Recap of Marking Up the Margins

Speakers: A panel discussion with Emily Pohl-Weary, Andrea Zanin, and Emmy Pantin; moderated by Alison Kooistra

Report Writer: Laura Foster

Being new to the editing world, I was excited to listen to a discussion between editors working in different fields about some of the challenges they face and rewards they earn from working with marginalized voices. The panel discussed different aspects of the writing and editing process.

Here are a few of the key points that I took away from this discussion.

1) Different formats can affect how the story is told.

From books and magazines to blogs and digital media, the list of formats available for storytellers today is endless. Storytellers have to decide which format is right for them and their stories. For example, a personal zine may only have a few copies that are distributed between close friends. Once those zines are handed out there are very few new readers of that content. On the other hand, a blog post is something that can be read by anyone with Internet access, and it is permanent. Even if you delete the post, someone else may have saved it or reproduced it elsewhere on the web. And while the list of formats may be long in theory, in practice it can be quite short – marginalized storytellers do not always have access to established, mainstream publications.

An editor working with marginalized storytellers must remember that the subject matter they wish to write about may be difficult to share with others. In some cases, the hurdle of being brave enough to write the story and share it with an audience can be just as big of a hurdle as dealing with the subject matter itself. As an editor, it’s important to encourage these storytellers not to be afraid about being heard, and to show them how important it is for their voices to be heard by others.

2) Accessibility can be a challenge for both the storyteller and the audience.

Marginalized storytellers do not always have access to the materials and resources they need to share their stories with a wider audience. This raises the question of how individuals acquire what they need in order to be heard. In the case of a format such as video, getting access to a camera, a computer, and video editing software can be difficult. The main focus has to be the story being told, and not the glamour of making a film using the latest technology.

The issue of accessibility does not just affect the storyteller, but also the audience. When it comes to digital media, for example, not all marginalized individuals have access to computers with the Internet, thus stories told in this format by those who wish to use their experiences to help others can go unheard and unread. This is an ongoing issue that marginalized individuals face, but with the help of editors, barriers between the storyteller and his or her audience can be broken down so that the storyteller’s voice can be heard regardless of which format they choose.

3) Edit with the audience in mind.

As with traditional publishing, both the storyteller and the editor must keep in mind the target audience for the work they produce. It is even more important when the voices telling the story are trying to reach groups of individuals who may also be marginalized.

Language plays an important role in the creation of a story using an authentic voice. Words carry different meanings for different groups of individuals, so it is important for the editor to ask questions surrounding the meaning of certain words so as to respect both the storyteller and the audience. (For example, Alison gave an excellent example of how the word “goof” – which, to most, is a light-hearted insult – carries much more negative associations among people who are street-involved.) This brings me to my fourth and final point, about the roles editors play and the relationships they have with storytellers.

4) You are as much a student as you are a teacher.

As an editor working with marginalized voices, you learn when to ask questions about the meanings behind certain words. You learn about different languages and cultures, and about the individuals within those cultures. You also learn when to be an authoritative figure or when to be more of a coach. You must push the storyteller to create the best piece of work that they can make, but you must also learn when to respect the storyteller’s own understanding of when his or her piece is finished. The editor’s understanding of when to push and when to let go in terms of the storyteller’s work helps to build trust between the editor and the storyteller, which is a very important part of the editor/storyteller relationship.

These are just a few of the main issues discussed by the panel – I encourage anyone who missed this program to listen to the podcast. This discussion was lively and entertaining, and the anecdotes used by the panelists helped to put into context some of the tips they shared. It was a pleasure to attend such a wonderful discussion in person!

Panel Discussant Bios

Emily Pohl-Weary is an acquisitions editor at McGraw-Hill Canada. She is working on a PhD in Adult Education (focusing on how creative writing groups can benefit people on the social margins). She is the founder and coordinator of the Parkdale Street Writers group for youth ages 16 to 29 and is the coordinator of the Sagatay Men’s Writing Group for First Nations men in transition. She is an award-winning author of several books, including the novels Strange Times at Western High and A Girl Like Sugar and the comic series Violet Miranda: Girl Pirate. She also co-authored science fiction writer Judith Merril’s memoirs, Better to Have Loved.

Andrea Zanin writes about alternative sexuality for Xtra! (Toronto), Capital Xtra! (Ottawa), and the Montreal Mirror and blogs at She edits and translates for LGBT academics, queer film festivals, HIV organizations, and sex workers’ rights groups. Andrea is currently pursuing a PhD in women’s studies at York University, and on the side she runs the Leather Bindings Society, a book club for sadomasochists. She gave a seminar entitled “Sexing the Language: Editing for Sexual Minorities” at the EAC conference in 2009.

Emmy Pantin is a community organizer and cultural producer committed to accessible forms of media production, from zine-making and writing to Super-8 filmmaking, digital storytelling, and audio production. Emmy is digital storytelling coordinator at the Centre for Community Learning and Development and operations director at Jane’s Walk.

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