I’ve finally stepped out of my learning-curve-phobia zone and created a Twitter account! Well technically my daughter did, but I’ll be tweeting updates on my book’s release, book tour dates and other information about With a Closed Fist.
With a Closed Fist has been called a staff favourite by the Literary Press Group (LPG) of Canada! Here’s what they had to say:
“A very good memoir is Kathy Dobson’s With A Closed Fist: Growing Up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood (from Montreal’s Vehicule Press). This title is a staff favourite here at the LPG. Dobson, a CBC reporter, tells very candidly, from the perspective of her young teenage self, a wrenching, sad and also at times hilarious story of living in Montreal’s Pointe St-Charles (“The Point”) with her mother, five sisters and part-time father, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Amidst poverty, squalor, violence, and sexual abuse, the only things that matter are the bond between sisters and the fight for a better life: it’s a fight that Kathy’s mother saw as the only chance to give her daughters a better future, but also to give hope to a whole neighbourhood.”
To read the whole article by LPG on Fall 2011 must-reads from Canadian authors, click here.
The Montreal Review of Books has written an advance review of With a Closed Fist.
Back to the Point – Reviewed by Anna Leventhal
A current Montreal real estate website describes Point St. Charles as an up-and-coming neighbourhood, a good bet for potential property owners, and an opportunity for “more house for your money!” The irony is surely not lost on writer and journalist Kathy Dobson, whose memoir With A Closed Fist recalls a time when the Point was the last place anyone would willingly choose to settle. In the 1960s and 1970s, “Canada’s toughest neighbourhood” was neglected, disenfranchised, and prone to outbreaks of fire, roaches, and gangs of kids warring over territory. It was also Dobson’s childhood home. It was where her mother became politicized over her family’s abysmal living conditions, and where a young Kathy and her five sisters would regularly be recruited for lie-ins on the street and protests against an indifferent city hall.
With A Closed Fist is a kind of grassroots history of a time and place fast disappearing. Condo developments and gentrification are changing the face of Point St. Charles, from a one-time working-class slum and literal dump into the kind of place that gives developers a particular eye-gleam: it’s cheap, “authentic,” au courant, and, most importantly, marketable. But Dobson’s book records a much different transformation.As Kathy fights with an oblivious teacher over a school uniform she can’t afford, the women of the Point hold protests outside the school board office to get their kids better educations; as Kathy explores an abandoned building where the roaches form “a large wiggling carpet,” her mom joins an Informed Citizens group and meets with social work students from McGill to teach them how to listen to the poor. The memoir chronicles a true people’s movement, one that led to the autonomous Community Clinic being created to serve the neighbourhood, and Kathy and other Point kids being allowed to attend better schools in Westmount.
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Dobson doesn’t write as an adult looking back on childhood with the insight of experience, but “straight up, in my own voice, as a kid growing up in the Point.” For the most part, younger Kathy’s voice is strikingly believable: candid, scornful, funny, unadorned with the sentimentalism or preciousness some writers feel toward their younger selves. It reads like fiction. She speaks with the same frankness whether she deals with sexual abuse and near-starvation or talks about pranking the neighbours, hiding from the bailiff, and falling into a seething stew of cockroaches. Her harshest stories lack the gravity that more decorous, middle-class approaches to dire circumstance seem to require, and the effect is unsettling.
Dobson illustrates class tensions shrewdly. She shows how poor kids who get rerouted to middle-class schools or neighbourhoods don’t become middle-class by association – there are still and always deep divisions that isolate Kathy and the other Point kids from their peers at Westmount High. She systematically avoids the heartwarming tropes of the coming- of-age story.The charming teacher, the kindhearted social worker, the prospect of a new job all fail to transform Kathy from a troubled, shiftless kid to a self-actualizing, stable grown-up; unlike an after-school special, there are no sim- ple solutions here.The one exception is the book’s ending, which feels like a breathless rush to deliverance. It’s like Dobson ran out of time and had to engineer a boyfriend ex machina so we’d be able to sleep at night. It’s a little disappointing for a book that otherwise avoids easy answers, and whose struggle is of a neighbour- hood as much as a single person.
