Montreal writers find strength in numbers with new group

By Dahlia Liwsze

A writer's life is not an easy one. It's blood, sweat and tears, staying passionate and dedicated; revising and revising until the product is finished. It is the heartache of the dreaded rejection letter, while trying to get published. It is also a life of isolation from peers in the artistic community, a community that can offer encouragement, constructive criticism and put you in the public eye. With all these constant obstacles and more preoccupying a writer's mind, how can one work and stay connected to an encouraging community of fellow writers and artists?

Christina Manolescu offers one solution: getting involved in Invisible Cities.

Invisible Cities is a group of writers that meet on the first Saturday of each month in order to support one another in their creative endeavors and to provide a literary network to facilitate their goal to either publish or self-publish.

"Since we started on April 1, 2001, we - the core members particularly - have become a kind of family, finding common goals, interests and aspirations. We truly do find that there is strength in numbers," says Manolescu, the co-founder of Invisible Cities as well as a self-publisher and head of Prince Chameleon Press.

Before Invisible Cities, Manolescu co-founded and founded two other writers' groups, an experience she enjoyed immensely. Having been involved in organizations such as the Small Press Group of Britain by becoming an active member, she was able to survive while she was living in the UK and on her journey to self-publish. Her inspiration to create Invisible Cities, however, came as a result of her astonishment that there were no support groups existing for writers and self-publishers in Montreal as they did in her hometown in England.

Now eight to 10 core members meet regularly as well as organize Spoken Word events featuring public readings of poetry and prose. The next event will probably take place in the fall as will the publication of the first Invisible Cities anthology entitled "Voices From The City."

One regularly attending member who benefits from the meetings is Mona Lisa Chanda.

"I think you need that synergy to grow and develop as an artist. You need support and feedback on your work. No one can exist in a vacuum, and that was my problem before I joined the group. I wasn't part of a real community I could share ideas with on a regular basis," says the 28-year-old psychology student at Concordia.

"Now I can do that and, more importantly, collaborate with the others on creative projects."

Part of the musical spoken word duo Mona Lisa and Leonardo, Chanda is currently putting her poetry to music with musician Leonardo De Luca. This act is very eclectic and incorporates a wide variety of musical genres, with everything from punk to bossanova.

Fellow artist Cheryl Neill, who only appears as a performer at Invisible Cities' Spoken Word events, also enjoys the friendly and inclusive nature of the group. For her, the hardest thing about being an artist is to try to self promote and to be an artist at the same time.

"There are very few places to play in Montreal and you need to be constantly looking for venues. It also requires you traveling all over whether you are up to it or not," she says. "Art is not for the faint-hearted. You have to have a great deal of passion and perseverance to want to pursue it as a career."

All in all, networking and community is something Manolescu cannot stress enough. When asked how the name "Invisible Cities" was decided on, she says it was the suggestion of co-founder Cristina Perissinotto who is Assistant Professor of Italian in the Modern Languages Department at Concordia. Invisible Cities is the name of a novel by Italo Calvino, in which the Italian author describes a series of imaginary cities, symbolic perhaps of states of mind or deeper realities.

"For us, the name conveys the sense of art and artists flourishing so often invisibly, often unrecognized and unheralded, until and unless somehow they gain prominence in the public eye," says Manolescu. "There are many of us 'out there', which is why we believe there is such promise and scope for a group such as ours."