Eufemia Fantetti and Kathy Friedman became friends while completing their MFAs in creative writing at the University of Guelph. Together, they have founded a collective called InkWell Workshops, whose mission is to run creative-writing workshops for people with mental-health issues led by professional artists with lived experience of mental illness. Beginning in February 2016, InkWell will be partnering with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto Branch to begin leading workshops.
Over tea in Eufemia’s cozy east-end apartment, the two recently discussed their goals for the project, how people can get involved, and their upcoming fundraiser at The Steady...
KF: Hi, Eufemia.
EF: Hi, Kathy!
KF: So you have written and performed your own one-woman show about the mental illness in your family, you’ve written some excellent award-winning essays about your own struggles with mental illness, and you’ve done a lot of advocacy. What is it about InkWell Workshops that makes you want to devote your time to it?
EF: InkWell allows me to combine a few things that I really care about, which is making sure that people with mental illness have an ability to express themselves and an opportunity to write their stories and give voice to their experiences. Writing is how, through my family struggles and through my own experiences with depression, I stayed on track. It was the only way I could connect with the world and feel like I belonged. InkWell is an opportunity to give back.
KF: For me, it’s really powerful to create an opportunity for artists to teach and be paid where having lived experience is an asset rather than a disadvantage. I’ve never wanted to reveal to an employer that I have depression, for example.
EF: I think being able to turn unpleasant, even devastating, experiences into something that can be positive is the dream behind InkWell that we both share.
KF: And there’s a lot of evidence supporting the efficacy of treatment models that are focused on recovery and overall well-being led by people like us with lived experience. The idea that I can actually contribute to lessening people’s distress—through teaching something that I love—is really motivating for me. Also, studies show that creative writing can be great for mental health. It’s a powerful way for people to connect with others and feel good about themselves. So much in the mental health system is about diagnoses and telling people what they can’t do. We want to focus on people’s strengths and talents.
EF: So let me ask you this. What are your wildest dreams for InkWell? And how can other people get involved?
KF: I think my wildest dream for InkWell has already partially come true, which is that we have received an outpouring of support. People really seem to get that there’s a need for programs like this. My ultimate dream is to see workshops happening throughout the city. We would love to grow.
EF: First the city, then the country!
KF: Yeah, we’ve had lots of requests from all across the country. In terms of how people can get involved, we are having a Halloween fundraiser on Saturday, October 31, 2015 at The Steady. There will be short readings with our team of fabulous instructors (who are all MFA grads) and then a DJ spinning tunes. We’re inviting people to come in costume dressed as any literary character or author—in zombie form—if they want to. Everyone is welcome, including those without costumes. If people want to get more involved or find out more, they can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, sign up for our newsletter, or just drop us a note and let us know that they’re interested in volunteering or teaching with us.
EF: Some people I talked to about InkWell were surprised that something like this doesn’t already exist.
KF: Are you excited to be a pioneer, Eufemia?
EF: I am, Finally! Do I need to dress up in a pioneer costume?
KF: You have to dress up in a Star Trek costume. For Halloween.
EF: And that’s exactly how it’s going to be. Live long and prosper, Kathy.
KF: Thank you. I’m going to be a zombie Gregor Samsa.
EF: What I love about this partnership is that you can take us high-brow and I’m gonna keep us low. It’s all about the balance.
Kathy Friedman is a teacher and freelance editor whose writing has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Grain, Geist, Room, Poetry Is Dead, PRISM international, The New Quarterly, Canadian Notes & Queries, and This Magazine. She was a recent finalist for the Writers' Trust of Canada's Bronwen Wallace Award.
Eufemia Fantetti teaches at Humber College and is the author of Recipe for Disaster and Other Unlikely Tales of Love, winner of the F.G. Bressani Prize and runner up for the Writer's Union of Canada's Danuta Gleed Award.