About four years ago, Irving Ellman’s wife, Peggy, surprised him with a gift that would change his life. She signed him up for a writing workshop.
Ellman, now 63, is an award-winning interior designer. He has been writing poetry intermittently since he was in university, but he has never made his writing a priority.
“It was something that had always been a really important thing to her – she’s a fan of my writing,” Ellman said of his wife’s support.
His enthusiasm for writing renewed, Ellman began penning short stories in addition to his poetry. He continued to go to writing workshops and readings in the Toronto area, until he eventually decided to submit one of his stories for a chance at publication.
Ellman submitted his short story, The Poet’s Voice, to Diaspora Dialogues, a Toronto-based organization that supports the development and presentation of literature about the city in an attempt to capture and share the diverse voices that Toronto has to offer. Ellman did not expect his piece to be chosen.
“The e-mail started off, ‘Thank you for your submission,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, here’s the polite rejection,’” he said with a laugh. The next sentence in the e-mail, however, congratulated Ellman on his acceptance to the 2011 mentoring program.
The program paired him with a professional author and led to the publication of his work as an emerging writer in the seventh edition of Diaspora Dialogues’ annual anthology, TOK: Writing the New Toronto. (“TOK” is not an acronym, but a play on words that combines the short form for Toronto, “T.O.,” and the word “talk.”)
Ellman was paired with Andrew Pyper, an acclaimed author some of whose books have gone on to be national bestsellers in Canada. “That was a great experience,” Ellman said of the mentorship, adding that Pyper helped improve his writing without influencing his unique creative voice.
The Poet’s Voice tells the story of a teenage boy who, after visiting his ill parents at a downtown Toronto hospital, finds himself drawn to Sam the Record Man, a now closed landmark music store. There, he discovers Leonard Cohen’s music, which affects him profoundly.
Ellman said that his stories usually deal with more mystic elements, but that regardless of the storyline, they frequently involve Jewish themes in a subtle way.
“Even the ones like The Poet’s Voice, which are a little more concrete, deal with themes that I think come from that heritage – they are themes of struggle,” Ellman said, elaborating that the struggles he writes about are often for dignity, identity and even survival.
“The earliest stories I remember, obviously, were the stories from things like the seder,” he said, recalling the times he asked the Four Questions as the youngest son in his family.
The Poet’s Voice is Ellman’s first published work. It was released in May in TOK: Writing the New Toronto – Book 7. “I have to admit that when I [went to the launch], one of the first things I did when I picked up a copy was to look at the preface,” said Ellman, explaining that he was hoping to find his story mentioned along with some of the others that might have been considered more powerful. He was stunned to see his short story quoted in the preface.
“It’s a very satisfying feeling,” he said of seeing his words in print, adding that he is still getting used to the idea. His second published story will shortly appear in the Canadian Writer’s Journal Choice Works collection.
Though Ellman is still at the helm of his interior design firm, he is hoping to find more time for writing in the years to come. “My ultimate goal is to spend more time writing than working.”