It has been difficult to know what to post here regarding the news of our friend, mentor and editor’s passing. Dr John Mikhail Asfour died on November 2, 2014 in Montreal General Hospital.
John came to Vancouver in 2008 as the inaugural writer in residence at Joy Kogawa House. At a reading from our first chapbook at Rhizome Café, John, who was in attendance with Hal Wake and AnnMarie Metten, made a point of coming over to speak to us. From that first contact John was a fierce supporter of Thursdays Writing Collective writers.
He visited our group and read to us from his poetry collections. He answered questions about the writing life and he gave some tough but true editorial suggestions for our texts. John felt an immediate respect and admiration for these exceptional writers, and recognized a kindred spirit.
As we gathered materials for our second chapbook John offered to serve as co-editor. Although he had to return to Montreal he managed to connect with us and become a vital part of our Collective. He was thrilled to return to Vancouver for the launch and reconnect with the writers in person.
Every Thursday after class when I talked to John he asked after the writers by name. He kept up with our topics, our developments and our goals, never failing to encourage and support us individually and as a whole.
It was John’s idea to get together a volume for publication with Arsenal Pulp Press. V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside was a joy to work on together. Three days before his death John was quoting lines from poems from the book he was so proud of. Together we had the chance to read an academic paper written by Dr Bettina Stumm about the Collective and John had the chance to relish the fact that his work has made a real, definable difference in changing attitudes about writers from the margins.
On the day of John’s death we were at The Heart of the City Festival reading from Bud Osborn’s work. Bud, a DTES community poet and activist, passed away in May and honouring his words was a moving experience, proof that life continues in the text. When I made the announcement about John the Collective members were stunned. Then, in defiance and comradery we let out a joyful three cheers of hip hip hooray for our friend. We miss him and continue to learn from his fine example.