To inform her short stories, poetry and creative non-fiction, Gina Roitman draws on her life as the daughter of refugee Holocaust survivors and her employment experiences that include such diverse work as a bank teller, president of a communications agency, tourism media consultant and administrator at a chimpanzee sanctuary. In her writing, whether in essays, fiction, or film, she addresses how our individual and collective memories shape who we are and how that defines us going forward. An award-winning writer and poet, Gina Roitman is the author of the acclaimed short story collection Tell Me a Story, Tell Me the Truth. She is also the co-producer, co-writer and subject of the award-winning documentary, My Mother, the Nazi Midwife and Me, which unearths a chilling story time has almost buried. Her stories have aired nationally on CBC Radio, and her essays, reviews and short stories have appeared in The Globe and Mail, the Montreal Review of Books, roverarts.com, carte-blanche, the Montreal Gazette and in the anthology The Poet’s Word.
Tell Me a Story, Tell Me the Truth (Second Story Press, 2008)
My Mother, the Nazi Midwife and Me (Amberlight Productions, 2013 [52 minutes])
The Key (www.JewishFiction.net, 2014)
*These titles have been suggested by the author based on the activities that he/she proposes to students.
It is, however, up to teachers to verify whether the titles are appropriate for their groups (age and education level, specific context, etc.).
Teaching staff are invited to contact the author for clarification on this aspect and assistance in preparing their groups for his/her visit.
How can one establish one’s own identity without awareness of their immediate past? Gina believes that at birth, we are all handed a suitcase that someone else has packed. We carry that bag our whole lives, and it only gets heavier with time, so it is up to us to explore what’s inside.
Gina offers plans of one, two or three sessions, and will provide a Teacher’s Guide in advance.
Example of an activity
After watching Gina’s documentary (52 minutes), we discuss how personal identity is defined. We explore what shapes our self-image through a writing exercise: Who Am I, a description as defined by four representative objects (e.g., birth certificate, photo, apparel, etc.)
We read excerpts from Gina’s short story, An Imperfect Child, and use it as a springboard for discussion about the differences between world history and personal history and how they intersect. This is followed by an assignment to interview a parent or older family member about one childhood memory that impacted his or her life. Students then showcase the information they gathered in a story.
Understanding where we come from paves the way to self-confidence and helps us be more open to differences and avoid repeating history’s mistakes. The class will compare the Who Am I created in the first session with the family member’s story to explore what has been learned in the process.
Other examples of activities
Although many of Gina’s stories reference the Holocaust, the notion of feeling displaced in our multicultural universe is not uncommon. The importance of exploring history as it impacts life today is not merely to be found in textbooks, but is all around us. On a map, we pinpoint the origins of students in the class and discuss what stories have been woven into their lives.
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