, despair, upheaval and hope.  These women participated in a 10-week writing and performance workshop, which helped them shape first-person stories of their journey to Canada through a pair of shoes.  

“We want to represent as many countries, language backgrounds and ages as possible,” says Govier. “We recruit through various immigration groups, including the YWCA and our alumni, and interview candidates who can make the commitment to the 10-week workshop and, most importantly, want to share their experiences through a pair of shoes.”  The shoes are a metaphor for their travels. Through their soles, the stories help build a bridge of understanding as they evolve in “finding their home” and start to unmask themselves as immigrants and refugees and assimilate into neighbourhoods. 

Govier is quick to point out that these women are not professional writers; however, their background, experiences and professions require them to have a sophisticated grasp of the English language, and this experience helps with that.  And the confidence they gain as a collective group fuels and heals them. 

A long-time advocate of freedom of speech, this midtown Toronto resident is also a well-known and prolific writer of over 11 novels.  Govier is no stranger to championing the voice of women in her stories.   

“I have always written about women who don’t have a voice, and I think recognition is a major part of my writing,” she says.  “Right now I’m working on a sequel to the novel The Ghost Brush, which is about Katsushika Ōi, a great artist in her own right and the daughter of legendary printmaker Katsushika Hokusai, known for The Great Wave.”  Govier uncovered that the late images attributed to Hokusai might very well not be his work, but those of his daughter, Ōi.  Govier says that Hokusai lived twice his life expectancy and during his last 25 years, he was disabled by a stroke.  “How does someone disappear from history? Just like the women involved in The Shoe Project, these are stories that would be lost between languages if we didn’t encourage those who are closest to speak.” 

The Shoe Project is the platform that has encouraged these women to share their stories.  “My mother used to say to me: it takes three generations to make an artist. The first generation has to survive in this country, the second generation wants more security than an artist, but the third generation can take those risks. But look at all we lose when that happens; we lose the reality, we lose that first-person story of what it was like getting here.” 

Finding home – The Shoe Project promises to be an evening of laughter, tears and celebration of just getting here. 

For tickets, please visit: www.theshoeproject.online

Written by: Marylene Vestergom

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