With A Closed Fist shares the time and place of David Fennario’s groundbreaking 1979 play Balconville, and the two works have a close sensibility. In 2005, Fennario revisited his setting and characters in Condoville, where the changes to the neighbourhood play out in tensions between the older residents and the new, gentrifying class, represented by a mixed-race gay couple. It’s a complicated dynamic, between those whose hard-won victories are under threat and those with their own struggles to find a tolerant space. But personal differences fall away in the face of structural inequality. A system that bars the poor from controlling their own possibilities will never serve anyone well, not even those who, at first, seem to prosper from it.
In one passage, Kathy’s mother Eileen speaks to the student social workers from McGill gathered at her kitchen table:
“You’re being taught to tell us, preach to us, how to fix our problems,” Mom says, “instead of asking us, the real experts…. Don’t tell me how to fix my problem – first we need to find a common ground….We need to find a common language.”
After all Eileen’s agitation, passion, and community organizing, it’s sad to think that her dream of a common language is as elusive as ever. At the very least, this memoir is a powerful tribute to her and a reminder of how difficult and essential is the work of speaking, and listening.
Anna Leventhal is a writer living in Montreal
I’ve learned a lot during this long journey of writing my first book and finally having it published. And there have been lots of surprises along the way. For example, I thought the hardest part would be…well, actually writing the book.
Boy, was I wrong.
The world of publishing holds many of its own unique challenges and, as I’ve recently learned, writing the book is actually only the first step. Once you finish bleeding all over the page, next you need to find an agent, followed by a publisher.
Oh, and then the real funs starts, the most important stage of all: finding your readers. Because of course, without readers, what’s the point? I’m not one of those writers who writes just for myself. Yes, I know there are plenty of writers who do just that, saying they aren’t necessarily interested in a wider audience for their work. They write simply for the pure joy of…ahem, writing.
I admit, I write to be read. I need to feel connected to a reader. I need to believe that someone, somewhere, is eventually going to read my words. And although my ideal reader is one who also likes, hell, maybe even loves what I’ve written, it isn’t a necessity for me to write.
I just need to be read.
My publisher will be getting my book back from the printers on October 27th! Whew. I was getting a little worried that it wouldn’t be printed in time before the book’s launch in Montreal on November 4th!
For anyone who already pre-ordered the book from Amazon or Chapters online, I’m sorry for the delay. I know it was claiming the book would be available on the 1st of October, but now it’s more like the end of October. So thank you to everyone for all of your patience, I really appreciate it.
I can’t wait to finally hold that baby in my hands. It really does feel a little like giving birth.
Okay, having giving birth to actual real babies at least a couple of times, that’s not quite true, heh. But still….
Here is the ad that will be running in the October issue of the Montreal Review of Books. It will be inserted in Quebec edition of the Globe & Mail, and the Ottawa edition too. With a Closed Fist hits bookstores November 1st. Don’t miss the official book launch!
Friday November 4, 2011
Saint Columba House
2365 Grand Trunk, Montreal
The release date for With a Closed Fist has been finalized: you can look for it in book stores November 1st!
If everything goes according to plan, in less than 30 days, I should be finally holding an official published copy of my book, With a closed fist: Growing up in Canada’s toughest Neighbourhood.
Now I’m starting to think about the fact that other people, including complete strangers, will soon be reading my words about growing up in the Point. It feels scary and exciting and unbelievable, all at the same time. What will people think of it? How will my readers react? I can’t help but cringe a bit at the thought of certain people, like the newspaper and magazine editors I work for, reading about some of my most embarrassing, even humiliating, moments from when I was a kid.
But more importantly, I hope that if anyone from Point St. Charles reads my book, they’ll be proud to be able to say, “Hey, I grew up there, too!”
It still feels a little unreal to me that by the end of October- before Halloween- my book will actually be finally published. It was around this time last year that I signed my contract with Véhicule Press. I did a happy dance all around my kitchen when that thick envelope first arrived.
According to Chapters online and Amazon.ca, my book will be ready to ship October 1st. That’s in 42 days. Not that I’m counting or anything.