Rebecca Fisseha talks about her path to fiction writing

On Oct. 27, the 2020-21 Canadian Writers in Person Lecture Series presented York alumna Rebecca Fisseha. York University Teaching Assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Rebecca Fisseha reads from her novel, "Daughters of Silence", on Oct. 27 

Rebecca Fisseha reads from her novel, "Daughters of Silence", on Oct. 27

York alumna Rebecca Fisseha gave a Zoom reading followed by a Q-and-A session, as part of the Canadian Writers in Person Series presentation, which took place Oct. 27.

Fisseha’s writing explores the Ethiopian diaspora. Fisseha was born in Ethiopia where she lived until she was 12, lived in Europe for some years, before coming to Canada at the age of 17.

Fisseha holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre and a Master’s Degree in Communications and Culture from York University; a Diploma in Writing for Film and Television from the Vancouver Film School; and a Certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers. She has also been awarded a Chalmers Arts Fellowship from the Ontario Arts Council.

In her talk, Fisseha said that the thing that got her started as a writer was a theatre management course at York in which she had to create a theatre company (on paper). She had spent the previous summer in Ethiopia, and that two-month visit corresponded with a period of personal cultural renaissance. So, for this project, she created a children’s Ethiopian theatre company. Shortly after, she submitted a script of a folk tale to a theatre festival in the Theatre Department. After graduation, she ended up being involved with two black theatre companies, and eventually having a play produced by b current at The Theatre Centre in 2009.

Daughters of Silence Book cover

Daughters of Silence book cover

During a year of teaching English in China, Fisseha entered fiction writing through what she calls “side doors”: blogging about her experiences in China, and finding and reading novels that really spoke to her.

Her first novel, Daughters of Silence, evolved from a short story into a longer manuscript that went through drafts and revisions. The writer said that, in the process of working with a mentor, she learned “to go beyond the story that I’m supposedly telling and discover what are the persistent themes and concerns that I’m touching on through the story and why… The story became as much about the surface plot of a family at odds over the place of the mother’s burial, as it was about secret-keeping and silences within the culture.”

Through additional years and drafts, and Fisseha’s own deep dive into her experience of childhood sexual abuse, the book became even more specifically about silences and secrets. “The story was still about burial, but that angle developed more complications,” she said.

“The book became more and more about the journey of starting to find one’s voice and getting on that path of healing. I would think of all the women that took this to their graves, and of all the little girls that experience it in this moment, and will experience it going forward, the ones experiencing it now — who may or may not find this book or a book like it down the line … I’m thinking of that continuum of women, past and present, and girls, present and future — that’s always in my mind.”

Daughters of Silence is a beautiful exploration of the weight of silence on girls and women who experience childhood sexual abuse.

On Dec. 8, author Sharon Butala will join the Canadian Writers in Person series for a talk and Q-and-A session on Season of Fury and Wonder.

Readings are free and open to any member of the public. For more information, contact Professor Leslie Sanders at leslie@yorku.ca or Professor Gail Vanstone at gailv@yorku.ca. All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 8.30 pm on Zoom.

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