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George Ryga

In: English and Literature

Submitted By giridharan
Words 784
Pages 4
Honouring George Ryga: Our Mission
George Ryga's most famous character is Rita Joe, and her place in our world is obvious and damning still. Among the real world examples that informed his writing of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is the story of a young boy taken from his home in northern Ontario to a residential school. He was found during a helicopter search for truants and taken by helicopter to the school. From the air he saw the train tracks that could lead him back to his community. When he could, he followed those tracks and died, frozen, beside them.

Metaphors guide us, as artists, and if we're at work at two in the morning when there is milk to deliver at dawn, it's to tell a story to take that young boy home, to bend and break the metaphors, to discover new ones, or new uses for old ones. The railroad is a symbol of our national construction, and of the domination of the centre, but the boy used it for himself. But the young man torn from his community must find his way back. George Ryga knew that. We cannot let the roles we play determine our vision. We cannot become the magistrate from The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, who glimpses briefly the solitary child by the road and then cannot find her again. Claiming to not see the questions of our time does not answer them.

George Ryga wrote about this world now and that currency, that urgency is what we want to carry on here. Ryga will seek the best stories, essays, poems and plays in this tradition -- the literature that our country is so rich in: literature that writes its way home without giving in to nostalgia; literature that celebrates all our competing traditions and resists any safe homogeneity; but literature that refuses to romanticize the voices of the past in a way that denies them a life in the present or the right to presume a central role in the future.

We will not look away. This is art that may entertain but more often challenges. It exists in the call centres, in the kitchens, in the studios, the harvests, the factories. It's building a road somewhere, finding a new way into community. As George Ryga wrote:

An artist in our time can turn and flee from all this -- rush away to some patch of earth reasonably insulated from the drumbeats of ongoing history [ ... ] but that is not the only choice. There is another method of approaching this uncompromising dilemma. And that is to continue on into the desert [ ... ] to allow new language and metaphor to filter into oneself through osmosis of food, climate, pacing, humour, fear.

We will avoid art that flees. We will avoid art that describes but does not take a stand. We will celebrate prose, for instance, that contains what Steven Milhauser calls the "secret aggression" to contain the whole world. We will publish poems that, to paraphrase Seamus Heaney, are born from an impulse to answer, and, in that answer, to provoke a continuing response.

All art is response. It cannot exist outside the political no matter how hard it tries. If it describes a flower, it describes a flower as the artist sees it, depending on her bravery, her fear, her humility, her arrogance, but she describes it as it must be also. Its place in the world depends upon it. Art responds to the world with its own provocations. It demands new answers. It never ends the conversation.

The basic question we will ask is: What is at stake? If we fail, what happens? And here, again, George Ryga is our model. What is at stake is Rita Joe's life. If she fails, she dies, and she does. If the world fails in its response to Rita Joe, what is at stake is our humanity. It is the world as it is in conflict with the world as it should be.

We take our name from Ryga, a political writer, to honour his commitment to his art and to his world. His legacy is this: he was a human living in a community and that community was living in a nation, that nation in a world. He wrote without nostalgia about the world that lived around him. He believed the artist had a responsibility to write counter-narratives, to treat the marginalized among us fairly, to challenge the formal boundaries of his art without losing the humanity of the characters that drive it. These characters live and move according to a complex, tentative political agreement that must not be taken as natural, but must be interrogated in every way.
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