Writer, Author, Poet, Playwright, Publisher
Cheryl Antao-Xavier has over twenty years experience in writing, media and publishing. Cheryl is a poet and children’s author. Her work has been published in anthologies and literary journals. Her first collection of poems entitled Dance of the Peacock was published in 2008 and her second collection, Bruised but Unbroken, has recently been released. Her poems have been described as vignettes of human experience that capture the trial and angst of people in transition and women in suppression.
She is working on a children’s book entitled Life in Maple Woods which deals with diversity and integration. Cheryl is the National Coordinator of the Canadian Federation of Poets. Cheryl is a member of The Writer’s Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets and PEN Canada.
She is the Literary Editor for Chapter and Verse, a website promoting Canadian literature.
How did you start writing?
Cheryl: I think I became conscious of my love for creative writing when two of my English Lit teachers in high school complimented my compositions. I also remember being waylaid by a couple of psychology students in the university library who wanted me to participate in an exercise. They showed me pictures and I had to write a short story on what came to mind. Till then I guess I had never really let my imagination run wild. It hasn’t stopped running since.
What drew you to writing poetry?
Cheryl: Gifted teachers. In high school I had two who read poetry beautifully with a great deal of expression and an obvious appreciation of the words, the language, the beauty of poetry. It was infectious. At university, I chose English Lit as a major and again was blessed with great teachers. We studied the poetry of the English masters. When I came to Canada, I began looking up the work of Canadian and American poets. I am currently reading a fascinating book on world poetry, which is incredible. You learn much about a nation from its literature.
The title and image of Bruised but Unbroken shows a strong message. What message are trying to send, if any?
Cheryl: The title of my book and the image deal with the major theme of the book that is bruised by life but unbroken in spirit. I meant that in respect to the individual as well as to Mother Nature, the environment. The human spirit is resilient and can withstand life’s travails. We must persevere and not give up.
Bruised but Unbroken is your third poetry book. How long did it take you to write it?
Cheryl: It is my second book of poetry and took me about a year to write and another few months to polish it up.
Did you face any challenges with publishing this book?
Cheryl: Not really. I just needed to have this work down in print and move on to other writing projects. I think there is something really restricting to one’s personal creativity when one walks around with 'old' work. Read it, publish it and move forward to where your muse leads you.
Tell us about In Our Words.
Cheryl: In Our Words Inc. is my publishing company, which I set up in 2008. We have published forty titles so far, thirteen in 2011 alone. Most of my authors are first-time emerging writers, the majority are of a distinct ethnic background, and they bring a unique voice to their work. I am so proud of every one of them. We publish mostly poetry but also short fiction and drama. Going forward, we intend to branch out further into novels and non-fiction as well.
What’s next for Cheryl?
Cheryl: Subsidized creative writing classes for abused women, immigrant writers, newbie writers through IOWI. This is a project that is very dear to my heart and I have been struggling to get it off the ground and find financing to make it viable. God willing, it will take shape in 2012. Other plans are to step up the marketing for IOWI. Publish fiction and venture into non-fiction as well. We would also like to consider theme-based anthologies going forward. There are tons of anthologies being put out, I’d like to publish those of a high standard in content and design. I will be collaborating with A Type of Magic, another publishing company that does great work. Next year looks to be incredibly exciting for IOWI and for me personally.
Any words of encouragement and wisdom for young writers or someone who want to pursue a career in writing?
Cheryl: Go for it! Write, write, write. Read, read and read. By reading, you develop your own style, subconsciously noting what you like, building your vocabulary, especially with regards to poetic language, the use of 'image words.' You will develop an 'ear' for poetry. You have to listen to your own voice as it rises off the page and edit brutally. Edit till it hurts. That’s usually how great poems happen. Read the masters, read widely of different cultures, styles, backgrounds, genres. Read current affairs, research your topics. Readers are not ignorant, and your credibility suffers if you misinform. Google, Wikipedia, online dictionaries and thesauruses should be in your 'favourites.' Also, get a mentor or a mentoring group to bounce your creative ideas off. Go out there and read your work. If you consider publishing your work, get the manuscript into electronic format and have it professionally edited. That could cost a bit, but worth it if you are serious about publishing. Trade publishers will not be impressed, POD (print on demand) publishers will charge extra for editing, self-publishing unedited work will haunt you. Take pride in your work.