Journalist Carlyn Zwarenstein: Young Voices made me feel "proud and fundamentally understood"

Carlyn zwarenstein headshotBecause the YOUNG VOICES WRITERS CONFERENCE happens on Sat, Oct 25 (register now!), I've profiled a couple Torontonians who were published in the yearly Young Voice Magazine.

Carlyn Zwarenstein is the third Young Voices superstar I'll feature here. She's one of those incredibly versatile and sharp writers who has a nose for what makes good news.

She has written for the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, Spain's La Vanguardia and the UK's The Guardian; for Our Times (labour rights) and High Times (pot smokers' rights). She's written numerous features, news pieces and unsigned editorials for eye weekly; covered city hall for NOW; social movements and activism for Canadian Dimension; and written for This Magazine, Spacing, Kiss Machine (!) and the recently-departed FUSE, and most recently Canadian Geographic and Our Times.

She's also highly engaged with the community. She mentors and supports other writers, for example helping young people edit and publish op-eds when she worked for a children's rights organization called Voices for Children, and supporting the work of internationally-trained journalists (including some really amazing writers for whom English is a second language) as the editor of New Voices, a magazine produced by a Toronto settlement agency called the Mennonite New Life Centre.

Less well known is that Carlyn writes poetry, because she's only published it rarely. She had a piece in the Malahat Review a few years ago and studied at the University of Toronto with Ted Chamberlin and Al Moritz.

Carlyn z poemEmily: Tell me about your connection to Young Voices Magazine

Carlyn: I contributed a single poem to what was probably one of the earlies issues of the magazine. It was a poem called "Things that Cannot Be," inspired by the title of a big reference book I have called The Encyclopedia of Things that Never Were (Michael Page, Robert Ingpen). The poem was a very structured series of verses with internal rhyming that described different images of magic and fantasy.

Looking back I realize that I was good at playing around with language and rhyme and image, but I really could have pushed myself more to explore ideas and meaning--still a challenge these days. Still, after the reading that was held for the launch of Young Voices, a woman (ie. a grown-up person!) came up to me and said something very nice about my romantic imagination. The way I felt then was I guess what an author feels like when they get a review that isn't just nice, but where they feel like the critic nailed it. Happy and proud and fundamentally understood. It was a wonderful, flying moment. 

Emily: How did getting published in the magazine make you feel?

Carlyn: Very special. It was incredibly affirming, particularly because of the pretty high quality of the contributions as a whole, the professionalism of the production and the 'realness' of the reading that we gave. The whole thing was structured to feel like a real, adult publishing opportunity and contributed to my early sense of commitment to writing as a profession. I felt capable, I felt validated and I felt dedicated--like this was something that I could devote my life to, with all the passion and the professionalism involved in setting out to make your living doing something you love and take very seriously.

Emily: Why do you think it's a great feature of the Toronto Public Library's yearly programming?

Carlyn: Just because of that taking-kids-seriously thing. Young people can produce some really wonderful writing and need the encouragement to see it as important to them because of how it makes them feel and the impact their words can make in the world. It's very different from a school assignment in that way. It feels like an opportunity to contribute, not a duty.

Emily: Whatcha working on these days?

Carlyn: A novel (of course). I'm also waiting very anxiously to find out if a proposal for a short non-fiction book that received initial interest is going to actually be accepted by the publisher I approached. And am wondering whether freelance journalism, which I almost completely dropped over the last two years due to a combination of worsening market, fewer exciting opportunities, serious health issues and raising children, is something I might yet explore again.

This year's Young Voices Magazine is being launched on Wed, Oct. 22, and will be appearing in a branch near you shortly thereafter. Consider submitting next year! There's more info on how to submit over here.